G.R.IND. Games

The G.R.IND. on Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

There are many adjectives one can use to describe Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus; excellent, bombastic, poignant, funny, bat-shit insane, flamboyant, pulpy, gory… the list goes on. But whatever adjective one chooses to assign Wolfenstein with, it is going to undersell the experience of playing it; for me it’s going to be extremely difficult to describe how amazing the overall experience of the campaign is, and, at the same time, critique the many flaws this game has. The only statement that is not difficult to write is: you should experience this game. You may love it, as I have, or you may hate it, as many others have; it is a divisive game and that is why it deserves the chance to win you over. At the very least, especially in modern times, any entertainment product that attempts something bold and ambitious, something that can fail or succeed spectacularly, something that attempts to bring an experience that many others have failed to do so while others are held to a high esteem because they succeeded, should, at the very least, be given a chance by those who have an even remote interest in that attempt. In my case, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus succeeds in that attempt, and has produced one of my favorite first-person shooter campaigns in recent memory, if not one of my favorite campaigns of all time.

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The reasons why I love this campaign so much can be summed up pretty nicely by the opening two hours of the game. Immaculate pacing, over the top moments that the game nails more than those that miss, with a story that is larger than life, cool and surprising, as well as well-written and likeable characters. The combat is satisfying, the visuals are great and the sound design, especially the soundtrack, is top-notch; that’s not to suggest that the game is flawless though. In fact, there are many flaws, as expected from ambitious titles of this kind, however the low points of the game are not damning, while the high points are extremely enjoyable and satisfying, which creates this cycle of somewhat frustrating elements that are, on the long run, overshadowed by the brilliance of other elements. For example, my feelings on the combat are overall positive, although it is a downgrade from the previous Wolfenstein game, and that’s because, for every frustrating decision made, there is a more satisfying one coming up; the game does a really bad job of relaying information to the player, thus on many occasions I couldn’t tell that I was losing health or where the enemy was. There were multiple times, where I was looking in the direction of an enemy, but I couldn’t tell where they were because they blended in to the background. Moreover, when I finally did notice them, half of my health was gone and a few more barely distinguishable enemies popped up and murdered me; it got so bad that I restarted the game, on the easiest setting and stuck with that for the entirety of it. Even then, there were a few more issues with the combat sections, mainly the way the lighting engine works; although the grand vistas and the non-combat sections look absolutely astonishing, in combat getting in and out of buildings or just certain areas of the level would be so dark that even I would continuously bump into a wall without realizing it (with some areas more prone to this than others).

Just an example of how dark these levels can get.

Normally, for any first-person shooter let alone a Wolfenstein title, these issues would be damning and inexcusable; and for some people they will be. However, for every frustration that the game throws at you, it does something else incredibly well. The campaign is exceptionally paced and throughout my 18 hours with it, I’ve never really felt bored; the game always through something new and exciting to deal with, from smaller weapon introductions, to completely new game mechanics and plot twists, the pacing of the campaign was expertly done. The perk system returns from the previous Wolfenstein, where the player is rewarded with perks corresponding to their actions (e.g. kill enough officers before they sound the alarm and you get a perk that allows you extra time before the officers sound the alarm) which makes those actions easier or more effective, which I really enjoyed in the previous game and is pretty good here as well.

New to the Wolfenstein 2, is the gun upgrade mechanic, which consists of the player finding weapon upgrade kits, scattered around the levels to upgrade their weapons with; the upgrades are cool and useful enough to make these upgrades desirable and make the exploration of the levels worth it, which in turn will hopefully mean that you’ve found some collectibles and some readables along the way, which help the world of Wolfenstein to come alive. Speaking of the levels, their design is also quite good, considering the size and tactical options a lot of these levels have; they all have to account for stealth and “guns-blazing” play-styles, but they also have to sell the world in a believable way and in my mind, I always believed the setting of the levels and the interactions within them were always fun. However, one criticism I do have of them is that, it feels like they were not expecting people to try to explore them, as every time I eliminated the enemy and then set out to explore that section, I always ended up getting lost or not sure how to progress; but, I do have some patience for that kind of design and was rarely frustrated by it. Moreover, the game does allow players to revisit all levels, as also new to Wolfenstein 2 is the addition of side-missions; there are some that can be found in the hub area of the game by talking to NPCs, and there are some that require you to travel back to levels and kill the “Ubercommanders” which gives players the opportunity to go back and collect everything they missed the first time they went through the level.

