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SummaryThis game ruined strawberry milkshakes for me.
The Good+ Enjoyable gunplay and combat
+ Much more open and ambitious
+ Great Switch port
+ Amazing voice acting and music
The Bad- An incoherent, muddled narrative and poor character development
- Occasional and frustrating difficulty balancing issues
- Little to no innovation in gameplay
- Very short and underwhelming
The Bottom LineIt’s no secret that political polarization is widespread. Some days you hear about whatever that goes on in the world, and both the left and the right react by going straight to each other’s throats. Most of the time, that’s what they do regardless of the situation at hand. I personally blame social media and most of the internet in general for this climate, but that’s something for another time. Both sides bicker about how there’s too much politics in whatever they like, be it books, movies, TV shows, music, video games, the list goes on and on.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was released during such division and of course, the subject matter led to a pretty polarizing response all around. On one hand, game critics gave Wolfenstein II extremely positive reviews and awards all around for its gameplay and story. On the other, when the game came out, you’d see critical analysis and reviews that were on the contrary, and not in a good way. Much of the ‘criticisms’ for Wolfenstein II were more ideological than they were constructive, most of it coming from moderate to arch-conservative points of view that outnumbered the legitimate critical analyses, and some of the reviews I've seen were based around generic “back in my day” speak, or generic, outraged right-wing talking points.
I consider Wolfenstein: The New Order as one of my favorite first person shooters of all time, so I was genuinely excited for Wolfenstein II when it was announced at E3. I remember preordering the PS4 collector’s edition with the BJ Blazkovicz action figure, I remember beating it within a weekend…and I remember being slightly disappointed by what I just played, and I came out thinking “well, that was something…eh, I’ll forget about it later”. When I got Wolfenstein II for the Nintendo Switch as a Christmas gift, I figured it would be time to revisit the game once more. The plot doesn’t cut corners: taking place right after The New Order, BJ Blazkovicz and the rest of the Kriesau Circle follow one of Caroline’s more ambitious plans: liberate Nazi-occupied America and turn it as a base of freedom, though BJ has to deal with his own personal demons while on his journey to liberate America. Wolfenstein II is much more narrative driven than any of the other games, and this is both a curse and a blessing at the same time, but I’ll get to that later.
Gameplay is much like The New Order: blast every single slimy Nazi you can find. Not a whole lot has changed, from the shooting mechanics, to the stealth, to the collectible finding and the objectives, save for some new features. You can now dual-wield and upgrade your weapons and enemies are smarter this time around, with commanders being able to call in extra reinforcements, the levels are a lot more open this time around and in lieu of a level select, you can return to any environment at any time to find collectibles or just kill Nazis. The New Colossus is a lot more brutal and violent than any of the other Wolfenstein games (even Wolfenstein 2009!), which is exemplified with the weapons. Your knives are now hatchets, and many of the weapons feel more brutal and weighty to use, so in turn the gore effects have increased tenfold. It feels so damn good turning a Nazi into a bloody pile of severed limbs with a shotgun or chopping off some Nazi’s legs with the swing of a hatchet.
The music and voice acting are solid all around. Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is just brilliant as ever, and the voice acting, particularly with BJ Blazkovicz, Wyatt or Fergus, Grace and Super Spesh, is great stuff to listen to. Quite a few of the actors give it their all, though Brian Bloom and Debra Winger really steal the show on a couple of occasions. Also, technically – the game is decent on the Nintendo Switch! Panic Button (the same folks who ported over Doom to the Switch). The porting job is great, though to make ends meet the frame rate is now 30 FPS, and certain textures and polygons had to be reduced by utilizing some sort of compromise, where the pixelation of a texture or model is reduced when in a distance, but when viewed up close you see most of the textures. The gore effects had to be toned down as well to maintain graphical fidelity, which bummed me out at first but I got over it. There were also a few crashes, but the overall game is still the same, though if you want much more oomph with the graphics, get the PC or PS4/Xbox One versions over the Switch version, as that one is an afterthought. Not to mention, the Switch version lacks any of the DLC or the challenge mode that were present in the original PC and PS4/Xbox One versions. The New Colossus controls well and much of it feels responsive, although there was some control lag with firing weapons at times.
However, as much as I wanted to love the ever-loving crap out of The New Colossus, it brings me a heavy heart to say that the game is probably the weakest out of the series, despite having the most solid gunplay out of all the Wolfenstein games. Let’s start off with the story: there are a lot of good ideas, but it’s a frustratingly jumbled, erratic mess that takes itself way too seriously. The New Colossus’ plot twists and deus ex machinas feel like it was pulled out of an ass at times. Character development is inconsistent, the comedy relief is poor, certain story elements that were probably ripped out of a cringey soap opera and the dialogue can veer from realistic to something you’d hear in a mediocre network sitcom, and the handling of sensitive subject matters such as racism, domestic violence and fascism is borderline careless and tasteless at times and any attempt at social or political commentary comes off as laughable.
