Decades of first-person shooters gives us a pretty good idea of what first-person shooters are like. You’ll probably play as a battle-hardened soldier. There’s gonna be three or four big set-pieces. An emotional beat. A weirdly cartoonish villain. Maybe an “I’m ending this” thrown in for good measure. You’re probably expecting me to say that Wolfenstein II is nothing like that. But it very much is. The difference is that it uses these expectations to make something crazy fun.
The New Colossus takes place right after the literal explosive ending of The New Order. The first game had you take on the role of Captain William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, a soldier whose failure to assassinate a key Nazi scientist led to his coma. He wakes up twenty years later, in a world where the Nazis had won. Now, B.J. and his ragtag crew of rebels are bringing their revolution to the US – causing mayhem and destruction to befall whoever stands in their way.
One of the great things about The New Colossus is its narrative, taking the groundwork established from Order and dialing it up to eleven. The story is genuinely good. And that says a lot for an FPS. For all the millions and millions of shooters out there with super soldier protagonists that save the world, none is as charismatic or as effective at conveying emotion as Blazkowicz and the game’s cast of characters.
I won’t get to the specifics of the story, because really, The New Colossus’ story needs to be experienced firsthand (it’s bonkers enough that I fear it’ll put you off anyway). Though I will say that one of the most beautiful things about Colossus is how it chooses to make you bond with your fellow revolutionaries. Where Order’s bonding moments are quiet fetch quests in between massive sandbox shoot ‘em ups, The New Colossus has you matchmaking your crewmates together, doing pest control on the ship you’re in, and even, an honest-to-god birthday party full of zany hijinks. Through its extraordinary writing, not only does the revolution feel real – it feels alive. Each character’s complex backstory, informed either through cutscenes or inferred through passing dialogue, solidifies the game’s world and gives the game’s struggle a more three dimensional angle.
Of course, the revolution isn’t only carried out through talking, it’s carried out through good old-fashioned Nazi killing. And boy, is there plenty of Nazi killing. Wolfenstein games have always been good with combat, but the previous instalments aren’t nearly as kinetic as The New Colossus. Like last year’s Doom, each kill feels frenetic and brutal because of the absolutely rewarding death scenes that follow it. You’ll be chopping quite a lot of limbs in this game. And let me tell you something, it never gets old. As always, dual-wielding machine guns are always a joy, but The New Colossus gives you plenty of choices to deal with various situations in its combat stages. The malleability between stealthy and aggressive combat modes are seamless and completely dependent on player choice, as gameplay ebbs and flows smoothly between the two modes.
One of the newer features in the game are Contraptions. These are basically three different combat upgrades that let you approach the combat stage in various ways, all according to your preference. A personal favourite is the Ram Shackles, a battering ram-type upgrade that lets you burst through walls and enemies alike. After your initial Contraption choice, you can eventually gain the others after a bit of exploring. The downside is that these power-ups come pretty late in the game, and once you get them, there’s already little else to do in the main story.
The game also has side-quests in the form of Oberkommander assassinations. Decrypting collectible ‘Enigma Codes’ from officer enemies you meet through the main story missions give you the chance to go off on these side-quests. This is where players can really let loose with the intricacies of The New Colossus’ combat system. Experimenting with the Oberkommander missions lets you get into your groove as a Nazi-killing machine. I really recommend going through these assassinations because practicing your own personal play style helps you a lot in the later levels. In my case, near the end of the game, I had Nazi-killing down to a rhythm – striking down enemies with efficiency, and earning my name as the dreaded ‘Terror-Billy’.
However, The New Colossus is not without its flaws. An array of glitches that pop up frequently during the game is a source of many frustrations during my playthrough. Too often was I passing through walls and seeing enemies ragdoll themselves uncontrollably after death. One incident had me simultaneously phasing through a wall, being bitten by a dog enemy through that wall, and then suddenly falling through the floor of the level. Additionally, traversing the sandboxes in The New Colossus is also a pain. Despite the Doom influence, BJ can’t jump or run as smooth as Doomguy – and that’s a problem when you play as aggressively. Even if you don’t, the game requires you to move constantly and utilise the environment to your advantage. But you often end up running into invisible walls or objects that constrict your movement. A mission set in one of the smaller combat stages had me stuck in the water without a way to get out, and I had to drown myself and restart the mission from scratch. Hopefully this can be patched up soon, but as of now, it breaks an otherwise really solid experience.
In the end, The New Colossus is ultimately a first-person shooter game done very, very well. It builds on the narrative of the first game and goes strength to strength with each major set piece. It never compromised the quality of its characters in service to the gameplay – crafting a world that you can believe in and ultimately, a world you’re willing to fight for.