It’s hard to call Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus my most disappointing game of 2017 when Mass Effect Andromeda released just shy of nine months ago. But, if it wasn’t for that let-down of a space excursion, BJ Blazkowicz’s latest Nazi rampage would be taking that less than coveted prize.
However, this discontent actually comes about as a result of a conflict I haven’t felt this hard since Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The story and world building of Nazi-occupied America could well be one of the greatest plots ever told in a first-person shooter, and yet the gameplay that ties it all together is bland, monotonous, and incredibly frustrating.
Let’s start with that last point and the fact that any fun I was having in combat was thwarted by the worst hit feedback I have ever experienced in a video game. BJ’s health is capped at 50 for roughly half the game due to story purposes, and this combined with the fact that it is very, very hard to tell when you’re being shot at or even where it’s coming from, resulted in far too many deaths. You could enter a firefight at seemingly full strength, only to be gunned down within seconds without you ever knowing where the bullets came from. It’s this that creates a disheartening loop of replaying sequences over and over again, just to get a feel of where you could even possibly be shot at from.
To make matters worse, your own guns don’t fare much better. Every weapon, barring the shotgun you obtain well past the half-way point, feels weak to shoot and poor to handle. Enemies can soak up many more bullets than their Nazi uniforms suggest they could, and aiming down sights doesn’t feel accurate thanks to another dose of poor bullet feedback. Placing your shots through scopes actually becomes even tougher thanks to the severe amount of muzzle flash present, which when combined with a lacking selection of weaponry, makes engagements feel a little too torrid.
This could have been saved somewhat by interesting level design, but the missions themselves don’t amount to much either. While some truly incredible moments play out during cutscenes, the literal act of playing the game has you wandering the likes of your own submarine, the back streets of war-torn Manhattan, and the underground district of Roswell. It all just feels sort of the same, with corridors funnelling you into combat and a lack of navigational options keeping you on the core path to progression. The most visually interesting level, in my opinion, takes place inside a court, but this too falls victim to the formula of taking out waves upon waves of enemies until the next cutscene triggers. It’s formulaic, boring, and the refusal to deviate turns any combat encounter into a chore.
The one other element to engagements is the presence of commanders, whom return from Wolfenstein: The New Order. These high-ranking officers have the ability to call in reinforcements if you’re spotted, and so taking them out first becomes a priority. You could tackle this with stealth, but the game doesn’t lend itself to this style of gameplay much like the prequel did. Rarely did I ever get by not alerting anyone within the vicinity because it’s simply too hard to avoid every Nazi, even on the normal difficulty setting. And of course once you’re seen, the gameplay breaks back down into its repetitive nature.
One last flaw is the huge difficulty spikes spread throughout the game, and one certain scene illustrated this perfectly. In the Manhattan act you’ll meet up with Grace Walker’s resistance group for the first time, where a cutscene plays out which really pumps you up as you take the fight to the Germans. But what follows that feels like a culmination of every problem I have with the gameplay, as another horde of enemies descends on your location whom eventually turn the setting into a kill house. With your maximum health capped at 50 at that point in time, your poor selection of weaponry, a Nazi army that can gun you down in seconds, and the awful bullet feedback, you’re doomed to fail. I spent 30 minutes trying to beat this single two minute sequence on the standard difficulty option, getting increasingly frustrated with every passing death. It’s a truly woeful scenario that encapsulates everything wrong with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ gameplay.
And despite that, the proceeding cutscene almost made the chore worth it. The character of BJ Blazkowicz is absolutely phenomenal. He is written brilliantly, you really feel for him in the early parts of the game as he struggles to come to terms with his dying body, and the harrowing opening to the game gives a very raw rendition of his upbringing. To back him up, the story and how it plays out is simply unforgettable. There’s perhaps half a dozen scenes in this game that put any other first-person shooter campaign to shame, simply in how literally insane they are. The places this game goes and the things it does there are utter genius, and I won’t be forgetting them any time soon.
To put a cherry on top of that, the world building and lore is unmatched. Listening to the Nazis ambient dialogue can be very funny and result in some ironic laughs, which would go unnoticed if you were to kill them straight away. I also need to pay homage to the collectibles you pick up, which do an even better job of fleshing out Nazi-occupied America. I work as an usher at a cinema, and the collectible you see below has to be my favourite from any game, ever:
It felt like it was speaking directly to me. A very specific job received this sort of limelight, and it touched me.
It’s such a huge shame then that the detail and care put into the game’s plot and lore wasn’t replicated in the gameplay. I will never forget Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus thanks to its bizarre story, but I lament the fact that I feared picking the controller back up every single time.
Do you agree with Liam that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is more fun to watch than to play? Did you share his frustrations with the gameplay? Gun us down from nowhere in the comments section below.