Wolfenstein II: catchup review

  • Format: Xbone (version reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now (Switch 2018)
  • Publisher: Bethesda
  • Developer: MachineGames
  • Players: 1
  • Site: https://wolfenstein.bethesda.net/
  • Game code shared from freelance work

The world’s in a right state at the moment, isn’t it? We’ve even reached the impossible-to-parody situation where the latest instalment of the Wolfenstein series has been criticised for its anti-Nazi stance. Admittedly, this criticism has only come from a very small number of individuals who should not for a second be considered to hold any opinions worth listening to, but still. Wolfenstein II has, through both accident and design, become a commentary on the modern world in several ways.

On the face of it, it’s all very much business as usual. Picking up immediately from the end of the last game, BJ Blazkowicz has somehow survived the explosive finale of his last adventure. Wheelchair-bound during a surprise attack, nothing stops BJ from wheeling himself around a submarine killing any Nazi scum that get in his way. Continuing within the same alternate ‘Hitler won the war’ timeline, the action eventually shifts towards occupied America. In which BJ kills many hundreds of Nazi soldiers and robots of varying difficulty.

BJ’s injuries have a direct impact on gameplay, in that your maximum permanent health is now capped at 50 (you can still temporarily ‘overcharge’ it with health pickups). He soon finds a way out of the wheelchair, but the health cap remains the same. Or does it?

“VE vill mix ze milkshakes here!!”

The core gameplay remains pretty much identical, which is simultaneously extremely satisfying and slightly disappointing. Fights are fast and furious, you can dual-wield pretty much anything, and you’ll still be looking to hoover up health and armour to avoid being dead. AI is challenging without being particularly smart, and the Commander mechanic – where many areas will have an infinitely-spawning-bad-guys alarm triggered if you’re spotted before taking out the relevant enemy/ies – is still in place. Stealth is therefore still sometimes recommended (though never compulsory), and is now slightly more often a viable option.

Story is a little more important here than before, and yes, that does include some self-aware Nazi goading. It goes beyond hypocritical NPC dialogue, such as the time we overheard a soldier wondering how violence against Nazis could ever be justified just because they have differing “opinions” (right before we sneaked up and gleefully stabbed him). One particular late-game sequence ridicules fascist history in a smart, effective, and memorable way. However, we’re sorry to say that this isn’t a game confident in what it wants to do and how it wants to do it, when it comes to storytelling. Overall, it aims to demonstrate the ugliness and the weak foundations of fascism. A noble cause. The tonal inconsistencies you may already have heard about are very much there, though; one moment the game is framing Nazis as objects of ridicule, the next it’s trying to offer up hard-hitting pain growing from their ruthlessness and lack of morals. We can at least say that this is more obvious when considered at a distance than when playing and watching in the heat of the moment.

One thing that can’t be denied is just how darn satisfying this game can be at times. Mowing down enemies in a hail of bullets, surviving by the skin of your teeth as you jump behind cover and stumble across a lifesaving health pack, is just as relieving and triumphant as the moment that mechanical behemoth finally goes down in flames. Oh, and vaporising Nazis with a giant laser, or setting them on fire with a huge fire-thing-launcher? Enormous fun.

Station’s in a shocking state. Might as well mess it up a little more.

This might surprise you about a Wolfenstein game, but it’s definitely possible to come across spoilers for The New Colossus. The story has a few unexpected turns in there (some comedic, some less so), and even gameplay is, on a few brief but welcome occasions, lifted out of the standard “ make everything bleed or explode” mode. Or, at least, you make things bleed and/or explode in a slightly different way.

Remember to loot the corpses of Commanders that you kill, as they’re all carrying an Enigma code. These are used in the sub hub (because the submarine is the game hub between levels… oh, furgeddaboutid). Toddle over to the handy Enigma machine, and you’ll find that you ‘spend’ a certain number of these codes each time you attempt to unlock a side mission. It’s ‘attempt’, because you need to solve a shape-matching puzzle under a time limit in order to gain access to them. The visual design makes this more difficult than it needs to be, but it is at least a neat idea.

Just so we’re clear, the story isn’t the satirical powerhouse you might have been hoping for; and the ending, which seems designed as a call to arms, is rather limp. It still has moments of brilliance though and, importantly, the gameplay is as solid as ever. A little too safe, perhaps – more innovation would’ve been welcome – but it’s a great Nazi-slaying adventure.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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