We weren't overly hyped about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. We liked the original but didn't love it. We saw the gameplay clips and played the opening. We checked out the Nazi-stomping trailers and soaked up the bad press around launch as some moaned about the content (though let's be honest here, it wasn't bad press). We knew it would be good, however, we absolutely didn't realise it would be one of our favourite games of 2017.
That's right. In among all of the expansive open-world adventures, this shooter cut its own path, delivering the most focused and enjoyable shooter of the year in the process.
The quality in The New Colossus points to just how close Machine Games was with The New Order. But where there were a couple of soft edges in the first game in this relatively new Wolfenstein narrative, everything in the second is razor sharp and ice cold in execution. The gunplay, for example, is top class, bettered only by Destiny 2 in our humble opinion. Whereas Bungie's shooter adds variety via space magic, Wolfenstein gives players the option to use either brute force or nuanced stealth, and that choice is presented much more organically.
This sequel takes the original's formula and expands on it with special abilities that, for example, let you clamber through ventilation shafts like Eugene Tooms. This adds further gameplay variety and increases BJ's tactical options during any given scenario. Improved stealth and traversal really is the icing on the cake as far gameplay goes, assuming that the cake itself is the guns themselves and the filling is the satisfying feedback you get from pulling the trigger. Wolfenstein is a visceral shooter; the guns have heft and you can feel the impact of each and every bullet.
But as mechanically excellent as Wolfenstein II is, that's only half the story and gameplay alone doesn't explain why it's so close to the top of our GOTY countdown. The New Colossus impressed chiefly because of the strength of its narrative. BJ is back on top form, and this time the supporting cast of characters helps him deliver a story that both astounds and entertains. There are some genuinely crazy moments in there, and the branching story holds enough variety to genuinely warrant a second play-through. If you're into B-movies and the like, you'll find plenty to enjoy here, as BJ's resistance-fighting friends are hilarious, even absurd. Credit is due to Machine Games for the way they wrote the characters and for the quality of the cutscenes that dropped between missions.
Talking about missions, it's a nice chance to segue into the world you'll be exploring. The manner in which Machine Games portrayed Nazi-controlled America is, at times, harrowing, but mostly because of how well they realised this alternate timeline. Despite the crazy retro-sci-fi technology and the outlandish imagery on display, it feels strangely plausible, and when viewed through the lens of real-world politics, it hints at depressingly realistic concerns many people have about the way the current political landscape is shifting. Even the levels themselves, where American locations are drastically revised and filled with Nazis, work extremely well to reinforce the stark political message of the game.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus succeeds in virtually every area, and it houses some of the finest solo moments that gaming has to offer in 2017. It's certainly the best single-player shooter campaign of the year, and we really don't miss the fact that there's no multiplayer component; the strength of the story is more than enough to carry this game into our top five. It's far from conventional, it's often controversial, and it certainly isn't for children, but Machine Games has given us an outstanding shooter here, and if you're a fan of the genre you absolutely have to check it out. Unless you're a Nazi sympathiser that is - your lot don't come out of this one very well.