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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PlayStation 4) artwork

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PlayStation 4) review

"Alien Nation"

One thing that I'm happy made the transition from The New Order to The New Colossus, an aspect I feel should be vital for all action-packed first-person shooters, is the solid combat structure. Everything just feels so natural when playing either game, from the way weapons go off while piercing Nazi soldiers with bullets or outright having them explode into chunks of flesh, how peeking around cover in combat is habitual, to the glee of sneaking behind someone, performing a brutal axe attack, and watch body parts fly off like it's nothing. Even the way soldiers instinctively strafe when avoiding shots or flanking comes off second nature. Toss in an upgrade system that incentivizes playing in diverse ways to gain the upgrades, such as performing frontal melee kills for faster health regeneration, and the current Wolfenstein series by MachineGames have become some of the smoothest-feeling first-person shooters I've played in recent memory.

But that just makes it even more bittersweet how The New Order didn't take full advantage of the "Future Nazis!" scenario, and instead opted to make its flexible combat system look embarrassingly basic thanks to dumb AI enemies charging forward in the game's rampant display of linear corridors. Why show off your arsenal of skills when you can instead pick off enemies, one by one, while they run down a straight path? Suffice it to say, The New Colossus had a lot to prove as a sequel. The New Order presented, and many ways failed, the possibilities of being in a world dominated by Nazis with frighteningly advanced, future-esque technology; it's now the sequel's turn to take those ideas, flesh them out, and aim for a much more impressive experience.

The game does start on a very promising note: you get to gun down Nazis while in a wheelchair! It's ridiculous witnessing the recovering B.J. Blazkowicz successfully sneaking behind and killing soldiers... in a noisy wheelchair. But it's great. There's even a mechanic in this mission where you can switch on microwave traps that instantly turn any Nazi into bloody goop. And prior to the start of the mission, The New Colossus earns its M rating when Blazkowicz slips in and out of consciousness, where we see brief snippets of childhood with his father. Within the span of five minutes, the player watches as the sperm donor shows he's a racist, a wife beater, a child beater, and an animal abuser. Wonderful fellow. While not as hard-hitting as The New Order's theatrical opening, this one showed potential in its willingness to branch away from conventional gameplay and storytelling.



Then the next few missions happened.

Unfortunately, The New Colossus repeats the fatal mistake The New Order committed by not fully embracing its alternative, Nazi-riddled universe, and does it slightly worse. Instead, MachineGames is completely content with placing you in typical FPS settings. A ruined city. Sewers. An underground facility. A moving train. Another facility that looks like the previous facility. Another ruined city. Another train station, this one in decay; variety. More sewers. A storage facility. And the devs don't even try doing anything interesting or unique for most of these missions, so you're stuck just shooting or sneaking up on Nazis. Which would be fine if it wasn't for the aforementioned issue of enemies running down linear corridors regardless of circumstance. Worse, the interval "hub world" aspect returns between missions, forcing you to do trivial stuff; have fun walking back and forth multiple times for banal objectives before you can start the next mission.

I wish I could give the devs credit for at least not adhering to the usual progression of weapons acquired, from pistols and rapid firearms, to shotguns and powerful, special weaponry, but they somehow screwed that up. Early on, you obtain a grenade launcher that detonates explosives on command. They also stick to objects, so you can use them as traps for soldiers running around a corner or on their bodies without their knowledge. Strong, useful weapon, right? You think ammo would be scarce for such an item, right? Weirdly, The New Colossus is loaded with refuel stations for this weapon, especially in areas where you end up battling enemies with imposing firearms and armor. The real kicker? Unlimited refuels. Now add in the fact you can upgrade the weapon to carry 20 grenades and... they didn't think this through. There are zero stakes when fighting huge, mechanical enemies, unless you're playing on extremely high difficulty settings.

Dumb AI, Linear Corridors, and Refuel Stations galore.

Thanks to uninspiring mission layouts and balancing problems, I'm not exaggerating when I say the first half feels like one of the most generic, plodding first-person shooter experiences I've played in the last couple years. It's a Wolfenstein game. It's a Wolfenstein game with a good combat system. It's the precursor to Doom. How did you screw this up? Twice? It's also depressing that the most threatening enemy throughout isn't a Nazi commander that can sound the alarm or a soldier bulked inside heavy armor and weaponry, but little, flying drones. Everyone eventually walks towards your spot for an easy killing, but these bastards haphazardly fly all over the place, hitting you with laser beams in the process. In a game centered on ruthless Nazi soldiers, these shouldn't be the scariest things to encounter.

