Our 50 best games of the year countdown isn’t in any order, we’re just going through fifty of the finest the year has given us. Find out more here.
For most of its lifetime, the Wolfenstein franchise has been known for its action, first and foremost. The original stealth game notwithstanding, Wolfenstein 3D helped pave the way for the FPS genre, and introduced the gaming masses to the immortal pastime of slaughtering Nazis.
Beginning with 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, MachineGames and publisher Bethesda gave the series a soft reboot, trading in SS occult research and spooky castles for an alternate-retro-future dieselpunk world where the Nazis have conquered most of the globe, recasting series protagonist and sentient meat-slab BJ Blazkowicz as an introspective and talkative protagonist, full of monologues that reflect how physically and mentally fatigued he is becoming in a world where evil has seemingly triumphed.
BJ and his new friends in the Kreisau Circle resistance made a good dent in the Nazi regime in that first game, but at great cost. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus sees a thoroughly broken BJ and the resistance scraping by as they head to the Nazi-controlled United States to ignite the true revolution, confronting an old nemesis and Nazi war machines both new and old along the way.
The New Colossus’ vision of a Nazi-occupied America is a chilling one, in that it doesn’t differ as much from 1950s/1960s Americana as one might think. Racism, bigotry, violence, oppression and tolerance of it weren’t brought to the USA by Nazis – only amplified and brought to a grave extreme. Players witness firsthand the societal acceptance and conscription of the KKK as an organization, and every character in BJ’s motley crew aboard their U-boat HQ represents a larger group and their struggle. No one comes away from the Wolfenstein 2 without having experienced hardship, trauma and the ravages of war.
The environmental and visual design showcases some ravages of their own, from the nuclear wasteland of atom-bombed Manhattan to the war-torn ghetto of New Orleans. Even the intact and idyllic town of Roswell takes on its own mood of destruction and loss with all of the Nazi decoration and iconography peppered around as heavily armored soldiers patrol the streets, quizzing the populace on their German vocab and generally contributing to a sense of unease and corruption.
As I said in my review, the combat and gameplay of Wolfenstein II can be an absolute blast when things line up – certain set pieces and many of the standard encounters are gleefully loud and gory as bullets and shrapnel tear into the environment and enemy troops alike. Wolfenstein II’s gameplay however suffers from a bit of what I think of as an identity crisis; everything about it from the killer soundtrack to the devastating firearms pushes you to engage in run-and-gun action like its contemporaries such as DOOM, but then the game turns around and encourages stealth.
These factors coupled with BJ’s surprising lack of durability (even at full health and armor), poor indication of the player taking damage and some occasionally cheap and uninspired level and encounter design can make the combat at times tedious, and other times flat out frustrating. This problem pretty much goes away when the game is played on the lower difficulties – if you’re in this for the experience rather than bragging rights, you’ll have much more fun on easier settings.
With all that said, these are minor issues that do not detract significantly from the overall experience. The smooth and exhilarating gunplay and engrossing setting combine with fun and surprisingly effective writing and characterization (who knew BJ Blazkowicz of all people could be a sympathetic, complex and tragic hero) to create an FPS experience unlike any other.