Disguised as a firefighter, the protagonist of “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus,” William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, looks on as American civilians gather in the streets of Roswell, New Mexico in honor of Victory Day — but something is amiss in the joyful scene.
Lining the streets are banners emblazoned with swastikas, in front of which weapon-clad SS officers and Ku Klux Klan members alike march to the awe of cheering crowds, perfecting a frightening display of fascism in the supposed land of the free.
Developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda Softworks, “Wolfenstein II” has no shortage of similarly disturbing scenes peppered throughout its storyline that allow the game to pack a punch like no other recent first-person shooter. Following 2014’s “Wolfenstein: The New Order,” “Wolfenstein II” picks up in 1961 of its alternate timeline, in which the Nazis won the Second World War and gained control over war-torn America.
After B.J.’s infamous assassination of Nazi general Deathshead in the last game, the player likely expects to once again assume the role of charismatic soldier turned Resistance fighter in freeing America from the Nazi death grip. Instead, the player is introduced to a shell of the man they anticipated — after his battle with Deathshead, B.J. is left badly injured, requiring a suit of power armor to make his way around the Eva’s Hammer U-boat.
Nevertheless, B.J. is joined by the vigilant Kreisau Circle as he takes on Nazi Commander Irene Engel, whose shrieking laughter, savage bloodlust and perfect coif combined make her one of the most detestable villains in video game history.
Staged as a series of levels in locations ranging from Nazi military facilities to the rancid open air of New Orleans, “Wolfenstein II” features borderline claustrophobic close-quarters combat that does not lend itself to tactical takedowns. Instead, the game relies on its advanced cover system and B.J.’s ability to ambush clusters of Nazis in order to give the player the upper hand, with one important exception — quietly using stealth to lodge a hatchet into the backs of Nazi commanders is crucial in preventing further reinforcements from being called to the scene once B.J. begins his rampage.
A typical FPS, “Wolfenstein II” gives the player a choice of a small inventory of pistols, machine guns and laser weapons that can be upgraded with rather rare scopes and suppressors. B.J. also has the ability to dual-wield certain guns, allowing him to deal twice the damage against heavily armored Nazi soldiers.
The game succeeds time and again in using its gameplay to remind the player of BJ’s own frailty — B.J. cannot take a lot of damage during his showdowns, requiring the player to scrape every last bit of health, ammo and armor off of dead Nazi soldiers to keep him moving through the increasingly challenging levels. But as “Wolfenstein II” proves, “Terror Billy” still has a few tricks up his sleeve to keep the Nazis at bay.
Yet the most striking element of “Wolfenstein II” lies far from its engaging gameplay — the game leaves a lasting impression on the player because of the undeniable parallels it presents with current fascist movements developing in America. To a haunting degree, the Klan members B.J. observes marching during the Victory Day parade bring to mind the torch-wielding white supremacists who invaded the streets of Charleston, Virginia not too long ago.
Joined by a hilarious and diverse crew of misfit Resistance members, however, B.J. proves that fascism stands no chance against the fight for liberation. In fact, “Wolfenstein II” seems to use the violence and cruelty that the Resistance faces at the hands of Commander Engel and the Nazis to bring about a resurgence of anti-fascist sentiment that suggests to the player a simple truth — the side of freedom in this grueling war is irrefutably the side against the Nazis.
With a flat-out fun single-player campaign and an intricate, timely story to match, “Wolfenstein II” surpasses the infamous point, shoot and repeat formula of the standard FPS to create an experience out of a game. It does not shy away from using its depiction of bloody fascist violence and racism to make the player uncomfortable, managing to offset the heavier moments of the game with the hilarious and heartfelt antics of B.J.’s crew.
“Wolfenstein II” certainly reels the player in with its exciting combat, but it manages to engage the player for hours through its expertly crafted story, keeping them at the edge of their seat in anticipation — leading up to one of the most satisfying assassinations of a video game villain in recent memory.
“Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus” is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Manisha Ummadi covers video games. Contact her at [email protected].