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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus [2017 -- Machines Games]

Started by Starfox, May 22, 2023, 08:20 PM

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Originally published December 06, 2017

More, More... MORE.

If there was one word to speak about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (hereafter TNC) that would be it. Take Wolfenstein: The New Order (hereafter TNO) and add more of just about everything. There are novelties regarding gameplay mechanics, quite a few in fact, but mainly it's more of everything else. Curiously however, the game is more criticized than its predecessor while offering a better integration in story and character elements and just about the same shooter experience as TNO.

TNC begins exactly where TNO ended. So for those who don't remember (but there's a good reminder when starting a new game) TNO ended when B.J. Blazkowicz, severely wounded by the latest explosive gift of General "Deathshead" Strasse, gives the final order to nuke the complex. His chances to survive are practically non-existent. Now those who had the patience to go through the totality of the end credits know that there was the sound of a helicopter as Blazko fades out of consciousness at the very end. The helicopter is of course filled with his friends and his girlfriend who are not about to let him die like that. So they transport him into the helicopter and get out of here before blowing up definitively Strasse remains and his beloved house of horrors. Back on the submarine, Seth Roth -- the Da'at Yichud engineer who is the only one with some medical expertise performs a surgery but the outlook is grim.

Five Months passed and Blazko finally gets out of his coma to find himself greatly diminished, so greatly that the only thing he can do is grab a wheelchair. Bad timing however as the Nazi finally tracked down the Evas Hammer (a reference to Eva Braun I guess, the submarine Blazko stole and that now serves as a base of operation for the resistance) and are currently attacking. Grabbing the gun that a resistance fighter gives him Blazko jumps (more like roll) head first into the fray... in his wheelchair.

And that's your introduction to TNC. You'll be fighting the first bit of the game in the wheelchair with all the difficulties that entails. TNC is weird that way -- because this is far to be the only moment of weirdness the player will experience through the game. I'm rather fond of the time I spent riding a Panzerhund flamethrower "doggie" ramming and burning my way through streets filled with Nazis. To be frank there are some moments in this game that appears to be a bit "over the top" even for the Wolfenstein franchise. And I'm not talking about just throwing the political correctness out the window or riding a Panzerhund. What about Anya, 5 months pregnant -- yay Blazko will be a daddy who'd have thought? --  and still fighting Nazis like there's no tomorrow. That may be part of the unease some people feel toward the game. Or maybe it's the particularly somber family story of Blazko.

That's true... Until TNO we didn't really knew who Blazkowicz (or "Terror Billy" as the Nazi took to call him) was. He was just a face behind a gun shooting Nazis with a smile. TNO gave more flesh to the man and TNC goes even deeper into Blazkowicz psychology, past and family. And that may be part of the reason for the lukewarm reception of the game among a part of gamers who just expected more shooting and less talking à la Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.For my part, I certainly don't mind. It's good to see that B.J. is not a brainless killing machine. It's stunning to learn about his childhood and family and to discover the root of his deep hatred for Nazis, but I'll leave you the discovery for when you'll play the game. Of course I'm biased because I always favored games with story and characters, not just some gameplay (as good as it can be).

Talking about it the gameplay in TNC has had some adjustments since TNO but as far as the basics are concerned it's TNO. One still has the three skill sets (stealth, mayhem and tactical -- this last replacing the previous demolition set) with more or less the same skills (some were altered or changed) that were available in TNO. As in the previous game, each skill only progresses if you are using the corresponding style of gameplay -- the most stealth kills you perform the faster you move while crouched, the most dual-wield kills you get the most total ammo you have for your weapons, etc. One can still dual wield weapons but with a significant difference this time, one can dual wield different weapons, not just the same type of weapon unlike TNO. While one can still wield two similar weapons to increase the output power, one can also for example wield an assault rifle in one hand and a shotgun in the other covering both the medium and short range of the spectrum during the intense firefights (after your attempt at going stealth went right into the crapper).

Some new elements have been added to the gameplay but I hesitate to talk about some of them as they are part of the story. Let's just mention as a general example the Da'at Yichud armor (that B.J. acquires very early in the game, the one that was recovered from the under water vault in TNO and that Caroline wore) that Blazkowitz will have to put on to compensate for his lack of mobility (doing all the game in a wheelchair would have been a bit too much). This suit of armor allows B.J. to fully recover his mobility, but not his health. At the beginning of the game the maximum health is 50 unlike the normal 100 which represents the diminished state of our hero. To compensate that, the suit offers 200 armor instead of the normal 100. The suit also protect against radiation which is definitely a good feature as a part of the game happens in the ruins of Manhattan (which received a Nazi atom bomb). Mind you, Blazko won't spend all the game in his high tech armor but as I said it's part of the story so better to leave it aside.

