By Jeffrey Mizrahi
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus doesn’t need cheap jump scares or dimly lit rooms to make it one of the most terrifying games I have ever played.
The year is 1961 and the Germans have won the war. The set up for this alternate history, where the Nazis were the first to build a bomb, was handled very well in Wolfenstein: The New Order, but only showed us what was going on in Europe. This sequel builds on that and shows us what would happen if the Nazi’s came to our front door and how exactly they would turn the land of the free into another pillar of the Third Reich.
When I picked up, and listened to, a record in the environment called “Changeover Day by Die Käfer,” I learned how the Nazis would go about replacing English with German in the United States of America. The song starts with a little introduction by the pop group stating that by July 4th the American people must say “Goodbye to english. So get on board, or get out!” Lyrics like
“Changeover day for the Nazi USA/We all know that German is much better anyway!”
and “We all know that English is confusing anyway!”
made me nauseous and horrified.
There is another newspaper clipping you find that explains how well Nazi ideology spread throughout the states with the help of the Ku Klux Klan and their shared beliefs. It tells the story of how the group served as a bridge between the Reich and the American people. It really made this fiction all the more realistic. (There is also another note you can find from one Klan member to another expressing his grievances with the Nazi way of life – such as how they are socialist and how Catholicism is the only accepted religion. But at the end of the day, not even the Klan is as despicable as the Nazi’s).
Later, there’s the story about a girl who lost on the game show “German…Or Else!” and had to be sent to a re-education camp to learn German. When she came out, she absolutely loved the language and considered losing the game show one of the greatest moments of her life. Another pickup was a review for a book about an alternate history where the Allies won the war and “the last of the Aryans” had to fight back against “a society ruled by Jews, homosexuals and other degenerates.”
Little details like these really shook me. They were so realistic. It’s really frightening to see that, if we did lose the war, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for the Nazi’s to take over. Many ex-Americans would just roll over and let it happen.
Well, maybe not so easy. B.J Blazkowicz is not about to roll over, no matter how many near-death experiences he may face. You play as a Nazi-hating, gun-toting Jew, once again. And it feels just as good as it did in The New Order. The shooting and stealth remain unchanged. However, I did feel the game was either much harder, I was much weaker, or I’m just getting bad at videogames. I started the game on third level of difficulty (out of seven) which claims to be a “medium difficulty setting for the experienced gamer.” But I found myself dying repeatedly thanks to enemies I couldn’t see.
I knocked it down to the second difficulty level hoping for some more balance. Yet was still dying from relatively little gunfire during most encounters. I eventually swallowed my pride and went to down to the lowest difficulty setting. But then found that way too easy. So I pretty much played the game switching between the bottom two difficulties depending on each encounter. I appreciate having the ability to change difficulty right from the settings in the middle of the firefight without having to restart the mission, but I would’ve enjoyed a more balanced experience.
Either way, blasting Nazi’s heads off with duel-wielded shotguns never gets old. The weapon upgrade system offers a nice amount of diversity if you’re in the mood for switching up your play style. Add a scope and single fire to your Sturmgewer (assault rifle) to take out enemies from a longer distance. Or you can add a Rotor to you Shockhammer (shotgun) to load three shells into the barrel at once to let off some real firepower.
Back again is the passive upgrade system from the first game. It has you leveling up perks by just playing the game rather than using found upgrade kits to unlock specific things for your weapons. With over a dozen different perks, the game really encourages and rewards you no matter what your preferred play style is. For example, if you kill enough enemies while dual-wielding weapons, you are rewarded with a permanent perk of increased ammo capacity. Silently killing enemies will increase your movement speed while crouched.
On my PS4, I did happen to encounter several audio issues (guns randomly not making the shooting sounds) as well as the game crashing on me twice. The game also has this weird hiccup when going from gameplay to cutscenes that didn’t really bother me, but think should have been polished before release. My biggest complaint is how often I had no idea where to go. The in-game objective marker stays on screen for what feels like half a second which had me mashing the d-pad to display a little diamond as I tried to figure out how to exit certain areas. Later in the game you have to look for a crew member on your group’s U-Boat. This had me frustratingly running around the same few rooms for about 15 minutes until I finally stumbled upon where I needed to be. In another section, the marker is clearly pointing at a spot on the ground in front of me. But where I was supposed to be was on a lower level.
Issues aside, this game is powerful. The emotionally poignant flashback scenes with B.J.’s racist dad gives such an enriching backstory to one of gaming’s only Jewish protagonists. I loved watching B.J. coming to grips with his own mortality and what that would mean for Anya and their unborn twins. Every character, from the resistance leader Grace to the antagonist’s daughter Engel, is so well written it’s hard not to become attached to all of them. There were moments where I would just watch two characters talk to each other outside of a cutscene because I wanted to hear what they had to say. This goes for the enemy NPC’s as well, where I would hold off on silently killing them so I could hear the rest of their conversations about how the resistance shouldn’t kill them just because they have different viewpoints, or how the Moon won’t be a fully pure German planet because the stench of the subhuman slave labor will linger for a few more years.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a scary game but it’s unlike the Dead Space’s and Resident Evil’s of the world. You will never have to worry about conserving ammo, or fear walking into a dark basement because something might jump out and attack you. Instead, you have to enter a horrifyingly realistic world where the Nazi’s are in charge. It’s a planet over which the Nazi’s have full control, control over the media and the American streets draped with red flags and swastikas. It’s the scariest what if?” scenario possible and the frightening possibility is very well conveyed in this gory, bloody, action-packed videogame.
Jeffrey Mizrahi is a New York Videogame Critics Circle writer/intern.