Wolfen­stein II: The New Colos­sus

De­vel­oper MachineGames Pub­lisher Bethesda For­mat PC, PS4 (both tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now


PC, PS4, Xbox One

The New Colos­sus doesn’t have the chal­lenge of rein­vent­ing Wolfen­stein, as its pre­de­ces­sor once did. In­stead, it has to build upon a sur­pris­ing act of orig­i­nal­ity. Pro­pelling BJ Blazkow­icz into an alt-1960s where the Nazis won the war, The New Or­der was not sim­ply a good shooter – it was an ac­com­plished feat of writ­ing and world­build­ing, man­ag­ing to find a place for hu­man­ity along­side hy­per­vi­o­lent Nazi science-hor­ror.

This se­quel be­gins at the mo­ment that game ended, build­ing out from BJ’s suc­cess against the Nazis in Europe to be­gin a new cam­paign in Amer­ica. A re­cap of the events of The New Or­der gives way to an in­ven­tive open­ing, where a crip­pled Blazkow­icz at­tempts to fight his way out of a sub­ma­rine in a wheel­chair. This set­piece level is beau­ti­fully im­ple­mented, cre­ative, mean­ing­fully im­pacts the way you play, and has a mea­sure of wit to it: it is em­blem­atic of the suc­cesses of the first game, and makes for a promis­ing start.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s a sense of ‘dif­fi­cult se­cond al­bum’ to the cam­paign that fol­lows. Some strong art di­rec­tion strug­gles to dif­fer­en­ti­ate samey Nazi fa­cil­i­ties, and set-piece en­vi­ron­ments, such as a post-nu­clear New York, can’t quite over­come the fact that ‘ru­ined Amer­ica’ is a far more fa­mil­iar theme for games like this than ‘1960s Eu­ro­pean Re­ich’. At its low­est ebb, it re­sorts to play­ing the hits: a se­quence where a dis­guised Blazkow­icz is in­ter­ro­gated by a Nazi of­fi­cer in a New Mex­ico diner is a less ef­fec­tive re-run of the mo­ment in the first game where you’re cor­nered by a Nazi of­fi­cial on the night train to Ber­lin. A later at­tempt to re­peat one of the first game’s most spec­tac­u­lar re­veals is un­der­sold and falls flat, and there’s no at­tempt to match the scale of The New Or­der’s big­gest mo­ments.

In­stead, The New Colos­sus zooms in on the small de­tails and dou­bles down on its de­sign­ers’ cin­e­matic am­bi­tions. Ex­traor­di­nar­ily de­tailed en­vi­ron­ments, par­tic­u­larly on board Blazkow­icz’s sub­ma­rine base of op­er­a­tions, tell the sto­ries of the peo­ple who oc­cupy them. Fo­cused tech­ni­cal di­rec­tion im­bues both com­bat and smaller hu­man mo­ments with be­liev­abil­ity, show­cas­ing an at­ten­tion to de­tail that con­sis­tently man­ages to lift the ex­pe­ri­ence out of medi­ocrity.

There’s a lot to like about the writ­ing, too, with a strong cen­tral cast, good per­for­mances, and a ded­i­ca­tion to en­sur­ing that there are al­ways char­ac­ter­ful mo­ments to dis­cover as you ex­plore home base be­tween mis­sions. Yet the tone of Wolfen­stein has never felt more at odds with it­self than it does here. At­tempt­ing to build upon the first game’s hor­ror el­e­ment, The New Colos­sus presents, of­ten graph­i­cally, both phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal vi­o­lence, push­ing beyond the bounds of grind­house Nazi ter­ror to fea­ture do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, racism, and child abuse. These mo­ments are ef­fec­tively pre­sented – in that they’re deeply un­pleas­ant – but these themes and their con­se­quences go un­der­ex­plored as the game abruptly snaps back to blood­thirsty Nazis­lay­ing, char­ac­ter com­edy, Blazkow­icz’s me­an­der­ing folk-po­etic in­ter­nal mono­logue, or one-off med­i­ta­tions on Amer­ica’s own trou­bled his­tory.

The script also doesn’t grant any of its char­ac­ters the free­dom to stray too far from cin­e­matic car­i­ca­ture: MachineGames pushes ev­ery­thing up to 11 with verve, but mean­ing­ful di­ver­sity re­quires a defter hand. The New Colos­sus is better than the ma­jor­ity of games in this re­gard, and that’s com­mend­able, but it doesn’t ex­empt its flaws. These stylis­tic suc­cesses and fail­ures de­fine The New Colos­sus, which is ro­bust but un­spec­tac­u­lar as a shooter. As in The New Or­der, cor­ri­dor com­bat with an ar­se­nal of fa­mil­iar weapons is min­gled with more open sec­tions where as­sas­si­na­tion of key of­fi­cers al­lows you to cut off the en­emy’s re­in­force­ments. This is eas­ier said than done, how­ever, and both level de­sign and AI fre­quently con­spire to make fire­fights the more likely out­come. De­spite its bom­bast, The New Colos­sus is all too quick to pun­ish play­ers who ap­proach it like Doom. Main­tain­ing maxed-out health and ar­mour en­cour­ages cau­tious ex­plo­ration, and even when at full health our hero can be downed with a few solid bursts of fire from a ba­sic foot­sol­dier. It makes di­rect en­gage­ment a big risk: you might want to sprint the length of a cor­ri­dor, shot­gun in each hand, but this is rarely sus­tain­able.

It’s odd that the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing Wolfen­stein II is so fre­quently op­po­site to its tone. A cutscene will hap­pily de­posit you into a last-stand sit­u­a­tion against an arena full of Nazis, Mick Gordon sound­track at your back, and you’d be for­given for think­ing that this was a sit­u­a­tion that MachineGames ex­pects you to Duke Nukem your way out of. In­stead, you’ll likely die half-adozen times be­fore you fig­ure out the cor­rect se­quence of pil­lars to hide be­hind while you cau­tiously thin the pack. Trial and er­ror is the rule, and while lib­eral use of quick­sav­ing and quick­load­ing can ame­lio­rate some of the frus­tra­tion, this feels like a stop-gap so­lu­tion.

This is com­pounded by a plot con­ceit that re­stricts you to half of your health pool for a size­able amount of the cam­paign. There’s a strange turn­ing point, deep into the game, where your health is fully re­stored and you gain ac­cess to new abil­i­ties and, sud­denly, ev­ery­thing be­comes much eas­ier – and re­mains so. As ever with this se­ries, there’s the temp­ta­tion to view this as a de­lib­er­ate stylis­tic de­ci­sion, but what ex­actly the game is try­ing to say re­mains elu­sive.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, The New Colos­sus is a stun­ning tech­ni­cal achieve­ment and an un­usu­ally stylish act of videogame cin­e­matog­ra­phy. Yet where the first game glee­fully took a scalpel to what had come be­fore, there’s no old or­der for The New Colos­sus to over­throw: just a New Or­der that it strug­gles to live up to.

The script doesn’t grant any of its char­ac­ters the free­dom to stray too far from cin­e­matic car­i­ca­ture

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.