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Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus review

BJ Blazkowicz returns to save the USA.

Our Verdict

The New Colossus is a fun and frantic FPS, even if it doesn't feel quite as fresh as The New Order did.

NEED TO KNOW

What is it? The America-set FPS sequel to The New Order and The Old Blood.
Expect to pay: $60/£40
Developer: Machinegames
Publisher: Bethesda
Reviewed on: Intel I5 3570K@3.40GHz, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 970
Multiplayer: None
Link: Official site

During one cutscene in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, a pretty serious conversation between BJ Blazkowicz and his wife Anya on their U-boat base is interrupted by someone who's just finished using the toilet. That's the tone of the game encapsulated, really: moments of sincerity punctuated by the silliest of jokes. 

Like with The New Order, this is a fun wrapping for a first-person shooter where you kill many Nazis. This time Blazkowicz and his friends have gone to the Nazi-occupied USA, with the intention of teaming up with a few other resistance groups and starting a revolution. Meanwhile, Frau Engel, the unhinged villain from the first game, is on a relentless and bloody hunt for BJ. Your journey takes you to places like Manhattan, Roswell and New Orleans, where you can see the various ways in which the Nazis have imposed their rule, before shooting them all in the face.

I won't say too much about the specifics of the settings in Wolfenstein 2, just because I've avoided everything about The New Colossus since its E3 reveal and enjoyed the surprise of discovering them. Most of the time you'll find yourself shooting Nazis in nondescript corridors anyway, though. 

One of the most memorable parts of the story is exploring a disturbing, alternate reality Roswell during a Nazi parade while Blazkowicz is disguised as a firefighter. Members of the KKK are casually walking the streets. One woman tries to kiss up to a Nazi officer, and ends up committing a faux pas that gets her reported, while one newspaper seller thinks he knows the truth about who BJ really is. The ambience of it reminded me of exploring Columbia during the opening of BioShock Infinite, or indeed Rapture in Burial At Sea: it's just world-building and triggering NPC conversations, really, but the detail and atmosphere is extraordinary. 

Sadly, it's the only sequence of its kind in the game, and I think a few more populated areas like this would've helped make its setting feel even more real. Your home base is expanded this time, though, which compensates: after every mission, all of your supporting characters will have new things to say, and some will offer (mostly dull, actually) little sidequests to take on. If you enjoyed the tense Frau Engel train sequence in The New Order, too, you'll be pleased to know there are a bunch more like it in The New Colossus that I found just as effective. 

Battle sprawls

As with the first game, you can optionally sneak around and take out all the enemies in a given area instead of going weapons free, and killing an officer will prevent further reinforcements from turning up if you're caught. The difference here is that the environments are a lot larger, and there's usually more than one way to get around, even if it's just the classic games thing of moving through a couple of vents. I managed to take out a chunk of the officers stealthily, but it definitely feels harder to do that with the scope of environments and the amount of people who can spot you within them. That's not an issue, though, because The New Colossus still has some of the best guns in any FPS game, and using them is always more fun than any of Wolfenstein's stealth interactions, despite BJ having a lovely hatchet melee takedown move.

The shotgun is the standout for me, as it was in the first game. This time it's got three rotating barrels, and with the game's weapon upgrades found dotted around the world, you can make it fire from all three at once, as well as adding ricochet damage that lights up the environment. These aren't as transformational or exciting as Doom 2016's gun mods, but they still give you the feeling that your arsenal is evolving across the game. Another one I like is the nailgun upgrade for the submachine gun, which downgrades it to single fire but also makes your bullets deadlier. Combined with the suppressor, it's a pretty useful gun for quietly downing multiple enemies before they can open fire and an officer sets the alarm off. 

I feel like the armoury could've been a bit wackier, though: a few of the heavier guns let you fire strong laser beams and blobs of flames, and even a black hole-like orange gravitational blast. Since you can't move very fast while carrying them, though, more often than not they just make you a slow-moving target. It might've been more fun if these guns were a permanent part of your arsenal and didn't slow you down, especially as later enemies include robot dogs, mechs and robots that can blink around the environment. 

The variety of levels is still impressive, although it didn't dazzle me as much as The New Order did in that regard.

At the start of The New Colossus, you can pick which timeline you followed in the first game, whether polite American pal Wyatt or Glaswegian pilot Fergus survived. I picked Fergus like I did in the first game, and your choice grants you use of a certain weapon: a fire-based Dieselkraftwerk if it's Wyatt, and a Laserkraftwerk in the case of Fergus, which can vapourise enemies. Who you saved also changes certain cutscenes throughout the game, which is a nice touch, even though I found Fergus's wacky adventures with his misbehaving mechanical arm and constant disagreements with resistance leader Grace Walker to be a bit much after a while. 