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Thus, in theory, Wolfenstein 2 is a mixed bag and below the standards its predecessor set, but in practice, there’s so much fun to be had that they feel of the same quality; the gunplay in Wolfenstein 2 feels brutal, responsive and requires the player to keep moving, which gives everything you do a sense of chaotic speed. Starting a gunfight with a dozen of enemies, is the perfect excuse to dual-wield shotguns and rip them to shreds in a satisfying and gory fashion or, you can go in stealthy and experience the gory takedowns; the game later on introduces new mechanics that are also very satisfying to use (but don’t want to spoil here) thus the game may lack quality in gameplay, but I didn’t notice it because it was superbly paced, varied and satisfying enough that I was having fun playing the game throughout my playthrough.

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In all honesty though, I did not go into Wolfenstein 2 for the gameplay; instead I was looking for the over-the-top, melodramatic, bonkers and satisfying overall experience that the first one delivered, and in that sense Wolfenstein 2 is a better and more enjoyable experience than the first one was. A lot of that experience does come from the gameplay, the pacing, the visuals and the progression, as noted above, but most of what makes this game successful in its grand ambitions is the writing; the writing for the collectibles, the writing for the characters and the setting, the writing for the narrative (both the serious, dramatic bits and the humorous ones) and the story beats. The game successfully delivers jaw-dropping twists, over-the-top, bat-shit insane moments, serious, dramatic moments complete with satisfying arks for the characters, alongside “laugh-out-loud” humor; as I said, this is an incredibly ambitious game and it nails those ambitions for the most part. Honestly, the only thing I can say about the story without getting into spoilers territory is that it continues directly from where the previous Wolfenstein ended; which is high praise for a game that will take most people 12-16 hours to complete.

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However, due to the ambitious nature of the game, sometimes it goes too far or feels like it’s trying too hard to be funny or over-the-top; characters have jarring transitions (for example objecting to something for a few seconds before going all in on that the next moment) and sometimes they do or say things that don’t flow with the rest of the scene. Sometimes, the writers go too far; they present something in a one-note fashion or, they linger on something for too long. However, the game nails so many of the targets it sets for itself and the pacing is so good that even when it doesn’t, you move on to the next thing that does work and you’re never really taken out of the moment; you just feel a little bump before moving on. And that’s the perfect analogy for this game: It aims for the stars and it gets you there, even if it hits a few bumps along the way.

A very important factor in this success, at least for me, was the sounds design; meaning everything from voice acting, to the music and gun, environment and ambient sounds. Starting with the voice acting, which was extremely important to sell the characters and the world of Wolfenstein. I don’t think I’ve encountered a (unintentional) bad line reading from the fully voiced cast of characters; all the voice actors did their role justice, and were fully committed to the story and the vibe of the game. There were times when the lines would get a bit one-note and some accents, from the multi-ethnic cast of NPCs that can be found in the game, may rub certain people the wrong way, but I’ve found them to be at the very least solid and excellent at the very best.

Moving on to the sound design, which was similarly excellent with some memorable sounds coming off from guns like the “lasergewehr’s” dubstep sounds or the various body parts shattered when you destroy them with a shotgun; overall I really liked the sounds in the game because all the sounds (that I can recall) enhanced your actions or the vibe of the level/story beat you are going through. Lastly, I really enjoyed the soundtrack as well; the most memorable ones being the rock/metal tracks that grab your attention as soon as a gunfight starts and makes you feel like an indestructible, bad-ass protagonist. However, there are more somber tracks in there that fit in well with the more dramatic scenes of the game, and there are some tension building tracks for the more sinister moments of the game; there is a sore spot however and that is the choice of the song that plays in the end-credits sequence. The song itself is fine and fitting for the ending of the game, however the developers chose to have a cover of the original song, which really did not work for me and made me cringe in an unpleasant way.

In summary, I can’t think of a campaign that had so many memorable and varied moments; from social criticisms and commentary, to insane set-pieces, to “laugh-out-loud” moments, to mind-blowing twists, to uncomfortable, macabre dramatic sequences. The most note-worthy aspect of all these moments is that they work in conjunction with each other; they are part of the Wolfenstein way. They may steer too far in one direction on certain occasions or they sometimes feel like they try too hard, but they never feel like they were individual parts that were bolted together; they feel like they were created together by the same mind and are part of an insane, hilarious, melodramatic, aware and critical creative vision that aimed for greatness and achieved it. That must have been an insane task to overcome, but it was completely worth the effort and I won’t be forgetting this campaign for quite a while; that’s not to say that this is a game for everyone or, even for every Wolfenstein fan. There will be people that will not like the combat or will not like the story, and the way it is structured and told; anything that aspires to be unique and great, will have people on the two extremes (love and hate). I am firmly in the love extreme, but I can see how some people may not share my opinion; but, I highly recommend giving such bold games, the chance to win you over and supporting such brave endeavors, because it is these ambitious projects that are very likely to be someone’s favorite game. This may not be your favorite game, and in all honesty it is not mine either, but it was certainly close.

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