After last weekend’s cheerful jaunt in India with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, I decided to switch things up with the acclaimed first-person shooter Wolfenstein. Set in an alternate reality 1960s where the nazis won World War II and have taken over the United States, Wolfenstein has you once again in the shoes of the OG Captain B.J. Blazkowicz as you travel throughout the states trying to spark a revolution. There is a lot happening here, so instead of attempting to somehow present a coherent post about repeatedly punching nazis in the face, I’ve broken things down into a series of questions and answers about my time with the game.
Should you play Wolfenstein: The New Order first?
In order to fully enjoy the amazing story, you should start by playing The New Order. Recruiting your ragtag group of resistance fighters who also appear in the sequel will help you develop a connection with the characters that goes a long way to getting you more invested in the phenomenal story in this game. The New Order definitely doesn’t feature the best gameplay in the world, but there’s enough good going on to make the 10 hours or so and $20 worth it.
How does this game improve on The New Order?
Just about every single aspect of this game is an improvement over its predecessor. The combat mechanics are much more visceral, and the hatchet might be my favorite melee/throwing weapon ever in an FPS. The physicality of the violence almost feels like football is being combined with a standard shooter. Most importantly, the story itself somehow is even better thanks to it fully embracing the surreal and absurd. In a welcome mercy, the levels here seem significantly shorter than I was used to, allowing you to quickly get back to the good story bits instead of being stuck with just an average corridor shooter.
Plus there’s a cat whose head is attached to a monkey’s body. I mean what more could you ask for?
What still needs work?
Level design is easily the worst part of this game. There are plenty of intriguing non-combat stages, but every single combat level is some variation of tight corridors with rinse-and-repeat enemy encounters. The locations that stretch from Roswell to New Orleans and New York could really just be anywhere as the personality of those locales are quickly stripped down when the story ends and the firefighting begins.
Should you play this game on the easiest difficulty?
Yes. Like I said, the story is the good stuff, so anything you can do to make the combat go by quicker helps. Plus, if you want to truly feel like the “Terror Billy” you hear the nazis cower in fear about, this is the way to go.
What are some cool little touches in this game?
I’ll readily admit that I don’t have much recent experience with first person shooters, but there were a few nice additions in here that I don’t think are overly common in the genre.
First up, you can see your legs! It always bugs me in first person shooters when you just don’t have feet like your hands are always that far away from your body. From starting the game in a wheelchair (as you recover from your injuries in Wolfenstein: The New Order) to getting knocked on your ass from a nearby explosion throughout your adventure, your legs make many appearances. Aside from your legs, you also cast a shadow, which typically gets ignored in FPS games that must just assume light is always shining directly in front of you. Having your imposing shadow pop into the frame every now and then helps make you feel like an even bigger badass as you descend on the latest group of nazis to meet your wrath.
Like many FPS games, dual-wielding weapons is the key to maximum carnage, but unlike most of those, you can actually mix and match the weapons in each hand. This allows you to play the game in a fun way where your right hand can be a shotgun ready to obliterate everything and your left can be a silenced pistol allowing you to quickly alternate between superhuman and stealth assassin.
Lastly, the story doesn’t just play out in cutscenes. There are plenty of additional little mini-storylines that unfold by locating different members of your crew on the submarine in between missions. These small encounters (like annoying your girlfriend and finding her in the cantina eating her feelings) make the story feel more organic and adds some extra depth and humor to your comrades.
So just how depressing is it to play a game about Nazis being in control of America?
The New Colossus features some of the largest tonal shifts I have ever seen in a game. One second, you’re walking through a town littered with KKK members and Nazis going about their business like this is normal everyday life, and the next you’re experiencing a slapstick sequence revolving around a possessed mechanical arm. Despite these gargantuan switches, the game makes it work without ever feeling out of place or awkward. This adds a sense of hope to proceedings, which is seriously needed since the main premise of the game is that white America basically submitted to the Third Reich because they realized how it could enrich their own lives.
What is the best level?
As mentioned before, the levels focused on story over fighting are the best, and this is on full display in Mesquite, TX where you visit your childhood home. Your now broken down ranch has plenty of points-of-interest to interact with that trigger flashbacks showing the complicated relationships between your bigoted father, your Jewish mother, and your first love, a young African American girl also named Billy. Everything you touch hammers home why B.J. Blazkowicz ran away to the military to transform from a frightened child to the GOAT nazi killer. I never wanted to leave the ranch, as I just wanted to continue uncovering more and more of that backstory, but I was rewarded for finally opening the door to end the level with one of the best set pieces in the game.
What is the most batshit insane thing you encountered in the game?
There is no shortage of absurdity to the proceedings in this game. You spend the first level confined to a wheelchair but are still eliminating hordes of nazis. There’s a cat with its head attached to a monkey’s body who has the best time in the obstacle course. Hell, you end up having your head attached to a super soldier body following your public execution halfway through the game. And there are several deliriously ridiculous scenes featuring your pregnant girlfriend turning into a full-on action hero and saving your ass that get increasingly more and more blood-soaked and insane.
One moment in particular, though, really stood out as one of the most out-there scenes ever to grace a video game. Your encounter with a senile, paranoid Hitler during a casting session to play yourself in a movie about your execution (yes you read all that right) manages to be incredibly unsettling. I was just about ready to call it a night when this happened, but I then found myself determined to finish the game in the hopes it would feature me killing Hitler.
What are some parting thoughts on the game?
Following up Uncharted with Wolfenstein was an interesting choice as both are extremely cinematic for games. Whereas the former makes you feel like you are playing one giant action movie, the latter is interspersed with enthralling cutscenes that rival anything to hit the big screen recently and has me anxiously anticipating seeing how the revolution plays out in the next installment. It’s a shame I didn’t play this game prior to the end of 2017, because, despite its shortcomings, this 10 hour adventure would have easily made it on my 10 best list.