The worst part: this already erratic narrative is driven by inconsistent characters, which inevitably leads to disaster. BJ Blazkovicz is given a lot more emotional depth in this game and is written to be much more sympathetic. This has lots, I mean lots of potential - but much of the depth goes away towards the very end of the game and he reverts back into the Nazi killing meathead we all know and sort of love. His comrades are given some extra depth, but they feel like an afterthought than a legitimate force, especially new characters Grace (despite being given the best dialogue out of all characters in the game) and Horton (who is so unnecessary to the game’s story other than a few levels that he might as well be forgotten). The adversaries veer from the slightly menacing like Frau Engel, to the borderline cartoonish like Rip Blazkovicz. Frau Engel had the most potential given the previous events of The New Order, but her character would be ultimately reduced to being something like Rita Repulsa instead of a sociopathic narcissist like she was in The New Order. Dialogue can also be sometimes corny, written like an over-the-top soap opera. The New Colossus wants me to take such riveting, ‘emotional’ dialogue seriously! Am I playing a hyper violent FPS game, or watching an episode of The Young and the Restless?
It’s a shame – The New Colossus really meant well in trying to give depth and explore themes not seen in any other AAA shooter on the market, but ultimately bombed in their efforts due to writing that is just all over the place, leaving no impact other than confusion and irritation. However, when the story worked, it was oddly compelling, but barely. Lore can be found in the form of readable items, but they’re more or less there for no reason other than worldbuilding. The story and much of the errors in it are sorely prevalent and so detrimental to the overall experience, it deserves an entire essay centered around the gaping flaws and writing, but it’s neither the time nor the place to do so.
Next, the gameplay. It’s repetitious and unbalanced – despite being able to explore more open environments such as a post-nuclear Manhattan, Roswell and even New Orleans, the levels are so linear and heavy on the objectives. It’s less classic FPS and more of an FPS that’s kinda all over the place, it doesn’t know whether to be a difficult classic shooter, or your generic Call of Duty-esque FPS. You still go from point A to point B, you may find a collectible every now and then but still not a whole lot. There’s not a lot of diverse environments to explore either, other than generic laboratories or space stations, to hollowed out towns or destroyed towns. This is one thing the other Wolfenstein games did right: lots of unique environments to explore in. Return to Castle Wolfenstein had zombie-infested crypts and lush green forests. Wolfenstein 2009 had a village you could explore and muck around in. The New Order had an entire castle siege going awry. The Old Blood had another small mountain village for you to muck around in. The New Colossus? Generic bunkers, labs and bases, also for you to muck around in, kind of.
Balancing issues were a pretty nasty ordeal when The New Colossus first released. Higher difficulties led to enemies being much more powerful against you, which is fine – yet most of the time, they kicked the player’s ass instead of the player kicking their ass. The player was a complete peasant compared to the overpowered Nazis (the worst part being if you chose a harder difficulty and had to get through the first half of the game), and as a result much of the battles were so cheap and unfair on certain difficulties that I had to switch from normal mode to the easiest difficulty at some points. After a few updates, the game is a lot more balanced but I still had to change difficulty towards the end of the game. It wasn’t cool back then, and still isn’t now. The highest difficulty isn’t even worth it for the most sadistic of gamers due to the unbalancing. Also, The New Colossus is very short compared to other games, clocking in at 10-12 hours in contrast to the 13-15 The New Order had. The ending is massively underwhelming too, so those expecting a massive boss battle will be disappointed.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is an interesting game. It takes two steps forwards, but two steps back. It sometimes bares its fangs, but it's sometimes toothless. The gameplay, audio and visuals are solid, but the narrative is bizarre and inconsistent, and the writing and general tone veer from the thought-provoking to the absolutely cartoonish, and constantly waste potential wherever or whenever the moment arises. The New Colossus doesn’t deserve the high reception, the game of the year awards or 9 out of 10 scores it got from critics but it certainly doesn’t deserve the scathing vitriol it got from the bog-standard, perpetually outraged reactionary hacks that are a dime a dozen on YouTube now, or the rose-tinted nostalgic FPS elitists who retreat to the confines of the ever-beloved Return to Castle Wolfenstein, despite not realizing a single bit that it aged really, really badly.
The New Colossus is just middle of the road, doing some things very right and other things very wrong. I don’t consider it a good game, yet I don’t consider it a terrible game either. It’s just okay. Do I recommend it? It depends on how you feel about how Wolfenstein II approaches its subject matter and violence. If you can handle it, I’d nab it and maybe the accompanying DLC during a sale. Just remember to buckle up – Wolfenstein II is quite the bumpy ride.