The name B.J. Blazkowicz is one that strikes fear and terror into the heart of every Nazi. From destroying a Nazi moon base, to going toe to toe with Deathshead himself, Terror Billy is a legend in the fight against Nazi scum. It’s been three years since we last saw him and despite being incapacitated due to severe injuries, he’s back and wreaking even more havoc than ever before. Terror Billy is back.
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Platforms Available: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Machine Games
Release Date: October 27, 2017 ( PS4, Xbox One, PC)/ TBA (Nintendo Switch)
This review is based on a review copy provided by Bethesda.
Wolfenstein II: The New Order cranks things up to 11 from the first game. Everything from the visuals to the gameplay has been improved, especially with its story, which isn’t afraid to kick you in the balls and go out of whack. It puts more of a focus on the ensemble of characters and how each of them have their own skin in the game. Blaskowicz is suffering from his injuries since his fight with Deathshead and things aren’t looking too bright, so he’s doing his best to make a better future for his unborn child and his partner, Anya. Even with new characters, such as Sigrun Engel — Irene Engel’s daughter — who has decided to go against her mother and shun her Nazi upbringing, yet is now alienated from both angels since her new comrades in the resistance don’t entirely trust her. These stakes give weight to each character and make every step in the game’s story that more interesting.
Helping elevate the story as well are the performances from the cast. Even though Wolfenstein II is more out of this world in terms of its setting and action set pieces, the voice acting and writing bring it down to earth. As you play through the game, you’ll hear inner monologues of Blaskowicz that give a glimpse of the kind of mental damage he’s experiencing from each mission. The delivery of each line is melancholic, yet letting a little hope creep in, so as to convey what the character is trying to hold on to in order to stay sane. These are some of the best lull moments in the game, which strip back the violence and destruction to show you that at the end of the day B.J. is still only human. Of course not only with Blaskowicz, but every crew member of the resistance, as well. Walking around the head quarters allows you to experience the banter that goes on between the resistance members. These aren’t just NPCs in a game, they’re living people with actual baggage and emotions.
Not to be gone unnoticed, however, and may be the biggest star of the entire game, is the world of Wolfenstein II itself. Scattered throughout the levels are little journals or letters you can find that flesh out this Nazi dystopia. These were present in the first game, but in here in the sequel Machine Games dive in deeper and successfully humanize Nazis. Despite being tasked with performing acts of evil and unimaginable atrocities, they still have a family waiting for them and even they would rather be home than take orders from someone higher up from them.
Of course the Nazis aren’t the only ones committing acts of atrocity, since Wolfenstein II is a game where you kill Nazis. And boy do you kill them, a lot. Machine Games brings back the satisfying shooting from the first game, while taking a page out of Doom’s playbook. Maneuvering around the map and knowing your surroundings is key to your survival against the enemy, so playing chicken is a quicker way to get killed than running around and blasting off some heads. With this strategy and design in mind, the game can be absolutely brutal, even on medium difficulty settings. If you found yourself managing your own in the first game on Über — the hardest difficulty — then your in for a whirlwind of a ride here in the sequel. Enemies hit harder and are lot tougher, even when they aren’t wearing any German engineered armor.
Along with the upgrade on the game’s difficulty, there are a lot of upgrades in the game’s mechanics. Dual welding is back, but this time you can mismatch weapons, which adds more variety in obliterating enemies. Oh and this time you get an axe, so not only is there even more vareity, but there’s better variety too. Also, an actual upgrade system is available for all of your weapons this time, instead of just being limited to your laser rifle. Upgrades are scattered throughout each level, which give buffs and augments to your weapons depending on your style of gameplay. If you’re more for accuracy in your shooting then you can choose to upgrade in that area, however certain upgrades will negate others. For example, you can’t equip a scope for your automatic rifle and have armor piercing bullets at the same time. However, you can switch out augments at any given moment and it doesn’t cost any upgrade points doing so.
One improvement on the gameplay that I wish could’ve been done better was the way you collect items, such as health packs and ammunition. In the first game it had to be done manually via hitting the Square/X button, however, in Wolfenstein II you can just walk up to items and you’ll pick them up automatically. Sadly it isn’t implemented well, as you need to be absolutely precise. It doesn’t seem to use a magnet function to give you some leeway when walking up to items. I’d find myself pacing back and forth several times on a particular spot just to pick up a single item. It’s great that you don’t have to hit a button as much anymore, but it isn’t implemented well and only adds a bit more frustration than needed.
One element that takes off the frustration and replaces it with adrenaline is the music of Wolfenstein II. Easily one of the most underrated parts from the first game was its soundtrack. Machine Games trickles out metallic strings, with gradual build up based on events in the game. It was used sparingly, but appropriately to add that much more emotion or intensity to an event. With Wolfenstein II, Machine Games doubles down and takes another page from Doom and cranks up the strings and guitars when things get especially hectic.
And lastly to tie up everything in a nice bow are the game’s visuals. The game has bumped up its visuals from the last game and definitely benefits from being on only current generation hardware, where models are a lot softer and smoother. One thing from the engine upgrade that can be quite distracting, however, especially for fans from the first game, are the different faces for some of the characters. B.J. Blaskowicz still remains fairly similar from the first game, but characters such as Anya Oliwa is basically unrecognizable. It doesn’t take anything away from the game’s visuals, but it definitely is a distraction that does break immersion initially.
Overall Wolfenstein II is the sequel that the series deserves and one that shows what Machine Games can really do. The game’s story breaks off its chains and goes balls to the wall, but knows how to stay in its lane. It humanizes both sides of the story, even for the Nazi characters. Not only is the story a thrilling ride, but so is its gameplay. Never has it felt so good to shoot a Nazi in the face and then slice of his buddy’s arm off with an axe. Do yourself a favor and shoot some god damn Nazis.