Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Reviewed On: PC
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
A sprawling open-world, microtransactions, RPG levelling mechanics, loot and clusters of mundane side-quests that have been copied and pasted. These, it seems, are the foundations of modern triple-A video game development, the industry pumping them out like there is no tomorrow. And yet here’s is Bethesda and MachineGames putting out a linear, singleplayer FPS without a microtransaction in sight that is easily the best shooter since 2016’s awesome DOOM reboot. It’s almost like you can make a quality game without slapping consumers in the face, isn’t it?
So once again the legendary hero and possible immortal super-soldier B.J. Blazkowicz is back to kill a lot of Nazi bad guys. Following on from the events of the last game he’s in somewhat of a bad state, but it isn’t long before he gets a lovely suit of armor that gets him back on his feet and gunning down Nazis like there’s no tomorrow. Joining him is pregnant wife Anya and a host of allies who are now using a massive submarine as their base of operations from which they launch missions to retak America from the occupying Nazi forces.
The Wolfenstein games have always been a bit barmy, after all this is the same series that had you battling a robotic Hitler once upon a time. The New Order attempted to meld this with a serious tone and generally did it quite well, but The New Colossus manages to do it better, marrying weirdly serious and almost comically dark narrations with toilet humor, funny background images, daft conversations and plenty of outright bloody stupid situations that could only come from a Nazi soldier quizzing members of the KKK on their German language lessons or a bunch of nutters running around with nuclear bombs. Somehow it manages to juggle these tones, largely through the strength of its characters. You buy into the people, and thus you buy into the world that MachinesGames has made.
The next paragraph contains spoilers for some of the game’s early scenes. Skip ahead if you don’t want to know.
The key is not to take any of it seriously. Sure, there are dark moments, in fact the game briefly touches upon a young B.J.’s relationship with his racist dick of a father who believed B.J. to be too soft and weak – largely due to his Jewish wife whom he married purely for business connections – something he attempted to rectify by restraining B.J., putting a shotgun in his hands and telling him to shoot the family dog. It’s a scene that doesn’t resolve itself until you pull the trigger. And yet this is the same game where not a few minutes later you witness a foul Nazi woman who beheads a friend and then proceeds to play with the head as it drips blood and the eyes stare vacantly. It’s a mixture that shouldn’t work, but it does, and succeeds in making you hate the enemies put before you because they’re so overly vile. Again, though, you buy into it because MachineGames’ writers are 100% committed to the world they’ve made.
Or maybe it’s because the campaign gives you moments to breath and take everything in, something that can only come from having a linear progression where the designers can control the pace. You’ll be given moments to complete small side-missions for your allies which help flesh them out, or wander around the streets of Nazi America. They’re little segments so you can get a break from the combat and soak everything in.
Regardless, The New Colossus somehow manages to be crude, crass, shocking, funny and poignant all at the same time, and the slow exploration of B.J.’s family history help to more fully flesh him out as a strong protagonist. His narrations are almost film noir like, a strange but entertaining counterpoint to the hundreds of soldiers that get gunned down in glorious action-movie style. It’s a style of storytelling that may very well put off many people, but for myself it was hugely enjoyable from start to finish, despite some rough patches.
As for everyone else, it’s interesting to see that MachineGames opted to make fairly stereotypical archetypes when it comes to much of the new supporting cast members. There’s the fiesty black woman Grace with an afro who could actually be viewed as rather racist herself, the hot-blooded Scotsman who really doesn’t like being called an Englishman and more. It’s a rag-tag bunch, but they develop throughout the game, although I still feel like they deserved more time, especially B.J.’s wife Anya, who kind of pops in and out. She’s also in a few of the game’s weirder scenes.
The core combat loop introduced in the 2015 reboot of the series remains largely unchanged at its core, but has been refined. Like before enemy commanders can call in quite a few reinforcements when alerted which encourages you to consider going in stealthily at first, using your axe and joyfully brutal takedowns to thin the herd and maybe even take out the commander before pulling out a gun. Or you could just shoot the crap out of everything. This time around B.J. can move faster, maybe not quite as quick as the DOOM marine but he can still get around at a fair lick. It tempts you to run and gun, yet you’re also surprisingly fragile, so you need to balance out your more manic tendencies with smart judgement about when and where to go nuts. B.J. can carry a whole armoury on him at any given time, and the entire arsenal feels great to use, from the meaty shotgun to the pleasing thump of an assault rifle. You can find upgrade kits lying around to improve them, too, plus there are some heavy weapons for when measly bullets just aren’t enough.
