It's strange to think that just a few years ago, waging war against the Nazis was a perfectly acceptable way of spending the afternoon. It's a testament to just how much things have changed in the meantime that there was a public conversation about the acceptability of some of the content in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. However, when it comes to introducing Hitler's minions to the one-man wrecking ball that is B.J. Blazkowicz, we have no such qualms. For us, it's business as usual, and for creators Machine Games and Bethesda, business is booming.
Looking back we may have underestimated Wolfenstein: The New Order. We remember the original with fondness that doesn't quite tally with our critical assessment at the time. That in itself isn't important, but our affection for the first game certainly fuelled our anticipation for this first-person shooter sequel, and upon completing this solely solo adventure, we have to say that our expectations have well and truly been satisfied.
The general story is just as silly as the first, though crucially it's not quite as camp. It's a brilliantly told yarn starring larger than life freedom fighters going up against technologically advanced Nazis ruling the world in an alternate vision of the past where the war was won after Hitler's search for the arcane yielded up game-changing weapons. In this swastika-filled reality, the Nazis are supremely powerful, even holding the mighty US of A in its iron grip. The New Colossus builds on top of the craziness of The New Order, but dials up the quality and the absurdity in equal measure. More than that, though, Machine Games delves deeper into the themes surrounding this outlandish narrative, and when viewed through the lens of everything that has happened since the last game released in 2014, it carries with it a striking political message.
There's another side of Wolfenstein II to consider, though, and that's The New Colossus the single-player adventure. With AAA publishers increasingly looking to online games as a service, questions have been asked as to the viability of linear adventures such as this one. Given the recent releases of Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin's Creed Origins, and now Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, we think it's fair to say that story-driven solo adventures are very much in good health. As if there was any doubt.
For its part, Machine Games has certainly upped the ante in terms of story, and we haven't enjoyed a shooter campaign this much in a long time. The New Colossus has a bit of everything; challenging set pieces, stealth sections, big explosions, outrageous villains, striking aesthetics, huge guns, and a gripping narrative that keeps you pushing forwards through the missions so you can find out what happens next.
It's a whirlwind story and there are some batshit crazy moments to enjoy along the way. But for all the entertaining one-liners and charismatic characters, Wolfenstein's greatest success is how it refocuses history via its altered timeline. We see America through a different lens, contorted out of shape, but also somehow plausible, a feeling no doubt reinforced by modern real-world events. This is more than just clever political satire, though, as playing the underdog against the overwhelming power of the Nazi war machine also reminds us that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, that there are two sides to every conflict.
In this particular war, we're very much on the side of freedom (whatever that is), and in battling the Nazis we're joined by a fantastic cast of characters. The script is well-written, but it's the performances of the cast that really steal the show. The heroic ensemble is well represented, too, and we'd like to applaud Machine Games for putting a breastfeeding black woman in a position of genuine authority, and for doing so naturally and with no fuss. In terms of personality, balance, and overall entertainment, the studio has got it absolutely spot on when it comes to tongue-in-cheek writing and interesting characters.