Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review

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Posted November 8, 2017 by Chad Waller in Video Games

Developer: MachineGames

Publisher: Bethesda Software

Release date: October 27, 2017

Available on: Switch PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One

I picked up Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus because I wanted to kill some Nazis. Full stop. It’s 2017, Nazi’s are bad, and really, what isn’t more fun than killing them? It’s basic math! Or it should be, because while killing Nazis is intrinsically a great thing to do, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus misses the fun bit by a fairly wide margin.

It all comes down to the gunplay. Wolfenstein II just never feels fun to play. The shooting works, sure, but that’s all it aspires to do. The trailers and concept promised this frantic insanity, but when I’m in game, moving, shooting, and killing, it’s all very…coherent.

DOOM 2016 this is not.

Wolfenstein II sets out aiming for old-school mechanics, offering a high movement speed, the ability to carry two of every gun, and loads of bunnyhopping. You even need to find health and armor packs to survive. It’s all good stuff, the power fantasy I was promised, but then your health melts away like butter when you’re hit, and now running and gunning doesn’t seem like such a good idea.

The game presents these big arenas to fight in and fills them with Nazis to kill; however, combat winds up erring on the side of caution, with more time spent in ductwork or crouched than guns blazing.

It’s mixed messaging.

The thing is, Wolfenstein II isn’t made for stealth. The levels never have clear paths to make silence completely viable, and the mechanics themselves aren’t great either. Enemies range from being awful at seeing you to eagle-eyed. I’ve stealth-killed two people one after another that were mid conversation. Neither noticed me, despite the noise.

Hell, I once walked passed a big boss-like creature without it noticing me. Just a casual stroll to the door it was guarding without an incident.

But then there are times when I’m well hidden and something triggers, and now everyone is after me, coming from all angles. It gets messy because I can’t take a bullet. All that work put into boring stealth kills—because stealth is boring in this game—foiled by something seemingly random.

Switching weapons is slow. Reloading is slow. Grenades are hard to come by. Explosions aren’t as prevalent as they should be. Meleeing badguys triggers an animation that lasts too long and doesn’t provide any invincibility, meaning getting in close and throwing a punch isn’t optimal unless you’re trying for stealth.

Because you can’t take a bullet.

The best way to play, I’ve found, is to dual wield the good machine gun, run in, and headshot everyone while trying not to be the first to die. And that should be fun, but it really isn’t. At best it’s serviceable, and at worst it jumps between boring and frustrating.

Wolfenstein II’s difficulty is all over the place. Standard fights are easy even on harder difficulties because the AI isn’t very good. Run in, shoot, rinse, repeat. You get into a groove until you hit a wall, one where a room has way more people than you think and more passages than you can see. Now there are bullets everywhere and little you can do but die and try again.

The AI balance feels like it’s based around damage rather than intelligence. Bullets are powerful, strong enough to kill you in a few hits, but the Nazis are really bad at aiming. Combat starts out like something from The Matrix, running, dodging, and shooting, and then turns into a Call of Duty multiplayer experience where that one stray bullet drops you without fanfare.

It’s frustrating.

There’s one area where you spawn with a bunch of people looking at you and half a clip in your gun. Since you can’t take a bullet, it’s a trial-and-error mix of running around looking for armor and ammo as you die again and again. Once you find the right areas to go—the ones with health, armor, and weapons—the difficulty drops.

Spawning while being shot at, by the way, isn’t a one-time deal. The auto saving in Wolfenstein II isn’t kind. I’ve had numerous times where the game would save as I was being shot, I’d die, and then spawn with people already shooting at me.

Hell, I had one autosave with a giant robot behind me, flamethrower at the ready, and two guys in front of me, machine guns locked and loaded.

It doesn’t help that the audio-visual feedback is almost nonexistent. The only time you know you’re being shot is when you’re under 10 health and the screen starts flashing red. Until then? Who knows! It also makes knowing where you’re being shot from hard to determine. That, in turn, goes back to emphasizing stealth.

I spent way too much of this game crouched behind stuff.

The audio-visual problems extend to the Nazis themselves, all of whom flinch and die with animations that are too similar to tell apart when you’re crouched behind a wall. I’d shoot at a few, see them stumble or fall, only to realize too late that they were just going, “ouch.”

Now I’m the dead one!

Difficulty isn’t the only thing keeping the gunplay from feeling special though. The weapons themselves are all fairly boring, all being the same shade of black and made of similar parts. It’s hard to tell them apart at times. Even their sound feels lacking. There’s no punch to anything. There’s no meat. They just sound like soft gunshots.

I could excuse some of this if there was variety to the gameplay, but it takes hours to get the more fun weapons (shotgun), and even longer to find new things to kill. I’d say the first four solid hours are the same Nazi foes over and over before the game finally decides to mix things up.

But even then, it’s not much.

Between fighting, you’re stuck in this stolen Nazi U-Boat that acts as your hub. It’s a tedious place filled with side quests, and “between” segments. You run around and talk to people. It kills what little momentum the game has, especially one bit where I had to drop everything to play hide-and-seek with an idiot.

DOOM 2016 this is not.

The narrative suffers from the same problems as the gameplay: Wolfenstein II doesn’t know what it wants to be. It promises this fun, goofy-ass story with some wonderfully crazy characters, but then it throws in these dark, serous elements. All the while, it forgets to blend them together.

The game opens with a very difficult—very well written—look at domestic abuse. It sets a tone. The game then forgets that tone as you’re put into a wheelchair and tasked with killing Nazis while crippled. For the most part, it stays pretty light given the circumstances. It’s a dark comedy. However, it’ll still throw these curve balls, these really dark moments about racism and abuse, and it won’t offer anything to soften them. They’re fine by themselves, but given what goes around them, they just come off as awkward.

In all honesty, it takes about six or seven hours for the game to realize it’s a goddamned cartoon with cartoon people. Once it hits that mark, it gets wild. The characters become more fun, the gameplay picks up, and even the protagonist starts developing a personality.

And I’ll give the game gets a ton of credit for its depiction of Hitler. His scene easily steals the show, mixing shock, horror, surrealism, and comedy together in one really gross blend. It was maybe the only time I was on the edge of my seat from a narrative point of view.

The thing is, asking the player to wait six or seven hours for the game to deliver what the trailers promised is asking too much.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus isn’t a bad game. I know this review is filled with complaints because I’m bitter at throwing $60 at it and coming away with an experience that’s blander than Cornflakes, but bland is all it is. It functions. It tells its story. It’s relatively bug free. And hell, I did get to kill Nazis for a good 12 hours; that counts for something.

But man do I wish the gameplay aspired to be even just a little more than that.

DOOM 2016 this is not.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus



Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

6

Final Score

6/10

Pros

  • Killing Nazis
  • After the six hour mark, the story gets really pretty fun
  • Last hour and a half are strong
  • Voice acting

Cons

  • Gunplay never feels fun
  • Game wants frantic and crazy but asks for stealth
  • Stealth doesn't work very well
  • Narrative has tonal issues
  • Difficulty spikes



About the Author

Chad Waller

Chad Waller is the cofounder of Dual Wield Software, a two-man video game company working on their first game, The Regret of Vitrerran. He also likes to write, preferring fiction and poetry, but also the occasional book review or video game essay. You can follow him on Twitter @DualWieldSoft and find his company page on Facebook with a quick search.