Yahtzee reviews Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
So we're one-third of the way through the multiple fucking big-name games that came out on October 27th - or as it came to be known, "Let's All Piss on Yahtzee's Schedule Day" - and I might as well admit that I did Mario Odyssey first because, on the face, that seemed the most likely to give a positive experience. Much as I enjoyed Wolfenstein: The New Order, with its strong characters and putting Nazis in their place, that place being face-down in a toilet trying to breathe their own wee-wee, I was iffy about the whole idea of a sequel.
The New Order, in which an aging and weary B.J. Blazkowicz is stuck in a global techno-Nazi future where the Nazis will keep coming forever and there will never be enough wee-wee to go around, was a truly refreshing take on the World War II action shooter and, to my mind, would have been a very fitting send-off for a stale and over-saturated genre. Well, I guess, what with the new Call of Duty this month, they didn't quite send it off as hard as I would have liked. Refreshing, yes, but the thing about that kind of unexpected lightning bolt of a game is that it's a Pandora's box that can only be opened once; open it again, and you're just putting wear and tear on the hinges.
Blowjob Blazkowicz, far from the smirking super-killer of older iterations, is now a dried-up, overused Stretch Armstrong doll in the rowdy daycare center of the universe, who has an increasingly ridiculous talent for coming back from serious injury, but isn't quite returning back to his old shape each time. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that he survived getting his Liberty Bells blown off at the end of the last game and journeys to America with his ragtag band of rebels to win back his homeland from the Nazis with nothing but gumption, a gigantic untraceable submarine, several nuclear warheads, and the magical wonder-technology of an ancient secret society.
Forgive me if it seems like we're losing a sense of threat and adversity, especially when Blowjob continues to shrug off injury in ways that push credibility, even beyond the usual video game protagonist baseline, where we can come back from multiple gunshot wounds by sucking up an entire breakfast table like a jonesing crack whore five minutes before the bus leaves. There's one moment in particular - and I'm sure you know the one I mean, if you've played the game - wherein credibility is pushed right out the door of a passenger airliner, and how the fuck are we supposed to take any threat seriously after that?!
So someone on the dev team must have said, "How do we follow a game like New Order?" and someone else said, "Well, I think the most important thing is that it not look like we're trying too hard," and they certainly pulled that off like superstars; I might almost have thought they weren't fucking trying at all! You remember how, at one point in the last game, we had to go to a Nazi moon base, and it was like the ultimate escalation of ridiculousness, and you wondered how you could possibly top that? Well, in The New Colossus, we get to go to a Nazi base on Venus, which is totally different to a moon base in a number of ways that I'm sure Bethesda will be happy to list for you if you all ring them up at three in the morning. We're even going there for the exact same sodding reason we went to the moon base: to get some control codes for something on Earth that is so vital and important that the Nazis keep them as far away from where they'd be useful as it is possible for them to be.
You have no trouble getting there, and once you're done, you're back on Earth inside a thirty-second cutscene; it's not exactly the stuff of Flash Gordon Sunday strips. But it's not the only point that feels like we're repeating ourselves; seems like all the struggle and surprises were in the last game, and now we're just doing admin. And then, just when the plot finally seems to be warming up to go somewhere interesting, the game abruptly ends; guess they think they can stretch this out to a trilogy, so tune in to Wolfenstein III where, presumably, we'll get to visit the Nazi Andromeda galaxy for precisely one mission and B.J. will survive getting his entire body pushed through a cattle grid.
It's a shame, because the story was The New Order's strong point. Oh yes, if you hate cutscenes interrupting the action, then you're in the wrong tortuously-prolonged id Software franchise, matey; DOOM is your pot of jam. The plot's not great, but plot's just one part of story, and New Order's characters, setting, dialogue, and world-building were all great. New Colossus still has its moments; I might as well spoil now that Hitler shows up, but you don't get to kill him, and not getting to kill Hitler in a Wolfenstein game is like hiring an expensive prostitute to come to your hotel room and massage your kneecaps.
So with the story not quite carrying things as well as The New Order's did, we are forced to pay more attention to the gameplay and conclude that it's not actually that great. As always, I prefer taking the stealthy option in your standard "play it your way" combat buffet, but the stealth is like a blatantly-rigged carny game where the cans are glued together and the goldfish have all died anyway; it's the shitty kind of stealth where every motherfucker on the map instantly knows your position and least favorite place to be shot in because you moved one quarter-inch out of cover to look around and was spotted by someone's hamster. Thus begins the Cockup Cascade, and I hate the Cockup Cascade because it feels like being unduly and continuously punished for making one tiny mistake. The Commanders also instantly know where you are and will continually respawn backup until you storm their office and chop all their arms and legs off, like the exact opposite of the smooth, unrattled secret agent you ostensibly are.
Now, I'm sure one could make a perfectly reasonable argument that maybe a game where we play as a bloke built like a 1950's vending machine who has the option of dual-wielding automatic shotguns and where the environment has more food and health items lying around than a church harvest festival after a staggeringly successful guilt trip doesn't actually intend you to take the stealthy route, but if that's the case, why even have a stealthy route? Grow some fucking balls, Wolfenstein! If it's not the intended experience, leave it out, and concentrate on making the gunplay fun! This is just cruel to someone like me, who likes stealth gameplay; it's holding the squeaky mouse just slightly out of reach of my little paws. If it is the big-penis shooty action that's supposed to carry things, impressive as it is to carry things with your big penis, then our health seems to get sucked away really fucking fast in an open Cockup Cascade scenario, and I feel like there's not much variety to the enemies; I guess "Nazi in giant robot suit" is a concept that can only go so far. And I'm sure there were better ways to ramp things up for a final boss fight than two Nazis in particularly giant robot suits!
In brief, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus couldn't recapture the impact of Wolfenstein: The New Order - perhaps changing more than one sodding word in the title could have been a better start! - and it's content to merely spin its wheels until we're either bored or we've undermined every theme the first game had. I mean, Blowjob Blasty-Bum was almost heartbreakingly sympathetic in New Order, but somehow, the same personality was trying my patience after everything he's survived by the end of this one. "Ooh, woe is me! Me shrapnel wounds hurt! Perhaps soon, the day will come when I can only manage four dead Nazis for breakfast."
- National bocialist: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Not that every Wolfenstein game needs to let you kill Hitler, just the ones in which Hitler shows up and is obviously helpless and vulnerable
- You'd think KKK members would stop wearing masks if they were the authority but there I go again being too sensible