Sadly there are some gameplay ideas that developers should stay away from, especially if they originated from Bethesda Fallout 4 in the first place. Yes, I don't know if it's because MachineGames wanted it or because Bethesda "gently oriented" them this way but that's true, sadly, The New Colossus inherited of a bit of what I call The Fallout 4 Syndrome in which the game makes you revisit places you already visited in order to perform generic tasks (in this case, killing Nazi ÜberKommanders). Sure you could excuse that by the fact that it allows you to retrieve some collectibles you missed the first time (which might be great for the completionists). There are a total of 16 "tasks" like that out of which only 2 have a real reason to be performed because you can retrieve two things that add to the gameplay features available to B.J. for use opening new options as to how you may deal with problems. While the whole "been there done that" thing didn't annoy me as much as the inferno that was Preston in Fallout 4 I wasn't especially enthused by the fact that they thought about going this way instead of designing some more real missions in distinct locales with more involved levels. In other words the time spent on a gimmick could have been better spent elsewhere. Just a couple more storyline missions would have been great. It's not that the locales already present are not awesome to explore, it's just that one feel that their number is on the short side and that they compensated by adding a Fallout 4 styled "rinse and repeat" thing.

In the great scheme of things it's a minor offense but I wouldn't want to see MachineGames become a repeating offender in that particular case. Fallout 4 was enough absurdity for a lifetime in that department, no need to add more.

But really it's the only obvious fault (though some completionists would argue otherwise) that I found in TNC gameplay.

Technically speaking the game run very well and looks good at the maximum "Mein Leben" graphics settings on my 3 years old rig with a 1 year old RX480 graphic card (so by no mean an über computer). It runs certainly far better than The New Order ever ran on the same rig. Note that the game runs only with the Vulkan API (whereas Doom (2016) -- running the same engine -- still proposed the OpenGL option along Vulkan). For some reasons that got a large number of nVidia fans riled (possibly contributing to the lower scoring of the game) because they felt cheated that MachineGames suppressed OpenGL in favor of Vulkan which is -- in their own opinion -- dedicated to AMD cards. Well aside the fact that for years OpenGL favored nVidia over AMD/ATI and AMD/ATI owners just learned to live with it with no fuss, I would suggest displeased nVidia fans to check the facts about Vulkan; in particular nVidia is one of the numerous companies with AMD supporting this new API (which is sorely needed anyway, OpenGL is a dinosaur period). And there are a number of nVidia owners who didn't have any problems with TNC and Vulkan. Indeed Vulkan is just a super NextGen OpenGL (maybe that would put nVidia fanboys more at ease to think about it that way).

Now the story itself. It's a good story with some stunning moments. Some people would tell you that there are too many long cutscenes but those people are generally those who prefer the "shooting Nazi" side of the Wolfenstein franchise. While I certainly don't have anything against shooting Nazis I love a good story as well so the number of cutscenes in the game don't especially bothers me. However I agree that for a better balance they could have added a couple of storyline missions to makeup for the length of the cutscenes.

The entirety of the story unlike The New Order (which happened in Europe -- mainly England and Germany) occurs in the United States which of course have been completely seized by the Nazis. I can understand that in the current political climate of the US a part of the population may be... upset. For example in this story, the Ku Klux Klan joined forces with the Nazis so not only B.J. must blow up Nazis but he also occasionally pop the head off a couple of KKK members. Not only that but reading some documents in the game one realizes that Nazis consider the KKK barely above a dog in intelligence and only fitted to the most menial tasks like guarding the toilets. So yeah, in a country where white supremacists have been showing more and more of their teeth during the past year (since the election of "you know who") Wolfenstein: The New Colossus (referring to the Liberty Statue and which literally describe the US starting to break the shackles of Nazi oppression) might be a bit too much like a kick in the balls for some.

Interrogated on the politically charged content of the game in relation to current US politics, Bethesda Softworks answered that the game was designed long before the current events and even if they had wished to there was no time to change the story and consequently the game in under a year so they just let MachineGames run with it knowing that there would be some backlash coming from some people. I tend to agree with this assessment (agreeing with Bethesda these days is not something I generally do a lot so you can mark it as a red letter day).

If the current political climate related to some of TNC content contributes for a part to TNC being less appreciated than its predecessor, I don't think this is the main reason anyway (and if it was the main reason I would seriously start to worry very much)

But enough about politics. the essential is after all... Would you like to grab this title to put in your Christmas socket this year? If you loved The New Order the answer is an absolute and definitive YES (just wait for the Christmas sales when it drops at $30 or less). My main regret is that there should have been more story missions.

And to Bethesda I would say that if this game is certainly worth a $40 price tag on first release, it certainly is not worth the initial $60 you put on it. Understand I'm not talking about quality but quantity there. The New Colossus Released at the same initial price as Fallout 4. Where's the logic in that (aside being your usual greedy selves)? On one side you have a game with enough content to last you 50+ hours (without the DLCs) on the other side TNC is around 25 hours for the main storyline and maybe 30 to 35 when you add the "rinse and repeat" operations in recycled environments. How you can equate the two, I don't get it.

Anyway; Wolfenstein: The New Colossus certainly deserves my seal of approval and only receives a score a notch below The New Order because the few problems I mentioned above (particularly the replacement of what would have been a worthwhile content -- more storyline missions -- with recycled stuff). Still I had much more of a blast playing TNC than I had playing DooM (2016) and its complete lack of story.

What else can I say aside from... Go for it!

Guess what it means!