Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus wastes no time letting you know what kind of game it is.
The shooter's harrowing introduction picks up right where Wolfenstein: The New Order left off, with a broken, bleeding B.J. Blazkowicz having a series of vivid childhood flashbacks as he clings to life. It's here we meet B.J.'s abusive father, whose racist tirades and horrific acts of domestic violence made me shudder far more than any towering Nazi mech I had to fight later in the game.
A few moments later in the present day, after performing an all-out assault from a wheelchair, B.J. must confront another abusive demon: the putrid, vengeful Nazi commander Frau Engel. Except this time, instead of fearing for his mother or his family dog, B.J. has to watch as the lives of some of his closest friends are dangled right in front of him. And what happens next defines the soldier's journey for the rest of the game.
This moving introduction drives home what makes MachineGames' latest shooter so special. Despite all the cathartic Nazi-killing (and there's lots of it), Wolfenstein 2 is a deeply personal story about breaking this cycle of evil. Blazkowicz isn't sure how much time he's got left, and in the face of an oppressive regime and his own impending fatherhood, he's going to spend every last minute doing right by the people he loves most.
But let's get back to the whole slaughter-all-Nazis thing, shall we? Wolfenstein 2 continues the story established in The New Order. B.J. and his growing resistance are out to liberate a Nazi-controlled America in the wake of an alternate-reality World War II in which the bad guys won.
This sets the stage for a whole lot of digital Nazi destruction, which feels better than ever thanks to some very welcome gameplay tweaks. Wolfenstein 2's gunplay feels tighter and more satisfying than its predecessor’s, and gains some added depth thanks to some neat upgrades that can change how your weapons behave. Those weapons all feel great, too, whether you're dual-wielding assault rifles or firing off a massive laser gun that turns Nazis into soup.
As with The New Order, Wolfenstein 2's levels are open-ended playgrounds of destruction. You're free to sneak around and take out guards with stealth kills and silenced pistols, or wreak total havoc with grenades and shotguns. The revamped perks system rewards you for specific playstyles, giving you plenty of reason to experiment with both stealth and aggression.
But what really sets Wolfenstein 2 apart from its predecessor are B.J.'s new sets of power armor, which give him some delightfully superhuman abilities. You'll get to perform powerful ground-pounds, shoulder-charge your way through enemies and walls, and even activate a set of stilts to reach higher ground. These new tricks are all a blast to use, and elevate Wolfenstein 2 beyond being just another solid shooter.
As much fun as I had mowing down Nazis with guns, explosives and mechanical limbs, though, it's the story (and more specifically, the incredible characters) that kept me coming back.
Wolfenstein 2 features some of the best cinematography and acting I've seen in a video game, and returning characters, such as Set and Anya clash wonderfully with new faces, such as the no-nonsense Grace and the hilariously neurotic Super Spesh. In fact, some of the game's best moments came when I simply wandered around my home base between missions, catching a touching conversation between two of my fellow fighters. And I'd be remiss not to mention Mick Gordon's spectacular soundtrack, which weaves between solemn strings and badass guitar rock depending on the occasion.
With Wolfenstein 2, MachineGames strikes a masterful balance between action and emotion; comedy and horror; chaos and calm. Like The New Order before it, the game injects a ton of heart into a series famous for gratuitous Nazi slaughter, while still making sure it feels fantastic to take a hatchet to a fascist's throat. It's a seemingly impossible combination that works incredibly well, and it's what makes Wolfenstein 2 one of 2017's most essential games.
Image Credit: Bethesda