Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

That Blastowitz is a bad motherfu –shut your mouth- talking about BJ.

After the atomic beating in Wolfenstein The New Order, BJ wakes from a coma to discover his survival is only temporary – his body is giving out. Meanwhile, his beloved Anya is ballooning; they’re having twins. Confined to a wheelchair, BJ mumbles about life while repelling an attack by Frau Engel, the Nazi uber-bitch from W:TNO who is obsessed with making BJ’s life hell while also putting down the rebellion, who’s leader Caroline is in the Precursor super-suit we unearthed in W:TNO, which enables her to leap about like Trinity. But Caroline’s antics are short-lived; still, her loss is our gain as BJ inherits the suit and gets back on his feet by blasting Nazis off theirs while the rebellion tries to inspire the nation to rise up against their oppressors with the help of Engel’s abused daughter. That’s a lot for an opening scene.

You get the sense Machinegames aren’t that interested in the shooter aspect of this, the offspring of the Granddaddy of FPS. Instead they’re all about the cut-scenes, which play like they rendered an improv night they did in the mo-cap suite; the scenes lurch wildly from comedy to abuse to drama, outright farce, theatre, ultra-violence, surrealism and blood-letting, it’s like Jerry Lewis directed by Argento; and it is as amazing as that sounds; but it’s having a lot more fun than we are.

We’ve just been here too many times now. Bunkers and bombed-out ruins. 11 times actually, in the Wolf series alone. You’d be hard-pressed to pick this out of a line up with W:TNO or The Old Blood, it’s the same look and feel, same weapons, even the same Nazis give or take and the levels are rarely anything more than hold down the forward key. I can barely remember any of the shooting. When you’re looking to skip the shooting parts and not the cut-scenes something’s up with your FPS. Even a detour to Venus feels samey; in the original, popping off to a Moonbase felt retro but this is the same fight but with stars outside. Basically we’re crashing through vanilla levels while wondering what else the mo-cap team has been up to. But if you treat the cut-scenes as a reward, it’s worth it.

Cut-scenes that see BJ literally losing his head, scenes that have BJ audition as himself in a movie (a scene which features a cameo so insane and so good it’s worth buying just for that; it’s one of the most out-there cut-scenes of all time), there’s a party where BJ rides a pig, a montage that gets interrupted by Engel’s daughter having sex, Fergus channelling Dr Strangelove as he tries to get his new robotic arm to behave, the conspiracy-theory lawyer who claims it’s all down to Aliens, the running joke about working toilets, a New Orleans sniper who has a clarinet player to help her concentrate, BJ and a commie Preacher having a drinking contest while arguing Communism vs Capitalism, Anya getting turned on by all the violence, Engel on a Jimmy Carson style chat show …

I completed WII in 10 hours and according to a YouTube video of the cut-scenes only six and half hours of that was shooting. But I did spend three and half hours being amazed at what BJ and pals got up to. There’s even a moment where they rip-off Betty White’s infamous quote questioning why having balls means bravery when they’re so delicate – who knew a shooter was the place for Betty White?

There are some darker cut-scenes too; ten-year-old BJ (and his dog) being abused by his father, who is all N-word this and anti-Semitic that and flashbacks to his first love; her fate is heart-breaking. But those jar not only with the broader comedy but the lacklustre levels; after seeing what BJ suffers I want to take out a psychopathic rage on those goose-stepping morons but I can’t because the game’s too busy putting on an absurdity play or leaving me to trudge through linear shooting galleries where I can’t get up close and bloody with the Nazis.

And the one thing that has changed and I wish hadn’t is BJ; Blastowitz is sharing and sensitive, spewing daytime soap-opera lines while acting like a big lovable lunkhead; much like W:TNO, WII misses the chance to make BJ a ‘when men were men’ lead, a throwback satire/commentary on today’s sensitive shooter heroes, the kind of thing Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t. Instead, we introduce a new insensitive character; an afro-sporting, jive-talkin’, street hustin’ Black Panther Pam Greer Tarantino wet-dream called Grace Walker who starts and ends every sentence with muthafuka. Not even the Nazis can stop the 70s.

Grace and her Foxy Brown band take control of the Rebellion and explain the Northern states is a bombed-out ruin, while the Southern States are now run by Nazi-sponsored KKK – who, for no reason other than it made for a great trailer shot, still wear their cloaks and hoods. And the people of the South seem happy with the arrangement. If it’s a commentary on the US’s increasingly outlandish politics and extremism, it passes way too quickly to have any impact. Grace’s less than subtle mention that the minorities are fighting every (motherfucking) day while White America stays indoors is about as far as we get.