Performance and settings

I reviewed this on my 970-equipped work PC, and on medium settings it more or less stays at 60FPS, 1050p. Increasing the settings to high gets it to 45-60, depending on the situation you're in, though it's definitely consistent enough that it's fine to play like that. Tested on another PC with a GTX 780 and an I5 4460@3.20GHz, on medium settings it sat at around 35-50FPS, 1080p. It sounds like the system requirements, which say minimum spec is for 720p, 60FPS, are spot on to me.  

Settings: Bloom, resolution scaling, V-sync, motion blur, anti-aliasing, colorblind mode, FOV, lights, shadows, particles, directional occlusion, reflections, decals, image streaming, water quality, material/lightmap/image aniso filter, volumetric quality, HDR bloom, chromatic aberration, depth of field, DoF anti aliasing, deferred rendering, sharpening, manual scaling. 

New to Machinegames' Wolfenstein are contraptions, a set of abilities that BJ can acquire from the halfway point of The New Colossus. One's focused on stealth, quieting your footsteps and letting you sneak through tiny spaces. Another gives you a height boost to reach better tactical areas, while the other lets you kill enemies by ramming into them. You initially choose one, and are later given optional sidequests to pick up the others. Having tried all three, being able to turn BJ into a battering ram who can gib officers by barging into them is by far the best. In these later levels, too, you can reach new areas by running through certain types of walls, which feels badass. I wish they were in the game from the start, though. By the time you acquire a contraption, you're slightly too close to the end of the story to really get the most use out of it. 

There are some optional asides on top of the story, though, if you want to go back and have more fun with your growing suite of toys. Killing officers gets you enigma codes, which you can then use to unlock extra missions that take you back to previous level locations, where you're tasked with killing high-ranking Nazi officers while dealing with a slightly tougher range of enemies. I did a bunch of these, and they're a nice extra for those who want more from the game after the credits. It took me 14 hours to finish The New Colossus, while taking the time to explore environments properly and do extra missions, and depending on the difficulty, methodology and the type of player you are, I imagine it would take most people 11-16 hours. I recommend quicksaving as much as possible—the checkpointing isn't terribly generous, and firefights can go on for a while. The game's two medium difficulty settings, for experienced and casual players, are well-judged depending on the kind of challenge you're after. 

The variety of levels is still impressive, although it didn't dazzle me as much as The New Order did in that regard. I think the game peaks just under halfway through with Area 52, which features some large, multi-storey hangars that are particularly fun to clear out, as well as a moving train section where you're emptying out tight corridors of Nazis with a shotgun. If, like me, you were wondering how Machinegames would top the whole Nazis-on-the-moon scenario in the first game, you'll enjoy how the developer answered that, even if I found the level in question to be a slog compared to some of the earlier ones. The final chapter, meanwhile, features a battle with a couple of larger enemies that I just found arduous. I was ready for it to be over by the end. 

The developers take the time to expand on BJ Blazkowicz's background, which yields mixed results. The game generally has a wider tonal range than the original, touching upon racism and abuse, but it doesn't really dwell on those subjects long enough to have anything to say about them. I don't expect tons of thematic depth from a game with Wolfenstein in the title, obviously, but as it stands, they just feel like extra details to ensure the player knows the world around them is harrowing—and they didn't really register any emotional impact on me as a player either way, mainly because they feel half-explored. 

I've got a few other gripes, too. Climbing and jumping over bits of the environment is a pain in The New Colossus, and it feels like picking up items could be a bit slicker than it is. There's some mild texture pop-in, as well, most noticeably around your U-boat base, where your allies' little rooms are lovingly stuffed with details that reveal more about them.

I'm still won over by Wolfenstein 2's variety and gunplay, though, and even if it doesn't feel as fresh to me as The New Order did in 2014, I love the escalating firefights that play out in its various mini sandboxes. I appreciate that you can find singleplayer games like this in 2017, where there's so much attention paid to details like characterisation, sound design and facial animation, on top of how wonderful the guns feel. The New Colossus is fun and funny—a decent successor that's not just more of the same. 

The Verdict

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

The New Colossus is a fun and frantic FPS, even if it doesn't feel quite as fresh as The New Order did.