Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus—Like playing a B-movie with robot Nazis
In Wolfenstein: The New Order, which tells the story of an alternate history where the Nazis win the Second World War, veteran William “B.J.” Blazkowicz awakens from a coma to find the Nazis have acquired the technology to build giant killer robots powered by the brains of fallen soldiers.
In an effort to stop the Nazis, B.J. infiltrates a Nazi research facility, stealing its flagship nuclear submarine only to find that the codes to operate it are hidden on the Moon. Naturally, Blazkowicz proceeds to the Moon, before returning to Earth to fight the robotic reincarnation of a former soldier.
As stories go, The New Order‘s—even for a video game—is wonderfully ludicrous. But that raises a question for the sequel. When you’ve already battled giant killer robots and travelled to the Moon, just where do you go from there? The answer, in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, is travelling to the most ridiculous, confusing, and downright terrifying place on earth: the good ol’ US of A.
As Bethesda’s bombastic E3 trailer showed, The New Colossus isn’t one for subtlety. Waking up fresh from his latest coma, Blazkowicz—now bound to a wheelchair—wastes no time in picking up a pistol and wheeling his way through the cramped corridors of another Nazi facility, shooting everything he comes across. Less than five minutes in, he’s reunited with Set Roth, a German Jewish scientist who has rigged up a microwave-powered defence grid that, with an amusing lack of nuance, turns anyone that crosses it into a sloppy pile of blood and guts.
Roth explains, “your body is broken…your kidneys are failing.” Which is why, in a twisted form of video game logic, Blazkowicz spends much of the game unable to maintain a health bar above 50 percent, relying instead on scraps of armour and temporary health boosts in order to protect himself from bullets and stay alive. While it’s doubtful The New Colossus will serve as an enduring example of complex video game narratives along the lines of The Last of Us, it’s filled with compelling characters, from Blazkowicz himself, to the Nazi hordes that believe themselves to be on the right side of history, despite their obvious crimes.
Most compelling of all in the short demo, if only for her cartoonish villainy, is Frau Engel, a Nazi lieutenant with the shortest of tempers and an overweight daughter named Sigrun. That she would bully Sigrun for her weight is hardly surprising, but there’s something about having the two characters argue about a slice of cake while the camera sits at the most Dutch of all Dutch angles that’s wonderfully mundane, yet totally overblown—a moment later thrown into stark relief as Engel threatens to behead a member of the resistance with an axe.
For all the bluster of The New Colossus‘ opening, a later mission a few hours into the game is more subdued. The resistance, a cliched ragtag band of mismatched misfits, sends Blazkowicz into Roswell, New Mexico, home to a secret stash of anti-gravity tech and the Oberkommando, the heart of Nazi command. Dressed as a fireman and armed with a nuclear bomb disguised as a fire extinguisher, you’re tasked with finding Papa Joe’s diner amongst the now Nazi-occupied Roswell inhabitants.
There are some humorous, if obvious parallels drawn between the Nazi occupation and the darker side of the American dream, not least in an early encounter with a pair of hapless Ku Klux Klan members that have failed to learn their German properly. It’s an impressive moment of world-building, made all the more impactful as you discover the citizens of Roswell have (on the surface at least) embraced their new Nazi overlords. One inhabitant even goes as far as to make a pass at a Nazi captain, unfazed by the parade of Swastikas marching past in the distance.
There’s the usual array of paper paraphernalia to pick up along the way, which help flesh out the months between Blazkowicz being blown up and waking from his coma, but it’s the characters that really sell The New Colossus. Sure, Blazkowicz’s encounter with a Nazi commander inside Papa Joe’s diner is an obvious nod to the now legendary (and frequently copied) performance of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds (heck, they’ve even got him drinking a milkshake), but the tension is real, and the resultant mess inevitable.
- “The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe—As former professional quarterback Joseph Stallion, smash through Nazi hordes from the ruins of Chicago to the vastness of space!”
- “The Diaries of Agent Silent Death—As ex-OSS agent and assassin Jessica Valiant, infiltrate Nazi bunkers in California and discover the secrets of Operation San Andreas!”
- “The Amazing Deeds of Captain Wilkins—As the US Army’s renowned hero Captain Gerald Wilkins, embark on a mission to Nazi-controlled Alaska to dismantle Operation Black Sun!”
A further episode, The Freedom Chronicles: Episode Zero will be bundled in with pre-orders as well as the season pass.
- “Episode Zero introduces you to Joseph Stallion, Jessica Valiant and Gerald Wilkins as they fight for freedom in the American Territories. Blast your way through Nazis using unique abilities and an arsenal of guns in this opening DLC mission.”
So too is Super Spesh a nod to the X-Files’ Lone Gunmen and every erratic whackjob with a penchant for conspiracy theories and tin foil hats. While Blazkowicz has the unenviable job of telling Super Spesh that no, it’s not “space aliens” that have buried an armoury of unidentified technology in the middle of the desert, Super Spesh also turns out to be Blazkowicz’s way into the Oberkommando inside Area 52, via a maze of disused mine shafts.
When he emerges, Blazkowicz finally gets to do some shooting. The shooting is, like in The New Order, wonderfully brutal. The guns, bastardisations of classic WWII hardware, have a ferocious pop and kick to them. Paired with the new ability to dual-wield weapons of varying types, taking down the hugely OP troops, robots, and tanked-up supersoldiers of the Third Reich is very satisfying indeed.
Like Doom, each enemy in the The New Colossus has its own way of attacking, from duck-and-cover humanoids, to fast-moving radicalised robots. They all have their weaknesses too: the robots, for example, are hard to catch with bullets, but once you do they’re pitifully weak. To help you along there are upgrades you can apply to weapons, which add extra damage via nails or increased stealth via suppressors. The latter is especially useful to stop soldiers raising the alarm and drawing you into a firefight you can’t possibly win.
Like The New Order, The New Colossus pulls no punches when it comes to difficulty. While there’s still some balancing to be done, this is not a game where you can simply run and gun and hope to make it out alive, unless you’re a particularly sharp shooter of course. Blazkowicz’s low health bar—along with the fact that, like shooters of old, armour and health don’t regenerate, but instead must be lifted from crates—makes it even more challenging.
The New Colossus isn’t a smart game—at least not in the traditional sense. But it is subversive, taking classic video game and B-movie tropes and tarting them up with a firmly tongue-in-cheek Nazi-bashing narrative. In that sense, bar the Nazis, it shares much with Prey, another Bethesda number that riffed on classic sci-fi movies and games. Prey didn’t quite turn out to be the smash that its opening hour hinted at, but I’ve higher hopes for The New Colossus. It’s already one hell of a ride.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is due for release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on October 27. All footage featured in the video preview was captured by Ars on a gaming PC.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus—Like playing a B-movie with robot Nazis