Taking place five months after MachineGames’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, The New Colossus starts with our protagonist William “Terror-Billy” Blazkowicz waking up from a five-month coma to find the U-Boat he and his allies live on being invaded by Nazis. Despite being largely unable to move, he climbs into a wheelchair and successfully saves his friends in a decently solid first/tutorial mission. If you haven’t played a Wolfenstein game before, this tells you just about everything you need to know about this game and Blazkowicz’s standing as a Heracles-level hero.
Allow me to add some context. After the defeat of the final boss of The New Order, Blazkowicz was put into a coma that he spends the opening cutscene slipping in and out of. During this sequence, you have to remake a decision from the previous game, whether to save Wyatt or Fergus (which determines which ending you’ll get), you find out Blazkowicz’s love interest Anya is pregnant, and you’ll also see many memories from Blazkowicz’s terrible, terrible childhood, which I’ll describe in more detail later.
After your wheelchair assault, the first of many absolutely absurd scenarios in-game, you and a handful of allies are kidnapped by our main villain for today, Frau Engel, a Nazi general who from the very first cutscene you just can’t wait to kill. She kills Caroline, a major character in previous games, in a decently disturbing decapitation sequence, and verbally abuses her own daughter a bit. As an upside, you get the power armor, allowing you to walk around and fight without needing a wheelchair. After overcoming insurmountable odds for the second of many dozen times, he recovers Caroline’s body and takes her back to the U-Boat Eva’s Hammer, your home and the hub world.
Throughout the next few missions, despite how many Nazis he kills and survives unscathed, Blazkowicz feels like he’s dying, at one point saying he feels like he’ll fall apart if he takes off the power armor. He talks a lot to the memory of Caroline, asking her to watch over him and lamenting his incoming demise. It’s a very interesting glimpse into the mortality of a seemingly invulnerable man, and the fear that he won’t be able to raise his children adds an element of humanity to a character sometimes too immortal to be relatable. It comes up at the best times as well, during long stretches of quiet between battles, just a man alone with his monsters. It’s very well done.
You spend a couple of missions recruiting members to the resistance and destabilizing the Nazi influence over America, including detonating a nuclear warhead in a Nazi stronghold in Roswell, before returning to your childhood home in Texas. This is a nice little mission at first, you’ll walk around the ranch and see Blazkowicz flash-back to his preteen years, where he develops romantic feelings for a black neighbor (coincidentally also named Billie), which unfortunately is a serious no-no when your father is a Nazi. Her arc reaches a peak when she confesses feelings to him, but after that she just disappears. The last memory is of Billy coming home crying after his knife was stolen, and his father hits him for it and tells him to get him back. The father arc and the mortality arc both tie in with a simple line: “I’ll be in my grave and I’ll still be a better daddy than you”. It sums up his ultimate fear and the sheer terror his childhood was in the most concise way possible, solidifying this game as having one of the best stories of its genre.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW. IF YOU DO NOT WANT THE GAME SPOILED, SKIP TO “GAMEPLAY”
I’m planning a more in-depth article on Blazkowicz’s father and characters like him in the future, so stay tuned for that, but after you encounter Rip Blazkowicz, he sells you to the Nazis and you enter the beginning of act three, the darkest hour, when all hope is lost and it seems like there’s no way the protagonist can win. With your power armor taken, you’re almost completely immobile, and you’re about to be executed publicly. After some more especially disturbing cutscenes with General Engel, a judge sentences you to death. Of course, you can’t die, you’re William “B.J.” “Terror-Billy” Blazkowicz! As the Baliff starts to take you away, you force yourself free and kill two soldiers, and now you’re ready to fight your way to freedom.
This is where my major problem is, both gameplay- and story-wise. For whatever reason, this level in particular was especially hard on my computer, and it routinely froze mid-level, forcing me to start over and over again, leaving me stuck on the level for about a week. Eventually I pulled through, and after encountering his mother(!) and having a heartwarming reunion, William Blazkowicz wakes up. Yep, he wakes up. I’d spent a week on this level only to find out that it didn’t even happen. Even if I did beat it on the first attempt, this would still piss me off as “it was all a dream” is possibly my least favorite trope of all time.