It wasn't until the second half of The New Colossus where I started having a semblance of "fun," due to a couple new elements introduced that slightly altered gameplay in some way. For example, you're given the option to pick one of three abilities: one that can break through shuttered doors or tackle enemies, one that extends your height with mechanical legs, and another that allows you to sneak through tiny vents. Missions from there on won't reward you tremendously for using them, but they're, at best, neat additions. Some missions also started tossing in dangerous or cool aspects that actually force you to play differently; the beginning of one mission tasks you with running through radiation as it drains your health, and it isn't the easiest thing to pull off when a group of Nazis in hazmat suits are in your way. It even started offering side missions, though most don't offer anything different than the main missions, plus they just reuse assets or segments of missions.

However, no amount of tinkering and small additions would have overshadowed the underwhelming, unoriginal layout designs and balance, which persisted to the very end. The New Colossus was a disheartening experience for me, because it wasn't like I was finding things to hate for the sake of hating; I kept playing in hopes that the overall product would drastically improve in some way, that maybe some kind of upswing would penetrate the mediocrity ... and it just didn't take.

Frustrating, since the game has some genuinely solid moments between all the blandness. For one, watching NPCs interacting with one another was always entertaining, since the conversations went on for so long, and in so many directions, that I would genuinely start seeing them as real people. It's the one positive of coming back to the hub world. The main villain was also fun to watch, as she was always chewing up the scenery with her diabolical, psychopathic behavior. And the rare times the game wasn't shoving generic level designs down my throat, and actually presented varied structures, it became a legitimate, fun challenge. Even that super, super brief instance of walking around disguised in Nazi-ruled America, watching what daily life was like, was a breather from the tedious missions.

I just don't understand how you would create a premise, one where Nazis won World War II with advanced technology, have two games take place 14-some years after the war, and then not take full advantage of the premise the games are based around. Instead, make generic FPS #2745, muddle its slick combat system with questionable design and AI, and call it a day. I guess that's how it works. Why am I being snarky? Because Wolfenstein: The Old Blood exists, a WWII-era game that was released between The New Order and The New Colossus. During the entire game, The Old Blood only takes place in two locations, a castle and a town... and yet it somehow has more diverse layout designs and ideas than the majority of missions in both Future Nazi titles. And it also happens to be fun and challenging. To top it off: The Old Blood was originally meant as DLC for The New Order.

You're telling me an add-on is able to outclass The New Colossus, a full product? That's embarrassing.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (November 14, 2017)

Dancin' in the moonlight. Everybody's feelin' warm and bright. It's such a fine and natural sight. Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight.

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Masters posted November 24, 2017:

Great review, pick. I was really interested in this game, because I have the other two, and liked them both (I did like The Old Blood quite a bit better, as you did).

I caught some typos:

"Even the way soldiers instinctively strife..."

"I wish I can give the devs credit for..."

This one isn't a typo, but I don't think "dissidence" is the right word?

"I kept playing in hopes that the overall product would drastically improve in some way, that maybe some kind of dissidence would penetrate the mediocrity..."

Anyway, great analysis, as sad as your take might be. I'm still going to buy the game, but I'll wait until I can get it on the cheap. There's a Black Friday sale now, and I think it's 40% off, but I don't think that's quite enough.
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pickhut posted November 24, 2017:

Agh, always mix up strife for strafe. Hope I don't make that mistake if I ever review Strafe... And I guess I was using dissidence in a sense like "disruption would interrupt the blandness" but I'll change that, too. Maybe I'm blind, but I'm not seeing a typo in the second one? Developers?

But yeah, thanks for the comments! I was originally not going to buy Wolf 2, but I changed my mind at the last second out of curiosity's sake because I wanted to see how it held up or improved compared to the others. I really feel like it's not using its premise to the full extent. I mean: what's to prevent The New Order and The New Colossus from taking place in WW2-era Wolfenstein? I keep thinking back on the first stage of The New Order, which took place during WW2, and thinking, "Okay? Why the time skip if all the futuristic, advanced stuff is happening now?"
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Masters posted November 24, 2017:

Oh, the second correction should be:

"I wish I can give the devs credit for..."

"I wish I COULD give the devs credit for..."
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pickhut posted November 24, 2017:

Ohhhhh, okay. Yeah, surprised I missed that. Thanks.

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