Press Start: 'Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus' takes two goose steps back
"Wolfenstein: The New Order" presented a disturbing question: What if the Nazis had won World War II?
The game's sequel, "Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus," presents an equally unsettling follow-up question: What if the Nazis took over America, plastering every street corner with swastikas and Nazi officers, while most of the country's otherwise patriotic citizens kowtowed to the Third Reich?
It's an interesting premise for a story, which is easily "Wolfenstein II's" greatest strength.
First-person shooters are typically light on narrative. They play out like B-movie plots that act as a backdrop for the main attraction: shooting people.
Don't get me wrong; "Wolfenstein II" features plenty of shooting, but it's also got a lot of heart and soul. Characters are lovable, the story and writing are great, and the journey takes some surprising twists. The ending gave me chills, which is not something I can say for any other shooter I can remember.
I especially enjoyed the personal developments between characters. When not on missions, you—as player character B.J. Blazkowicz—can run odd jobs for fellow crew members and spend time talking to them. Early in the game, you choose which of two characters will accompany you for the rest of the game, and whoever you choose ends up playing a pivotal role in the story and shows up in most of the cutscenes. The game is worth playing through at least twice to experience both.
As serious and dark as "Wolfenstein II" can be, it can just as quickly become fun—even hilarious. It strikes a brilliant balance between the two, changing the tone exactly when needed. I only wish the actual gameplay lived up to the story.
After finishing the first handful of missions of "Wolfenstein II," I was worried. Levels felt shorter, more linear and less inspired than those from "Wolfenstein: The New Order." I was hoping for more of those open-ended maps that allowed me to tackle objectives as I saw fit, but they're nowhere to be found in the sequel.
Levels open up a bit after a surprising development halfway through the game, but the level design and mission structure never reached the lofty heights of the original. The claustrophobic areas that shoehorned me along were easily the biggest drawback to one of my most anticipated games of the year.
I remember in "The New Order" being given the option to sneak through missions or go in guns blazing. While those options exist in "The New Colossus," it's not so easy to remain stealthy. Because of levels' tight corridors and hallways, I was spotted in every mission—leading to full-on gun battles.
The gunplay is certainly fun (dual-wielding semi-automatic shotguns never got old), but it's definitely not as tight or responsive as such staple first-person shooters as "Call of Duty."
Halfway through the game, you're given one of three abilities that opens new ways to tackle missions. I chose the stilt-like battle walkers that allowed me to extend my height several feet to reach new platforms. While useful, the controls for the walkers can be a bit finicky; several times I tried without success to climb onto ledges directly in front of me.
The ram shackles are the most fun, allowing B.J. to charge through walls and tackle foes. I'm glad there's a way to get all three contraptions in a single playthrough to experience them all. They all come with useful passive perks that make them even more versatile.
Speaking of perks, "Wolfenstein II" rewards you with boosts for playing how you want. For instance, get a certain amount of kills while sneaking and your crouching speed will increase. It's a great system that simultaneously gives players boosts based on how they choose to play while encouraging them to try new things to unlock different perks.
The main story doesn't take long to beat, but there are assassination missions to take on, along with a few lackluster side missions to keep you occupied and further upgrade B.J. After putting in all that work, it's too bad "Wolfenstein II" doesn't include a new game-plus mode to start the game over with all your weapon upgrades and perks intact. It's a huge missed opportunity.
"Wolfenstein II" takes a couple steps back when it comes to level design and allowing players to tackle missions as they see fit, but the equally funny and gripping story, fantastic cast of characters and chaotic gunplay make "The New Colossus" a solid first-person shooter—especially for returning fans.
Final score: 8/10
"Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus" was reviewed on the Xbox One with a review copy provided by the publisher's PR agency, fortyseven communications.
Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing email@example.com, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.