Platforms PC, PS4, XBO (reviewed)
Developer Machine Games
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Release Date October 27, 2017

The New Colossus returns players to the alternative history universe of Wolfenstein, where Nazi’s won the second world war thanks to a technological superiority. You’ll once again take on the role of series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz. Following directly from the ending of The New Order, BJ and his allies continue their mission to fight back against the global Nazi war machine. To do so they’re going to attempt to ignite a revolution in the occupied United States.


Story

One of the best and most surprising things about 2014’s The New Order was the depth it brought to both its main narrative and its cast of characters. The previous game actually told a fairly entertaining story. It was full of the type of humour you’d expect from a Wolfenstein game, but it dug much deeper into the alternative history of its setting, showing the Human toll a worldwide Nazi occupation would have taken. Not only did it have action and jokes, it also successfully brought drama, heart and darkness to the franchise.

The New Colossus doubles down on both. The game places a greater emphasis on bigger comedy moments (there’s a scene towards the end of the game involving Anja and a grenade that is hands down one of my favourite comedic moments of 2017), with a script that features incredible dialogue, superb comic timing and one that knows its characters and how to get them to interact with one another to great effect.

But these moments of levity punctuate a brutal game. The world itself is a grim place, it’d have to be considering it’s being run by Nazi’s. The New Colossus doesn’t shy away from the darkest parts of its fiction, and it’s main characters have been brutalised and traumatised by a bleakly oppressive world. Moments of incredibly effective pathos pierce the high octane action and laugh out loud comedy, grounding you in this awful world and presenting three dimensional characters, with just the right blend of humour and darkness to make you truly care about each of them.

Aside from the character interactions, the main story is fine. It does its job of getting BJ from point A to point B, never shying away from the cruelty and injustice of the world itself. It also features a fantastic main antagonist in the delightfully over-the-top Frau Engel, who devours the scenery whenever she’s on-screen. However the main story itself is fairly pedestrian, with no real twists that you won’t already see coming and an ending that lacks resolution for the story being told. As I said however, it’s decent enough and the excellent characterisation more than makes up for this.

Aside from the linear main narrative, The New Colossus also features some side quests. There are a few rudimentary quests picked up from the residents of Eva’s Hammer, the stolen U-boat that BJ and friends call home, which are quick distractions that can space out main missions. Later in the game you’ll also be able to unlock assassination missions. Collecting Enigma codes from Nazi commanders allows you to locate targets for extra missions, extending the length of the game by a good few hours.


Graphics & Design

Graphically The New Colossus is a bit of a mess, at least on Xbox. While the game’s cutscenes look great, the entire in-game experience is actually quite hard to look at. The game is populated completely with low-res textures, giving every character, environment and object a lack of detail. Despite this the game still has trouble with pop-in, with textures routinely failing to load properly in-game.

This is coupled with an over-reliance on post-processing effects and motion blur to make it feel like there’s a sheen over BJ’s eyes – like someone left the screen protector on the camera lens and it’s ever so slightly smeared with fingerprints. Aside from making the game look a bit ugly, which itself wouldn’t exactly be a huge problem, it also has an impact on gameplay – it can be difficult to make out enemies in the middle distance when they’re standing in shadows or amongst environments whose colours are similar to their own. It’s more pronounced in lit areas than in darker ones, but it was a constant issue throughout my 10 or so hours with the game.

You’d assume that The New Colossus was running at a lower resolution to keep a solid 60 frames per second, but the game struggles to maintain a constant framerate at all. The game is plagued with constant dips in framerate seemingly at random. This happens during cutscenes, intense firefights with multiple enemies and tons of particle effects or sometimes just when you’re wandering an otherwise empty level. These dips are never severe, it doesn’t make the game run like a slideshow or hamper gameplay too much, but it is noticeable and fairly frequent.

There are also some clipping issues with the game – the game features a dynamic cover system that sees BJ take cover when approaching walls or corners, with the ability to hold down the left trigger to peer over or around them. Frequently when attempting to crouch walk past enemy corpses the game would glitch out as if it was trying to use them as cover, despite the fact that they’re not solid objects in the game world for obvious reasons, causing the camera and BJ’s equipped weapon to go nuts.

The overall world is excellent – areas such as the bombed out wasteland of New York or the eerie familiarity of a Nazi occupied Roswell town offer a compelling look at a horrible world overrun with Nazis. But the levels themselves leave something to be desired. They’re too open with limited avenues for reliable cover and far too many angles to get shot from, which makes stealth a frustrating option best left ignored and makes surviveability an issue given how fragile a protagonist BJ is.


Sound

The New Colossus features some absolutely top quality voice acting, capturing probably some of the best performances of the year. The excellent characterisation works in large part thanks to these performers comitting 100% to their parts & really delivering whatever the script requires.

