Pretty much everything I know, I’ve learned from videogames. History, astronomy, geography, literature, mythology and psychology. I know what an astronomical unit is, I have a decent knowledge of the names of various Caribbean islands despite having never visited and have a decent understanding of the workings of feudal laws of succession. And if there’s one thing that videogames have been particularly clear on, it’s that it’s okay to kill Nazis.
Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent than in the Wolfenstein series. From its humble-yet-revolutionary beginnings as the 3D shooter to inspire Doom and, from there, the world (or its REAL origins as a stealth game in 1981… a stealth game in 1981!!) Wolfenstein has cemented its place in the videogame hall of fame and is perhaps the best-known game about brutally murdering Nazis.
The New Colossus is the sequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order. And with this legacy of brutally murdering Nazis, it doesn’t disappoint.
Seriously. If bathing in the blood of your enemies, slashing throats, cutting legs off at the knees (SO MANY LEGLESS CORPSES!) and burying hatchets in the heads of your foes is what you’re looking for in a game, this’ll do it for you. It perhaps doesn’t go to the chainsaw-wielding extreme of Doom, but if I were to sniff and mutter that Wolfenstein isn’t as goretastic as Doom, I’m really not doing it justice. Wolfenstein is a bloodbath.
And, in case you missed the last one, it’s ridiculous as well. Some of the things that are delivered through the story in a semblance of straight-faced seriousness are just utterly stupid. By the end you’ll have sat through perhaps eight individual scenes that are so utterly, wonderfully bonkers they’ll have almost begun to feel normal. Using any examples would be to devalue the experience but rest assured a whole lot is hand-waved in the name of Da'at Yichud super-science.
Graphically and imaginatively, Wolfenstein if pushing the boundaries in great ways. Optimisation is fairly good; I managed to get high settings running satisfactorily on the ageing test machine that I was using. In terms of window-dressing, it’s pretty impressive. There are not too many straight-up science lab/military bunker levels, instead opting for a few more interesting settings. The action has moved from Europe to America for this game, and the remains of the devastation of the Nazi invasion are visible in glimpsed newspaper headlines just as palpably as in the bombed-out shell of Manhattan. American collaboration is kind of an ongoing theme – sometimes you swap out Nazis for hooded KKK members for a palate cleanser (albeit a gory one, naturally). A level from the previous game is impressively re-imagined as a home-base for the good guys. Enemies are fairly well varied and the game doesn’t shy away from throwing house-sized enemies at you with the full knowledge that you can actually take them down just by shooting and shooting and shooting until they fall down.
Not that it’s all head-on. Along with the dual-shotgun-toting mayhem, there’s a pretty serviceable stealth option available through most of the game as well. In fact, level design seems to encourage stealth more and more as the game goes on. Stealth moves aren’t all necessarily insta-kills either – some power-suited enemies can have their fuel lines snipped in stealth, leaving them standing in a growing puddle of diesel. With inevitable options for you, of course.
So, good game!! Some interesting levels, insane and over-the-top characters and set pieces, decent stealth and shooting gameplay to explore, and plenty of options to upgrade weapons in interesting ways. Later on, there are some new options for mobility that allow access to otherwise inaccessible areas, although often the choice is cosmetic due to the game needing to allow you to progress easily. In some places, level design can be a little confusing and you can find yourself running around cleared areas looking for where you’re supposed to go next, and the maps are next-to-useless. But if I had to poke one big hole in it, at the moment it’s all the bugs. Crashes to desktop, weird mouse pointers and hourglasses moving around the screen while you’re trying to play, black screens that prevent further play… there is a smorgasbord of woes for any player right now. I know the usual cries of ‘this will all be patched out soon’, and yes, it’s already happening in places, but you release it, we review it. That’s the deal, and people who buy the game on release day shouldn’t be punished with an unfinished product. Still, if you’re reading this review in months or years to come, it’s probably fine now.
These are small niggles in the grand scheme of things. Wolfenstein’s single-player campaign felt like the right length: there are tons of pickups needed for 100% completion, and at a certain point in the game you can go back over previous levels and play them in a slightly different way, with different enemy layouts and sometimes different environmental factors, to freshen them up for extended gameplay time and a few extra collectibles. There are a few little sub-levels available as well where you assume different roles and, well, basically just kill another hundredweight of Nazis.
This Wolfenstein has been broadly politicized and has been the no-doubt eager focus for political stunts and controversy. Which is odd, really, seeing as how at its heart it’s one of the most clear-cut examples of an FPS that we’ve seen in a while. No tricky resource management stuff, no new sub-systems to learn, just straightforward running and gunning, with a side-order of throat-slashing. And leg-removing. And eyeball-popping. And forehead-hatchet-burying. And exploding with diesel-filled grenades. And evaporating with laser guns. Typical, uncomplicated Wolfenstein stuff!