I have fond memories of Wolfenstein 3D. It was installed on all three of the PC’s when I was at college in the early 1990’s (Yes, we only had 3 PC’s at college!). It was a regular pastime at lunchtimes to kill Nazi’s, but we never played it during lessons, trust me! I also loved the recent reboot of the series with “The New Order” so I was definitely looking forward to Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus!
Wolfenstein 2 picks up straight after The New Order, with our hero BJ Blazkowicz being rescued from that game’s final encounter by his friends. It’s pretty bleak, because as he recovers from his life-threatening injuries you relive traumatic moments from his childhood, which goes someway to explaining just why he hates Nazi’s so much. BJ’s father, despite not being an actual Nazi, soon becomes one of the series most hated characters. This is not one for all you dog lovers out there. It’s probably one of the most bleak and depressing starts to a game that I can recall.
The trailers, including the one above, focusses on Nazi controlled America, however I found the first few levels to be somewhat disappointing after all of these trailers and the screenshots I had seen. These first levels all take part in the interior of our heroes’ captured U-boat or on a Nazi controlled airship and don’t show off the amazing visuals that will come later. Once BJ reaches a Fallout inspired New York did I start to feel like I was in the world I was promised. It’s just a shame that these first few levels didn’t excite me like I was expecting.
But once it kicks off the locations are spectacular. Particularly stunning was the Swastika adorned American town, with Nazi troops in conversation with members of the KKK. This is also the location of the milkshake loving Nazi general we were introduced to in the first trailer, and this encounter is still a real highlight. When a game takes you on Jet driven trains from Area 52 to Area 51, or on the back of a fire breathing mechanical dog through the streets of New Orleans, or to the planet Venus, you know you’re in for a treat.
The visuals continue to be stunning in the many cut scenes between levels. New characters are introduced early on, and Grace in particular is such a well written character, you feel like you’ve known her for years within the first five minutes. The use of the soundtrack on the cutscenes is just perfect as well, making those scenes where the next action set piece is being planned feel straight out of a Hollywood action blockbuster. As the game progresses there are two cutscenes that are as enjoyable as anything I have ever seen in a game, no spoilers here but the acting and party cut scenes are just incredibly funny, and break up the seriousness of Nazi killing. A special guest is introduced in the acting scene, and was just hilarious!
I started Wolfenstein 2 on the Xbox One S and then reverted to the Xbox One X and the graphical fidelity improvement is easy to see. Grace’s facial features are improved dramatically on the X, with every pore and blemish noticeable. Lighting and detail, especially in the American towns are vastly improved, making playing on the One X a real treat.
Gameplay wise not much has changed from the previous game, with BJ having a number of weapons at his disposal, from the basic pistol, assault rifle and shotgun to heavy weapons that can be taken from downed powerful enemies. All the basic weapons can be dual wielded, but the heavy weapons are two-handed. Weapon upgrades can be earned and each weapon can be upgraded three times. These upgrades are sparse, and at the end of my playthrough I had only managed to upgrade two of my guns. The heavy weapons in particular are astonishing powerful, especially the laser gun, and you’ll find yourself melting enemies when this is used.
There are plenty of other collectibles scattered around the world, including Toys, Records, Gold and collectable cards. Again, these are well hidden and will require multiple playthroughs to collect them all. Achievement hunters will be happy! All areas are unlocked at the end of the main campaign, and are all re-playable from your U-boat base at this point or at any point during the campaign. This is handled by the use of the Enigma machine. Killing Nazi commanders during the campaign will earn you enigma cards and when used with the machine will highlight the location of UberCommanders in the game world. These then allow these “districts” to be replayed in order to pick up what you missed the first time around. It’s also integrated into the main campaign, or as a continuation of the game after the credits in a clever and inventive way.
Character upgrades happen automatically, unlocking when in-game targets are achieved. For example, your heavy weapon skill is upgraded with an amount of heavy kills, and this is replicated across stealth kills, hatchet kills, etc. Again, these were not all upgraded by the end of my campaign run, so it’s another carrot to get you back in and replay the levels after you’ve finished.
Like its predecessor, Wolfenstein 2 is hard. I had a tough time getting through some of the levels on the preset difficulty, so, like the first game I had to drop the difficulty down in order to maximise my enjoyment. I guess there are sadists out there who will attempt the hardest level, but at the time of writing only 0.5% of players have that achievement. Good on them, but not something I want to put myself through! It also feels incredibly difficult to stealth your way through the levels. Taking out the commanders before the alarm is raised is pretty impossible as it feels the enemies can spot you in whatever hiding space you are tucked into.
But let’s get onto Wolfenstein 2’s real strength. The story is just breathtaking in how it races along without becoming dull or boring for what is essentially just a first-person shooter. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the death of single-player campaigns but Wolfenstein firmly sticks two-fingers up at this argument. Each level introduces something new, be it an upgrade to BJ’s abilities or a change to the environment. For example, outdoor areas on the planet Venus require a recharge of a eco-suit to keep you from burning in the atmosphere. These changes just keep the game fresh and interesting from level to level. At one point in the story your hero’s journey seems to be at an end, but the plot twist mechanic is quite genius! Every character in the game is well-written and despite there being loads of them, they’re all used, and used well. One small criticism is that of the returning characters feeling underused, but the new ones are so fantastic that its no huge loss. From the aforementioned Grace, leader of the resistance, to Sigrun Engel, ex-Nazi and daughter of the games main villain, Irene Engel, all are just so interesting and fun! All of them have their own stand-out moments during the course of the game and there are just too many to mention.
There is more than a small sense of humour in Wolfenstein 2, and given the subject matter it has to be written well in order not to portray the Nazi regime in a way as to offend those affected by their atrocities. But, all humour is kept between our heroes and their relationships with each other. But apparently it’s been the modern-day Nazi’s who have been most upset by the violence depicted against them in this game. Go Figure.
I love this game more than I have loved any game since Hitman. It’s funny, entertaining, thrilling, adrenaline inducing, and its just a real blast to play. There are so many iconic images that will stick in my mind when I think about the time I had with it. Some not-suitable for displaying as game captures here! I might have mentioned how great the characters are previously, but I really want to emphasise that again.
I’ll sum it up in just four words. Game Of The Year.
Thanks to Bethesda and Xbox for supporting TiX!