Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Hands-On: America Under Control of the Nazi War Machine

We go hands-on with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, the sequel to MachineGames’ excellent 2014 reboot of the classic id Software franchise Wolfenstein


America, 1961. Nazi rule is widespread, covering everything from the East to the West Coast. In fact, things are progressing so well for the swastika emblazoned fascists that there are immediate plans to alter the country’s language from English to German. SS soldiers patrol the streets in most towns and cities, and the German war machine has reached new technological heights. Literally, because there are now giant flying Nazi vehicles to rival that one piloted by Nick Fury in those Marvel movies. Not only can they house thousands of crew members, but also entire rooms full of mech suits and assault droids. Ready to be deployed to “keep the peace”.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the sequel to MachineGames’ excellent 2014 reboot of the classic id Software franchise Wolfenstein. A franchise that we can safely say is well on its way to sitting alongside last year’s Doom in terms of great modern-day and classic first-person shooters.

Outside of the endless fun that came from shooting high-tech Nazis with solid controls and an arsenal of cool weaponry, what stood out the most about the 2014 reboot was the way it managed to blend that all that dispatching of Nazi scum with an honest to goodness, and engaging, narrative. One that ended up transcending Wolfenstein’s simple origin as a fun excuse to shoot technologically advanced Nazi’s in a castle. And in the process become a game that was also about love, loss, hope, and regret.

And then shooting even more Nazis. If you haven’t played it, now’s the time.

It wasn’t a fluke either. With id Software giving MachineGames the rights to the franchise way back in 2010. So, a lot of time and effort went into ensuring that Wolfesntein: The New Order not only retained that same level of fun and challenging first-person action that the Woflenstein name is known for, but it also expanded and fleshed out protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz role. To the point where, well, you couldn’t help but feel for the guy. And get totally engrossed in his personal story, and that of the Resistance.

Which, is all a roundabout way of saying that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is very much a sequel to look forward to. Doubly so if you’re a fan of the first game. Setting aside that the fact that it looks better than ever, thanks to the impressive id Tech 6 that powered last year’s Doom, it’s the overall expansion of narrative scope and ideas that has us excited to see more.

The biggest chunk that we got to experience at a recent Wolfenstein II hands-on event took place in Wolfenstein’s alternate timeline version of Roswell, New Mexico. That desert location in America most famous for being the place where the U.S. government swooped in to cover-up, and possibly profit from, an extra-terrestrial crash-site. And yeah, there’s a few hints dropped that the Nazis took over the ET research program and are putting all that outer space hover-engine tech to good use.

Starting out on a sunny day, an undercover William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is on his way to a local diner to make contact with a fellow Resistance member. With the ultimate goal being to gain access to a secret underground Nazi base. Although Wolfenstein is by no means an open-world game, the set dressing and scripted incidental detail of merely making your way from one side of town to the other speaks volume to the level of detail and care put into recreating this alternate 1961.

And when you come across a mostly humorous conversation between two in costume KKK-members and a Nazi super-techno soldier, it becomes apparent just how well MachineGames can balance the light, dark, violent, and comical. The subsequent cinematic sequence in the diner is also expertly staged, and highlights the sheer lunacy of Nazis imposing their will on something as simple and quaint as what’s on the menu.

The days of burgers and fries are seemingly numbered. But not strawberry milkshakes, as the SS seem to have taken a fancy to the cold dessert drink.

It’s hard not to talk about what happens in-game without venturing into spoiler territory, and that comes down to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus being every bit the cinematic narrative-driven first-person shooter the first game was. Perhaps more so. The whole Roswell mission lasts for well over and hour and involves starting out in town before infiltrating an underground train station and then using a train to reach a secret research facility. Which may or may not conclude with a large mushroom cloud expanding over the horizon.

Where The New Colossus feels like the original game the most is with its combat. For those that played Wolfenstein: The New Order, you might recall that it was not only a challenging game offering multiple ways in which to approach each encounter but also one that rewarded skill. And not through points or superficial proclamations but with the simple fact that surviving and overcoming a squad of Nazis carrying a multitude of weaponry felt earned. Also, the alternate timeline and liberties taken with how technologically advanced the enemy became paved the way for that age-old concept of fun and increasingly awesome weapons. Pure ‘90s.

There’s an automatic shotgun in Wolfenstein II that feels like a semi-automatic, and packs the sort of punch where you can tell that the Nazi you shot got hit by a steady and very hurty stream of projectiles. Throw in a laser canon that can be a little hard to aim but can easily vaporise a Nazi into a human-sized orange glow stick, before disappearing entirely, and this is a game that certainly hasn’t forgotten where the fun lies. Plus, this time around depending on the difficulty most encounters can come down to close quarter and brutal melee takedowns.

Okay, so that last bit comes down to a certain someone not actually being that great at first-person shooters, and coming across sections where the difficulty had to be lowered just to make it through the demo in one piece. These sections, which offer the sort of big room or larger scale sandboxes to play in, are where the game shines brightest. And even though we’re talking about pre-release code, the feel is spot on. And offers up the variety that you’ve probably heard about or enjoyed many times before, including the ability to skip an entire boss encounter based on the intensity of the previous firefight, and well, seeing if cowardice was possible.

Yeah, the climax on the Roswell mission involved an encounter with a large hulking Nazi mech and a squad of SS troops and robotic Nazi assassin droids. Call it what you will, but a sudden urge to run for the exit and try and escape took hold. The funny thing is, the level of player freedom in the game let it happen without skipping a beat. And it wasn’t a glitch.

Very cool. Or, enough reason to replay sections of the game like navigating through a train via the cabin, roof, or under carriage. And sure, taking on bosses in the manner that William “B.J.” Blazkowicz would be proud of.

In the end, it’s great to see that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a direct continuation of the story that began in The New Order. A very human one filled with memorable characters, villains, and the plight of a downtrodden Resistance looking to strike back at their Nazi overlords. The two sections that we got to play at length, which included a fun but slightly padded introduction where a wheelchair-bound B.J. Blazkowicz fights his way to freedom, were also filled with cinematic sequences of the highest order. In addition to plenty of action. And there’s a lot that can be said about highly detailed characters brought to life with great animation and voice acting, even more so in a game like The New Colossus. An experience filled with as much story to take in as it has Nazi killing.