In Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, you are able to walk up to a Nazi officer, take a hatchet to their crotch, and drag their still screaming body off-screen. Those of you who have just learned all you need to know about the next Wolfenstein game can find the closest GameStop to you by clicking here.
Those of you who need a little more to go off of than whether or not you are able to chop up Nazis like the entire Third Reich took a summer trip to Camp Crystal Lake when deciding whether or not to care about the next Wolfenstein game may instead be wondering if New Colossus will inspire the same feelings that 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order did.
That’s a far more complicated question.
The New Order’s greatest asset was that nobody saw it coming. Sure, we heard that there was a new Wolfenstein game in the works, but given that the Wolfenstein franchise had fallen on hard times over the years, there weren’t many gamers who were expecting this revival to be anything more than another entrant into the burgeoning “Call of Duty make money and we want make money too” FPS market.
It certainly didn’t help that many previews of the New Order failed to portray it as anything notably different. One website that shall remain unnamed even tried to describe it as “Oblivion with Nazis.”
The New Order ultimately proved to be a retro FPS that refused to believe that every gameplay innovation of the past was glorious and that every modern-day gameplay trope was a waste. It rescued multi-path levels, health packs, and genuinely threatening A.I. opponents from the clutches of nostalgia just as it argued that cinematic storytelling, regeneration mechanics, and character skill points weren’t necessarily the devils that genre pundits claimed they were.
Yet, it was The New Order’s story and presentation that really made it the modern-day classic it truly is. We’ve seen countless alternate history takes on what would have happened if the Nazis had won the war, but The New Order crafted an incomparably compelling take on that scenario that benefited just as much from the amusement of finding Nazi Beatles records as it did from capturing the struggles of people forced to truly deal with this reality.
The New Colossus is forced to be more creative if it is to invoke that element of surprise. Our playthrough of the game began shortly after where New Order ends. B.J. Blazkowicz wakes up aboard a stolen Nazi ship after surviving yet another brush with death. He’s surrounded by a mix of familiar faces and invading Nazi soldiers who have come to capture the American now known as “Terror Billy.”
While the opening cinematic moments feel relatively familiar, New Colossus soon literally sweeps us off our feet by putting Blazkowicz in a wheelchair and forcing him to battle those dastardly Nazis.
This opening section is unlike any level in New Order. Moving around in a wheelchair not only forces the game to adopt more of a run and gun style of play – or roll and gun, such as it was – but it leads to several inspired design moments wherein the player has to figure out how to advance to upper and lower levels using gears, conveyor belts, and other such machinery.
The level ends when a familiar foe gets the advantage over our Nazi killing heroes and puts Blazkowicz in a rather unfortunate position. This particular moment concludes somewhat abruptly and we were unable to see just how Blazkowicz escapes this precarious scenario.
From there, we jumped to a level that seems to take place roughly midway through the final game. It should be pointed out that this time jump not only spoiled what happened in the opening level – at least partially – but rapidly thrust a few new characters upon us without a proper introduction.
Because of this, it’s a little difficult to gauge whether or not New Colossus’ story will live up to the precedent New Order set. There is a twinge of familiarity to the sequels’ storytelling beats that New Order did not have to overcome. While New Colossus director and co-writer Jens Matthies noted that MachineGames intended for this game to be both a continuation and reset of the original story, it will be interesting to see whether or not the sequel’s overall narrative manages to constantly surprise the same way that New Order’s story did.
What certainly hasn’t changed, however, is MachineGames’ ability to craft absorbing environments based on the game’s alternate history premise. For instance, the second level we got to play shortly transitioned to that scenario show during the game’s E3 trailer where Blazkowicz is forced to walk through an American town in the middle of a Nazi parade.
Between SS Officers interacting with Klansmen and American citizens casually reciting propaganda at cafes, it’s immediately clear that the Nazis have successfully managed to enforce enough of their ideas into American culture while preserving just enough “traditional” American conventions as to convince the imprisoned populace that their lives don’t have to be so different after all.
There are obvious modern political parallels one could draw from this world. While Matthies insists that they were merely influenced by political events and weren’t necessarily directly commenting on them, hearing a Nazi wonder why the terrorists are so opposed to them when all they want is a peaceful victory does inspire a raised eyebrow or two. In any case, it’s an absolutely compelling setting that is dripping in details.
After an encounter with a Nazi officer looking for a milkshake at a diner goes south, Blazkowicz embarks upon his mission to deliver a nuclear payload to a Nazi base. Unlike the opening level which was based around the wheelchair, this section adopts New Order’s blend of stealth and shooting. Once again, you are encouraged to quietly kill Nazi officers before they can trigger reinforcement alarms.
While doing so isn’t technically necessary, those who fail to isolate the officers will find themselves in a world of pain. Let it be known that New Colossus is a much more unforgiving game than its predecessor. Even at normal difficulty, you’ll likely have to replay sections several times before getting them right.
While this rise in challenge can largely be attributed to more advanced A.I. and a smaller health pool, there were some frustrating moments where an unfortunate checkpoint puts you in a deathtrap. Some of those playing the demo were forced to restart because of this while others ended up lowering the difficulty level.
By and large, though, New Colossus’ gunplay is much improved. Not only can you finally pick up ammo without having to press a button – except in the case of larger pickups – but New Colossus even sports its own take on Doom’s “Glory Kill” system that allows you to immediately take down a weakened enemy with a melee attack. This adds much more variety to the game’s gunfights as does the use of specialty foes that require you to constantly adjust your strategy. The same can be said of your new ability to mix-and-match dual-wield weapons.
It was also nice to see that New Colossus’ skill system is much more meaningful than New Order’s. Rather than just steadily acquire new skills throughout the game, you’ll actually need to focus on certain play styles in order to unlock upper-tier abilities and enhancements.
While the game’s sometimes frustrating difficulty that forces a more methodical style of play is somewhat of a concern early on, New Colossus’ biggest hurdle remains its ability to replicate that feeling of experiencing something different that defined New Order’s legacy.
New Colossus looks and sounds relatively similar to the New Order – minus a few modern technological improvements – and the demo’s second level reveals that much of the gameplay will likely inspire a few déjà vu moments.
It will come down, then, to whether or not New Colossus’ story and atmosphere are able to continue the considerable promise they exhibited during our brief time with the game. If so, then New Colossus will be worth it not just for those who consider the ability to butcher Nazis a form of much-needed stress relief, but those desperate for a smarter breed of blockbuster FPS titles that challenge, thrill, and intrigue without relying entirely on the appeal of the name on the box.
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