WOLFENSTEIN II: THE NEW COLOSSUS
Developer MachineGames Publisher Bethesda Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release October 27
The empty wheelchair – a maligned horror cliché cameoed in everything from BioShock to Alien Isolation. You know the drill: creep into a room and a light flickers; a vacant chair sits lifeless; a bloodied hand mark on the floor, its owner having been dragged unceremoniously into the shadows.
Things are different in Wolfenstein II. There’s a wheelchair, but it’s not for incidental environmental flourish. Instead, MachineGames uses it to transform returning protagonist William ‘BJ’ Blazkowicz into a mobile weapon. Set five months after the first game, The New Colossus’ opening sees Blazkowicz newly awoken from a coma and in a vulnerable state. Wheeling around with nothing but a submachine gun, you have to navigate the tight corridors of a stolen Nazi U-boat. But it’s different to how you’re used to moving through a shooter – come across a ladder and you’re unable to ascend, forced instead to manoeuvre through a system of conveyor belts. Keep watch, too, as you roll through its corridors so a patrolling Nazi doesn’t get the jump on you.
MachineGames proved its craft with The New Order, a fresh take on an old name that juggled pure absurdity and genuine poignancy, and the studio seems set to do once again with The New Colossus. But it’s a familiar re-run. Blazkowicz is still a dour narrator; the Nazis are a relentless caricature of evil; scenes dart between gratuitous torture-porn, comedic gore and romantic wartime sensibility. The nostalgic rat-tat-tat of gunfire is essentially unchanged from three years ago, too. On this evidence, the most significant mechanical change seems to be the addition of automatic ammo pick-up.
Just like in 2014, the magic lies in the game’s direction. Wolfenstein’s world is one of sheer madness, and yet MachineGames finds a way to squeeze compassion and humour in between the goose-stepping. The
New Colossus promises to up the ante on the crazy – Pete Hines described it as “fucking bananas” – but a scene where Blazkowicz is reunited with his wife, now pregnant with twins, is truly touching. Later, as he gets a post-coma recap from resistance father figure Set Roth, the camera pans in close on our protagonist as wave upon wave of Nazi soldiers try to get past an electrified wall in the background. Barely in focus, some tip-toe, some wall-hug – it’s an offhand comedic masterstroke.
The most sensitive addition is Sigrun, the podgy daughter of Frau Engel, the insane matriarch antagonist from the first game. Disgusted by her obese dependent, Engel bullies and tortures Sigrun to the amusement of her fascist goons, but what should be jarring viewing is pitched perfectly to accentuate the cruelty of its villain and shine a light on the game’s purer heart. It’s the perfect summation of new-era Wolfenstein – completely off the wall, but absolutely on the money.
The game’s October release date may yet change – it’s currently up against Assassin’s Creed Origins, Super Mario Odyssey and the PC port of Destiny2