Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review

November 12, 2017

Wolfenstein: The New Order was one of the most confident reboots I’ve ever seen. Under the direction of MachineGames, Wolfenstein evolved from a franchise built on the enjoyable, if bare-bones, back of killing Nazis, into a hugely successful celebration of pulpy excess. With a cinematic narrative and smart combination of stealth and shooting, it redefined what to expect from a Wolfenstein title published by Bethesda. In many of the best ways, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus cements and expands the formula, making for a solid shooter with some of the most insane cut-scenes you’ll see this year – even if the game itself doesn’t rise to the same extremes.

As you’ll know if you’ve played The New Order, the rebooted Wolfenstein games take place in an alternate timeline – a 1960s where the Nazis not only won World War II, but forced America into capitulation by dropping the nuke first. Aided by dieselpunk-esque technology scavenged from a super-advanced Jewish secret society, the world is now entirely under the firm iron grasp of the führer. Well, not entirely… one small group of indomitable rebels, the Kreisau Circle, are intent on stoking the fires of revolution in America, and as William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz you’re the burning-hot poker that’s about to be shoved right up its rectum.

The New Colossus is just as narratively-driven as its predecessor, with breaks in-between levels featuring long scenes playing out in Cinemascope. The acting and direction is on-par with most Hollywood movies, and the direction isn’t flat either, but kinetic and often surprising. What’s also surprising is the level of craziness some of the plot-twists reach, as the writers take full advantage of the pulpy nature of their premise and amplify it to the extreme. Blood-soaked bare-breasted pregnant women firing twin machine guns at Nazis, head-swapping Frankenstein-esque experiments and one of the most gloriously deprecating appearances of Adolf Hitler I think I’ve ever seen – there are plenty of hugely memorable moments.

Thematically, The New Colossus has come out at an unfortunately relevant time in history, and its a fact the game is quite aware of. America is under the thumb of an oppressive nationalistic regime, and while many are scared or furious, there are also collaborators who are more than happy to acquiesce to Nazi rule as long their lives are unaffected. Civil rights are central to the beatnik rebels living in New Orleans, although they need to be reminded by BJ that defence of those values is equally important as agreeing to them. Motherhood also seems central to the opposing philosophies – the heads of the revolution being a black nursing mother and a heavily pregnant woman, while the chief Nazi antagonist constantly berates her overweight daughter.

Ever-present is BJ’s half-crazed inner monologue, at times poetic and most times heavily depressing. At least, it is in the first half of the game before he’s finally allowed to lighten up a bit – a very welcome change.

As BJ, you’re sent out on missions from the Kreisau Circle to various Nazi-occupied facilities, where a combination of stealth and firepower is required. Returning is the ‘commander’ system, where a radar shows how close you are to a commanding officer with access to a radio. Sneakily taking him out first without raising an alarm will prevent any reinforcements from being called, although often there are multiple commanders, sometimes placed at the very end of an area, making complete stealth quite difficult. It’s a good thing then that the game feels more forgiving than last time around, if you have to quickly swap out of stealth and charge in guns-blazing. While never easy, especially on the higher difficulty settings, gunning your way through an area can sometimes be the best solution, especially given the speed at which BJ moves. The ‘peek’ mechanic, used to pop in and out of cover, is still useful in stealth situations, while new ‘contraptions’ allow BJ to have more versatility in his movement – my favourite being robotic stilts which can literally allow you to get a drop on the enemy.

The gunplay is solid, which is why it’s a little disappointing that there aren’t many memorable encounters, at least when compared with The New Order. There aren’t any real boss encounters to speak of, just waves of ever more-powerful enemies. Towering, imposing Nazi mechs and the shit-your-pants scary hounds from the last game are relatively easy to dispatch now, thanks to the prevalence of heavy weaponry. Similarly disappointing are the environments in the game. While there are moments which work from time-to-time – your first sight of seeing the bombed out ruins of New York, or seeing the KKK proudly walk the streets of Roswell – it doesn’t feel like the game is taking full advantage of its concept of a Nazi-occupied America when you spend so much of your time in similar faceless tunnels or streets. While there are plenty of notes to collect to flesh out the world, the game feels like it’s missing a level of detail, that can occasionally make its 15-hour campaign a little dull through to play.

Collectible Enigma codes return in The New Colossus, although they function quite differently than the previous game, when they unlocked new game modes. Now found on every commander you take down, Enigma codes unlock new assassination missions in locations you’ve already visited, which you can tackle post-campaign. Personally, I found the rewards to not be incredibly compelling – killing commanders just unlocks the opportunity to take down more commanders – however, it does add a level of replayability to the game which extends beyond the campaign.

There’s enough insanely cool material in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ cutscenes alone for me to recommend the game, but the solid shooting mechanics and evolution of The New Order‘s design are outstanding as well. Not everything hits the same level of polish as the narrative, and I do wish there were more memorable moments of gameplay or rewards for exploring the detail in the game’s twisted world. However, The New Colossus continues to develop the franchise’s new unique direction, similar to Doom’s makeover last year. Now come on, Bethesda – isn’t it time to give Commander Keen a try?


-Pulpy, insane narrative
-Memorable film-quality scenes
-Smart combination of stealth and brutal action
-Optional side-content extends replay value


-Doesn't take advantage of its American setting as much as it could
-Encounters feel weaker than the original, and aren't as memorable

Overall Score: