Five months on from predecessor “The New Order”, BJ Blazkowicz wakes up from a coma. He is unable to walk, has organs missing and his mobile base of operations is being attacked by Nazis. Things are dire in this alternate history version of 1961, and Wolfenstein II’s story of resistance and endurance is stronger for this.
Following on from it’s excellent prequel, “The New Colossus” continues the franchise’s revival and character development. BJ is older now, and weaker. The man known as “Terror Billy” by associates and enemies alike is inches from death, and only a power suit bestowed upon him early on in the campaign keeps him from knocking on the pearly gates. He knows he doesn’t have long left, but he shields it from his love interest and mother to his unborn children, Anya, in order to maintain some façade of hope. For a man who was once a ball of muscle and machine guns, there is extraordinary depth here.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all is that the United States has now fallen to the Nazis, outside of pockets of resistance here and there. These resistance fighters steal the show – strong, well-written characters with believable motives. To go into each would remove some of the enjoyment of their introduction but rest assured, you’ll want to watch the cutscenes. Voice acting is among the best in the business, and by the end of the 10-12 hour campaign, you’ll feel you know these characters as well as anyone.
Each mission, while following the same basic structure of go from Point A to Point B, is a character in itself. America is here, it’s just… different, like being a passenger in your own car, multiplied by a thousand. Manhattan is now an irradiated wasteland while roaming the streets of Roswell you’ll see KKK members in conversation with Nazi soldiers. It’s absurd, but also terrifying.
Of course, what would a Wolfenstein game be without a lot of shooting – and on this note the game holds up impeccably. While gunfights are challenging, requiring you to take cover, flank, or thin the herd with stealth kills, shooting is smooth. Dual-wielding huge rotating shotguns never gets old, nor does popping out from behind cover and bashing an enemy’s head in with a fire axe. Given the desperate times the game depicts, the violence never seems too gratuitous, instead of feeling like a necessary defence mechanism against these troubling times.
Upgrading weapons can improve your stealth capabilities with silencers, scopes and the like, or allow you to wreak havoc with armour piercing rounds – one of the smartest options, given the Nazi’s love of all things mechanised. Some levels are more open than others, encouraging multiple playthroughs, but you’ll find yourself attempting all sorts of ways to clear a room in an organic fashion.
Part of this “trial and error” comes from the game’s difficulty. Even on the medium setting, the game ramps up. It never feels cheap, but you’re always on your toes. While every death teaches a lesson, there are two minor foibles in this regard; a lack of feedback on the Dualshock 4 when taking damage, and BJ’s inability to hold anything more than half health (anything more than this ticks down). While thematically this is appropriate (he is a dying man after all), it makes him feel more fragile than vulnerable.
Wolfenstein II will deliver what you ask of it: if you play for story and characters, it has that in spades. If you’re looking for a tight, challenging shooter, it has you covered. If you’re looking to explore a bizarre abomination of sixties America, you’ll find a lot to love. In all of these cases, you’ll certainly never forget it.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*