One quick scene in the deep south and we’re back to hanging out with the extras from Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; we don’t even get to incinerate some honkey turncoats while we’re down there. We hear one Southern Belle excitedly talking about a slave market she’s going to; why aren’t we going too? If the point of all this to pull the US together and force out the Nazis we’re going to have a problem if half the country thinks America is Great Again. It’s a detour that doesn’t go anywhere and WII is filled with those, dictated by the ideas in the cut-scenes which we don’t get to play. Instead, Grace sasses her way through a plan to take Engel’s flying dreadnought as a symbol to inspire the people to rise up. Fine, but can I actually do that instead of watching it?

Eventually BJ loses the super-suit and a lot more. Stuck in a Futurama-style jar, BJ is repaired (and I’ll leave the various Reddit threads to discuss the physical outcome of that, based on Ayna’s now constant smirk) and I get an upgrade choice; I chose one that lets me make leaps and reach higher spots thinking it would liven things up, but it just made things stranger; I’m literally on Stilts. Err, what? Just the image of huge BJ tottering on heels is … well this is about the only game that could pull that off I suppose.

The other options were basically ramming or squeezing but even with those choices the actual gameplay doesn’t change; for me, an obstacle blocks my way, so I look up – there will be a spot I can now reach in my high heels, but if I'd picked ram or squeeze, there'd also be routes for those. It’s not altered the game play or given me options, it’s still linear. There’s nothing new here. While you can find the other upgrades in later levels, it’s no different. I would have chosen squeezy just to see BJ in a corset but being a FPS we’d not get to see it. Least I can look down and see the stilts when I fancy a laugh.

Less amusing is an uncomfortable sub-plot around Engel’s daughter Sigun, who, try as she might, can’t be as evil as mother expects. BJ watches her go through the same child-abuse he did but he never connects with her or stands up for her; he should have been like a big bro, but she largely becomes the comic relief and, uncomfortably, Grace’s whipping-girl - until she stands up for herself, which just like the Southern level, feels more like a comedy scene than anything with resonance, like an ad-lib that gets forgotten; a Nazi and a Black woman teaming up? How much would that have annoyed Mother? Instead we get to enjoy Grace saying ‘Nazi Bitch’ to Sigun every five minutes until she snaps and earns Grace's respect.

I’m not sure what to make of this game. I had a wild time with the cut-scenes but honestly can’t recall much of the fights and the plot is just filler for the scenes too, not really building to anything epic other than BJ and Engel facing off (which, naturally, happens in a cut-scene rather than us getting to put her to rights). There are some side missions such as finding enigma codes to unlock Nazi bosses, but is BJ really the guy to sit there cracking codes?

For a moment, during the opening scenes, I thought BJ was going to spend the entire game in a wheelchair; dealing with typical shooter situations was immediately thrilling; having to put down the gun to wheel, navigate around things, avoid stairs, but it was only a few moments in the opening level, then back to the generic. Imagine how cool it would have been to keep him in there - assign different folks with different skillsets to push you around, upgrade your chair … it could have been amazing.

Occasionally WII really seems to be bravely breaking conventions; Anya heavily pregnant and in a fire-fight, Sigrun’s story, BJ’s backstory, the black-comedy moments, but they don’t go anywhere and then there’s stuff like those Stilts and the super-suit which just disappears; I thought it would return for a boss battle, a nod to Hitler’s mecha-suit at the end of W3D (maybe they’ll keep it for WIII) but like so much in WII, it’s forgotten about – like the whole Precursor thing.

WII is just about the cut-scenes, it’s entirely focused on satirising political events, extremism, the alt-right, which is all good but it’s forgotten to be a shooter. Each cut-scene is just a mini-performance piece, like watching Kentucky Fried Movie; if the fight sequences had half the intensity or sheer strangeness of them it would be the baddest, maddest, bravest shooter ever and that’s who BJ was originally. Wolf is the reason why we have FPS, it set the standard but somehow this game made an emotionally damaged abuse-survivor who can’t hold his liquor but can dual weld machine guns boring to play. But he’s great to watch; that’s just not what I signed up for.

2017 | Developers; Machinegames | Publisher Bethesda Softworks

Platforms; Win | PS4 | X0