The end result is bloody glorious and gloriously bloody. The enemy aren’t the smartest bunch around but the A.I. does the job and their ability to absorb bullets is nicely judged. Standard enemies can take a few rounds before falling, while more armoured targets need sustained fire to kill but don’t feel stupid in the amount of damage they can take. It’s all just so…satisfying. It doesn’t manage to top the 2016 DOOM reboot, but then it had a heavier emphasis on run and gun tactics whereas this lets you move rapidly but never lets you forget that you are vulnerable. It’s personal preference as to which you prefer.
The only real flaw is that damage feedback is lacking, with the slight controller rumble and minor visual cues being very easy to miss in the midst of combat. Of course, if you’re playing with a mouse and keyboard, like I do, then you don’t even get the rumble cue to let you know that some enemies are succeeding in riddling your backside with holes. As a result I died a number of times simply because I hadn’t realised I had run out of armour and was nearing the last of my health.
Level and mission design is generally great with a mixture of confined spaces and more open areas serving to keep things interesting. Most things boil down to running around, killing the bad guys and reaching the marked objective bookended by cutscenes, so some more variety would have been welcome, but there are some great set pieces that break up the action and the gunplay is more than good enough to carry you through the entire campaign. Still, a little more variety would have gone a long way. A moment when you get to ride a flame-throwing metal dog is a highlight, and it’s a shame that there aren’t more sequences like it.
About half-way through the game in one of its silliest moments comes an attempt to spice up the action by making you choose one of three permanent upgrades, such as the ability to ram through certain walls and objects. This opens up alternate paths through levels depending on which upgrade you opted to take, but sadly the differences are quite small. I feel more could have been done here, and in turn that would have given the game some extra replay value.
All of this chaos, bloodshed, noir narration and general madness is presented in a pretty damn good package. While grey metal forms a large part of the colour palette the game there are also plenty of splashes of vibrant color thrown into the mix, especially the red of the Nazi regime, and there’s some geat lighting that mixes with the particle effects to create a few spectacular moments.
The audio fares well, too. There are a few weak performances to be found in the supporting cast, but the main characters are all very well voiced. A few head-banging tracks help set the backdrop for some of the bigger moments while the quieter ones get forgettable but solid tunes.
Performance is a bit more problematic to talk about, though, because the game runs on the Vulkan API rather than DirectX which means overlays like FRAPS don’t work, making it tricky to get a good gauge on the framerate. Other overlays didn’t work either, so ultimately I wound up using the in-game metric which sadly isn’t able to generate reports like FRAPS can. What I found that was even with everything maxed out at 1440p my Ryzen 7 1600 CPU and GTX 1080 were able to consistently deliver around 70-90FPS with occasional drops down to the 60FPS mark.
So far so much praise for the second game in MachineGames reboot of the legendary Wolfenstein series, but there are a number of glaring flaws to chat about. Firstly, even though I personally loved the story it’s also fair to say many people are going to struggle to enjoy its jarring tonal contrasts and warped sense of humor.
There’s also the issue of the short length of the campaign which clocks in at around 7-10 hours depending on the difficulty setting you opt for. For modern developers having a lot of “content” in their games is important, regardless of quality, because consumers want their money’s worth, especially when they’re paying £40-50 for a game. For a lot of folk the relatively short length and lack of any other modes outside of the campaign just isn’t going to justify the asking price. And that’s perfectly okay. I personally advocate quality over quantity, but at the end of the day games are an expensive form of entertainment, and for many people they’re a huge luxury, so wanting plenty of stuff to do is understandable.
And then there is the fact that it all ends a little anticlimactically. It’s not bad as such, it just doesn’t manage to build up to the finale correctly, and when finale does come it leaves you feeling underwhelmed. After hours of happy shooting and strong cutscenes I just wanted…more. More does seem to be coming in the form of either a sequel or DLC, but MachineGames wanted to set that up more than they wanted to deliver a satisfying end.
The biggest problems are ones I didn’t experience, with a lot of Steam users reporting crashes when opening the Steam overlay or poor performance despite having a powerful computer.
Flawless Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is not, then. That didn’t stop me having a blast, though. In a world of open-world games where the story is an afterthought, microtransactions reign supreme and developers/publishers seem unwilling to deviate from this MachineGames have crafted a singleplayer game with a strong storyline, great gameplay, beautiful graphics and not a microtransaction nor unnecessary multiplayer component in sight. Provided you’re willing to accept the insane world of Wolfenstein and can cope with the odd-ball blend of humour and seriousness you’re going to have a great time playing through the campaign. It’s the most fun shooter I’ve played since DOOM.