WOLFENSTEIN II: The new addition to my top ten list

My family gave me WOLFENSTEIN II: THE NEW COLOSSUS in 2018 but due to some serious health crises and major life events, I didn’t get a chance to play until 2020. I knew you shot Nazis. That’s all I knew.

I’d played the original Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple ][ computer with a green screen monitor way back in the early 1980s, but never played any other Wolfenstein games before.

I finished WOLFENSTEIN II recently and loved the characters, story, music and game mechanics. I had a challenging, emotional but enjoyable experience enhanced by smooth controls and superb design. It’s up there with God of War, Fallout 4, Skyrim, BioShock and Dishonored on my list of favorites.

I like stealth in video games (usually, not always) and the stealth in WOLFENSTEIN II is really good. Sound effects and audio balance are essential for good stealthing, especially since you can’t see through walls (like Dishonored), you can’t use VATS (like Fallout 3 or Fallout 4) and you don’t even get any little red dots on a compass. WOLFENSTEIN II relies entirely upon your powers of listening, observation and timing.

The AI is not perfect but its the best I’ve ever seen in a video game. NPC’s don’t just patrol in a set pattern or stay in one spot, their behavior changes in response to your actions. They WILL see, hear and search for you. It’s not easy to hide.

Levels are intense and stealth won’t work everywhere. I don’t usually play “run and gun” games or shooters like Doom or Call of Duty so I had to git gud to pass a few tough spots (like the courtroom escape).

My favorite weapon in WOLFENSTEIN II was probably the schockhammer, a triple-barreled fully automatic shotgun with real stopping power. But hatchets, grenades, lasers, rifles, pistols, flamethrower and machine guns all had their uses. Choosing and improving the right tools for the job reminded me a bit of the BioShock weapon wheel and upgrade system.

There are stealth, mayhem and tactical perks, earned by completing certain actions in the game. I went heavier on stealth and mayhem, getting a few tactical perks for headshots and setting things on fire.

I am in awe of the level design, because when you’re doing the main story, you go through the levels in one direction. But when you come back for side missions, like killing the ubercommanders, you start at the other end and go backwards. It blows my mind how they set things up to work in both directions, including special features of the environment for stealth, taking cover during combat, or using the Ramshackles, Battle Walker and Constrictor contraptions.

Cutscenes usually annoy me and bog down gameplay. But the cutscenes in WOLFENSTEIN II happened between levels and didn’t interrupt the action. I found myself looking forward to them and getting emotionally invested in William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz and the crew of Eva’s Hammer.

Having recently played The Outer Worlds, I couldn’t help comparing the random encounters on board the Unreliable to those on board Eva’s Hammer. WOLFENSTEIN II did it right. Rather than telling me where to go and what to see every time I entered the ship and repeating the same encounters over and over, I witnessed unique crew interactions and found little side quests while wandering around on my own. It felt much more realistic and natural, and more personal, with much more depth to the writing and performances.

Every word of WOLFENSTEIN II felt real and believable, in spite of the crazy alternate-history science fiction setting and some of zany plot twists, because the writing and performances were so good. This was a case where a voiced protagonist was used to great effect, not just to offer in-game tutorial and bland observations, but to set the emotional tone of a given mission and to help me connect with the protagonist I inhabited. In this, I was reminded of how I felt playing Daud in the Dishonored DLC, Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches.

Perhaps it comes down to the talent of the voice actor, Brian Bloom. But I have to give credit to the other characters I loved, too, including Fergus Reid (Gideon Emery), Grace Walker (Debra Wilson), Horton Boone (Christopher Heyerdahl) and others. Even the smallest parts were delivered with sincerity, while so many other games sound like they grabbed someone off the street to read lines hastily scribbled on a white board.

I connected with WOLFENSTEIN II more than I ever expected I would, from its gameplay elements to its story to its deep emotional beats. It wasn’t just a shooter – though that part was a blast – it was so much more.

~ J.L. Hilton

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