A special mention has to go to Brian Bloom, whose turn as BJ Blazkowicz had to carry much of the game. He’s given a lot to work with beyond one-liners and angry grunts too, as The New Colossus digs deep to explore his brutal past and the psychology of a man who is critical to a war effort, but one who is also stretched beyond breaking point. He carries the whole thing off with ease no matter what he’s tasked with delivering. The same is true of the rest of this fantastic cast (even Max Hass), but Bloom deserves a shoutout given a lot of the game’s narrative falls squarely on his shoulders.

The New Colossus also hits its soundtrack out of the park, with just about every musical cue doing exactly what it needs to do in the moment. Whether your ears are suddenly pounded by hard hitting electro-rock or you’re arguing in the middle of New Orleans during a firefight while one character plays a jazzy clarinet solo, the music is positively exceptional.

New Colossus also marks the return of the Nazi-fied vinyl recordings of classic songs from the previous game, which are once again a mixture of interesting, bizarre and ocassionally hilarious.

Sound effects are pretty much fine across the board, with New Colossus’ arsenal of weapons proving to be a highlight. From the meaty roar of a heavy machine gun to the electric tear of a laser right down to the satisfying thump of a pistol, the weapons sound great. Nothing else really stands out, save for the screams, cries and shouts of the enemy combatants during combat, which if nothing else hit me with a heavy dose of nostalgia, successfully recalling the days when every shooter was filled with Nazi enemies screaming “grenate” in a blind panic.


Gameplay

The core gameplay of New Colossus remains largely unchanged from its predecessor. One of The New Order’s best tricks was updating the classic Wolfenstein experience for modern sensibilities, and New Colossus is no different. The pace of gun fights are still lightning quick, with BJ moving significantly faster than your modern FPS protagonist, which in turn cranks up the overall speed of firefights. Regenerating health is also ditched in favour of health packs and armour.

It remains a satisfying blend of old and new, with a satisfying loop of Nazi killing mayhem at its core. Although you won’t get much of an opportunity to tear through them thanks to the game’s difficulty, which lets enemies give as good as they get, especially at the highest levels. The game still offers a challenge at any difficulty other than the very easiest.

This difficulty comes down to the number of enemies that will regularly swarm you and the amount of damage they do to a surprisingly fragile protagonist, rather than through any sort of challenging gameplay. The AI in New Colossus can’t really handle much beyond aiming their guns in your general direction, anything else seems to be thoroughly beyond their capabilities. This includes using cover at all, with most Nazi’s eschewing it in favour of standing directly in front of you out in the open, as if they secretly want to be turned to mulch by your shotgun.

Enemies will run around in circles on the spot, take cover from grenades by standing still directly on top of them and more. The once terrifying Panzerhund’s have been reduced to walking slowly towards players in a completely nonthreatening manner. The AI’s performance leaves a lot to be desired, which can make the game’s difficulty quite aggravating when it’s down to being simply overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

The fast pace and the sheer amount of enemies that you can face goes some way towards obfuscating the oftentimes lacklustre AI. Battles are hectic, with sometimes a dozen or more enemies firing at you from all directions, injecting the game with a furious pace and giving the game a really satisfying feeling when it’s in full flow. It’s devilishly satisfying to blast your way through the Nazi regime one bullet at a time.

New Colossus also features some very light RPG mechanics in the form of weapon upgrades. By finding upgrade kits hidden throughout most levels you’ll be able to modify your arsenal in a variety of different ways, giving your guns fairly standard boosts such as silencers for stealthier combat, larger magazines or faster reload times or even changing the way they fire. A machine pistol upgrade increases the weapons damage at the expense of a slower rate of fire, for example. Each weapon has three potential upgrades and they’re a welcome mechanic, enabling you to feel more powerful and making the Nazi war machine a bit easier to deal with.


Final Verdict

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a generally fantastic game. This sequel doubles down on a lot of what made The New Order a surprising smash hit of 2014, keeping the already excellent core combat mechanics relatively untouched while delivering a story that, when it focuses on its excellent cast of characters, is sublime. While it generally focuses on humour and light hearted moments, it’s also not afraid to show its dark side or put its characters through sheer hell when the situation calls for it.

I want to heap nothing but unending praise on a game that utterly nails its shooting mechanics and character arcs. However, The New Colossus is held back from true greatness by some dodgy AI and graphical issues. The AI is rudimentary at best, displaying a shocking lack of intelligence beyond being able to shoot in your general direction. And the game couples ugly graphics (which aren’t themselves a huge problem) with a smattering of graphical glitches and bugs and an inability to hold a stable framerate. These problems aren’t deal breakers, but they do their part to take away from an otherwise awesome game.

8v2

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