Wolfenstein II should've served as an anachronism in 2017. A game where the Nazis have seized control over the world seems outlandish and yet, it has found relevance in this world full of political turmoil. However, the game is much more than what can be seen from the marketing material. It's a fight with Nazis, sure but it's also about a man's fight with himself. That, I think, gives Wolfenstein II more depth than, you know, "shoot all the Nazis". The fight against the Third Reich is still the main focus but, it doesn't turn a blind eye to the other follies of the human condition and that's where this game truly shines.
**Disclaimer: The following review may contain spoilers. Reader discretion is advised. **
The game begins with our hero, a young William "BJ" Blazkowicz, hiding in his cupboard to escape the wrath of his father while his mother stands guard. Blazkowicz Sr. plays a pivotal, albeit short, role in this story. William has been “caught” fooling around with an African-American girl much to the chagrin of his father. Racial slurs are thrown around, Anti-Semitism makes an appearance, and a life-scarring moment unfolds, all in a matter of five minutes. This prologue sets the tone for the game- of reflection and resistance.
William wakes up after the events of the first game. He’s still badly bruised when the U-boat the ‘Resistance’ is on faces the Nazi onslaught. He fights his way through it to meet Set, the quirky engineer and, eventually, reaches Anya, the mother of his unborn child and a badass in her own right. All our main characters make it atop the ship to find the source of their problems, General Engel. She is a despicable character and, thus, an effective villain. Every time she was on screen, it made my stomach turn because something horrible was set to happen. She is absolutely spiteful which makes this title all the more engaging. We also see the leader of the Resistance, Caroline, who becomes a spiritual guardian to William over the course of the game.
One of this game’s biggest strengths lies with the fact that its gameplay and story are intertwined tightly. Unlike a lot of games, you are aware of the larger mission at hand even while killing the Nazis in front of you. The story is tautly paced but also takes its time when the script demands it. While Wolfenstein II is high on emotions, it also peppers some comedy in between the scenes to lay off heavy-hitting moments. Most of such moments begin with the introduction of one of my favorite characters of the game, Grace. She gives a whole new direction to their movement and her husband, ‘Super Spesh’ brings in much of the humor in the game. His "it’s aliens, man" and overt giddiness over a working toilet in the midst of an emotional moment between two characters are absolutely hysterical.
One of the major plot points of this game lies in William’s history. An abusive father, a loving mother, and a jarring amount of dark memories. This is further explored when he goes back home to reconcile with his past. We get an insight into why he became the person he did. This is also when the game asks you to suspend your beliefs and give into the beauty of the game’s narration. There is a dream sequence between Billy and his mother that brings a sense of poignant closure for us. We also see how the media’s propaganda-fuelled coverage has allowed even Nazis to feign higher ground- one where William is the terrorist and they’re the good guys upholding the American values.
Gameplay, Controls, and Music
Wolfenstein II ran pretty smoothly on my Xbox One without any major lag or stutter. A few frame rates might drop right between an action sequence and a cutscene but, for the most part, the game plays really well. It took me about 15 hours to finish the game on a ‘normal’ level. I assume someone with better skills than I will be able to complete the story much earlier. It looked beautiful on my 1080p TV but, if you have an Xbox One X with a 4K TV, you're going to enjoy it much more. The visuals were pretty stunning even if they showed the fall of some of the great cities of Americawhile the voice actors did a splendid job and the expressions of the characters were extremely detailed. We are able to connect with the characters for this very reason.
Even as someone who doesn’t generally get excited over First-Person Shooters, I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough and will most likely do a second one to play side missions and collect all the Starcards and gold. The one criticism I have of the title would be the repetitive settings in which enemies are fought. But, it’s not as much an annoyance as it would have been, had the story not been this captivating. The music completely blends in with the background which enhances the experience tenfold. It thrills and scares at will, and perfectly captures the sentiment of the scene. The controls are intuitive and easy enough to master.
The guns are brutally awesome, especially the Laserkraftwerk and the Dieselkraftwerk which allow you to vaporize your enemy. There's something so satisfying about these weapons that it's hard to gush about them without sounding like a psychopath. However, if you like your kills up close and personal, your weapon of choice should be the hatchet. It's clean, so to speak, and finishes the enemy without alerting the whole band of Nazis. There is also an option to dual wield guns which is clumsy, to say the least. The ability to hold two weapons comes at the cost of accuracy which is not ideal.
Interesting tidbit: Hitler makes a brief appearance, too. He's not a dictator anymore. However, his ethos (or lack thereof) remain. He has taken up film direction, that aims to spew the propaganda he popularized. He's just not the poster boy of terror, anymore. We get to enjoy watching him suffer from old age, though.
There isn't much to dislike about Wolfenstein II if you're going at it on the surface level. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that our rivals are shown as cartoonishly evil. It largely boils down to Nazis are immoral so, shoot them. That's the principle this game relies on, which wouldn't have been as big a problem had it not been portrayed as borderline righteous killings. When you look back at this game via this lens, the story feels like an age-old trope of good versus evil. This is not to say Nazis aren't reprehensible, I just wish their "evil" was better fleshed out in the game. General Engel does mitigate this problem to some extent but, it still feels a little undercooked.
Quite frankly, the game is a masterpiece. It hits all the right notes and at the right times. It couldn't have been any better. This is my favorite game of the year and one of the most enjoyable campaigns of my gaming life. It's not even close. The game is intrinsically subtle. It relays its message in the backdrop while violence and chaos take the center stage.
One thing should be explicitly stated, Wolfenstein II is an American game. It's about fighting for the good old American values: justice, freedom, and liberty. The game juxtaposes the two warring sides of USA: one that fights to keep the sanctity of the American way, and the other, that abuts the external/internal forces of chaos trying to encroach their country. We grimace when a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which has seen a resurgence since the Nazis took over, tries hard to impress the xenophobic overlords. It drives the point home. The all-too-real haplessness of the concept of society crumbling before our eyes evoke strong emotions.
MachineGames has quite adeptly weaved the story of BJ through this uncomfortable truths. This game leaves an indelible mark on you. However, if you're not one to delve deeper into the stories and want to play just as a release valve, there is still enough in the story to provide a cathartic gaming experience. The thrill of killing Nazis won't fade throughout the game. Although, I truly wish the game had spent a bit more time constructing more complex plot for Nazis. The fights with them become repetitive as well but, it offers you to plan your attacks according to your situation which can make a huge difference. The major characters in the title are a perfect fit as are the supporting figures. They don't have much in terms of real gameplay dialogue but, when you get close to them, you hear their side of the stories which give them a nice dimension.
Wolfenstein II is absolutely worth the price. It is stunning to look at, and its story makes everything stick. I wholeheartedly recommend this game for people looking to kill Nazis. You can buy the game on the platform of your choice:
- Xbox One: Standard Edition ($59.99) / Digital Deluxe Edition ($79.99)
- PlayStation 4: Standard Edition ($59.99) / Digital Deluxe Edition ($79.99)
- PC (Steam): Standard Edition ($59.99) / Digital Deluxe Edition ($79.99)
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Wolfenstein II was reviewed on an Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher. For PC gamers, these are the minimum system requirements:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-3770/AMD FX-8350 or better
- RAM: 8GB
- OS: Windows 7, 8.1, or 10 (64-Bit versions)
- CARD GPU: Nvidia GTX 770 4GB / AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB or better
- Free Disk Space: 55GB