Whatever. You wake up in the courtroom where you’re sentenced to death, and General Engel beheads you in front of a large crowd of formerly-American Nazis. This is when things get weird, even by Wolfenstein’s standards. Set, a scientist ally, recovers your head before it hits the incinerator, and surgically reattaches it to the body of a genetically engineered Nazi supersoldier. From there, you plan on stealing Engel’s airship, and recovering the necessary codes to do so involves going to the planet Venus and meeting Hitler, whose brain has decayed rapidly due to heavy amphetamine usage. For the final mission, Blazkowicz and his pregnant-with-twins girlfriend invade the airship and take it over.
Although this does have one of the best stories I’ve seen in an FPS game, it’s also one of the most over the top and ridiculous ones. If you go in prepared for that, then you’ll have a wonderful time. If “realism” is what you’re looking for in a game where you kill hundreds upon hundreds of Nazis, look elsewhere.
Gameplay here is pretty standard. It’s a first person shooter, you use the mouse to look and shoot, WASD to move, and space to jump. Your main weapons are guns (duh), grenades, and hatchets. By the end of the game you’ll have a great variety of killing methods, ranging from sniping from a distance, pumping ’em with bullets up close, throwing hatchets, dismembering them up close, charging into them so fast that you crush them, grenades, and my personal favorite, heavy weapons.
Throughout the game you’ll encounter numerous “big” enemies, and once you waste half your ammo piercing their armor, they’ll die and leave their weapons for you to pick up. The first you’ll encounter is my personal favorite, the laser cannon. You move slow because you have to lug around a giant hunk of machinery, but the lasers will cut through big and small enemies alike. Although you’re definitely not unkillable with these, it’s a fun strength boost to play with for a little bit.
As usual, there are six gameplay difficulties, ranging from “Can I Play, Daddy?” to “Mein Leben”. I tried each of these, and while I found “Bring it on!” best for me, the easiest difficulty did give me a bit of cheap fun by essentially making Blazkowicz unkillable, allowing him to blaze his way through Nazi swarms with no difficulty. It was incredibly unrewarding after a while, though, so I’d recommend the hardest difficulty that doesn’t make you tear your hair out.
The variety is one of my favorite things here, although no missions in the main story require stealth (thank god), you can crouch-walk across the levels and use silenced shots or the hatchet to take out enemies before they notice you. With most levels, you can either run in guns blazing or sneak around and get a few picks before someone notices you. There’s also a couple different strategies you can employ on different maps, like waiting in a room to force enemies to bottleneck in. With eight guns to choose from by the end of the game, you’ll find the one that works best for you soon enough, and you can find weapon upgrade kits around the level to modify it to your will.
I was playing on the lowest graphical settings and the game still looked great, the people and locations all looked very real. While there were very few grand, jaw-dropping landscapes, that honestly worked in the game’s favor. You’re in 1960s Nazi America, it should look drab and depressing. Because I’m apparently blind or something, there were several occasions where I couldn’t actually find an enemy that was shooting at me because all the grays on the screen blended together. While all the grays did get a little boring to look at occasionally, the endless swarms of Nazis to kill was a pleasant enough distraction that I usually didn’t notice.
The soundtrack is excellent, composed by Mick Gordon, who also did the soundtrack for Doom and Prey. The full soundtrack will soon be available on his website, and in the meantime can be found on YouTube. Many of the cutscene tracks are somber and emotionally charged, and the battle themes are exactly what you’d expect: energy-filled rock/metal themes to get you in the perfect mood for Nazi slaughtering action.
If you’re a longtime fan of Wolfenstein or just looking for a way to get rid of some pent up aggression towards the Nazi Party, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is an excellent addition to your collection. While the campaign is a bit short, I spent 15 hours on it but only because I suck, there’s plenty of collectibles to find if you’re a completionist. You can also track down Ubercommandants to do some assassination missions from Eva’s hammer. While this game isn’t for the faint of heart, if you can stand a bit of gore then grab a hatchet and start swinging. Someone’s gotta get the Nazis out.