Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review
Taking on the alt-Reich
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The birth certificate says William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, but you can call him Billy. Terror-Billy. Since 1992 this jarhead has been the scourge of historically-accurate Nazis, and alternate-reality ones, ever since MachineGames wondered what a world run by Hitler's goose-stepping hordes might look like. Said reboot proved to be a rip-roaring success that blended over-the-top action with a surprisingly thoughtful and articulate take on a hero I assumed was a mindless killing machine. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus takes the fight to the U.S., and, among other things, adds in a hatchet.
That's right, folks. It's time to axe the Reich to leave America.But before this Sixties-fuelled revolution can take place, you'll need to lock in which support character you sacrificed in the first title (Wyatt or Fergus) and then endure what may be the darkest childhood flashback in gaming. It fleshes out B.J.'s character and explains why he harbours an Indiana Jones level of Nazi hatred. Basically, old man Blazkowicz became a violent bigot after he squandered his Jewish wife's dowry. The one bright moment of the interactive ordeal: B.J.'s rumoured heritage is finally confirmed, making him the greatest Nazi-smashing Hebrew hero since Inglorious Basterds Bear Jew.
For those diving into this with no knowledge of Wolfenstein: The New Order, that Quentin Tarantino comparison will feel apt in no time. Basterds' slightly kitsch tone permeates the entire production, especially in the post-mission cutscenes where MachineGames delivers its own well-directed, weirdly effective brand of irreverent melodrama. As a father-to-be fighting to make a better world for his unborn children, B.J. is a grounded and relatable character. That said, this is also a WTF reality where the Reich has somehow harnessed ancient technology to colonise other planets, build giant robodogs, and put a laser beam into the cybernetically-enhanced hand of every second SS Commando. Layer in scenes where your offsider's LSD hallucinations manifest as cartoons, like you're playing Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and, well, if you're the type who can't suspend their disbelief, you're gonna have a bad time.
Sounds like a nein out of ten already
Personally, I loved this world gone mad with technology, mostly because it also means: rotating triple-barrelled shotguns that look like anti-aircraft solutions. The arsenal of weapons in Colossus are about as chunky and satisfying as the gory gibs you'll create with them. Your movement across the battlefield is zippy, the levels are mostly arenas filled with tactical cover and rabbit warrens of vents, plus, once again, MachineGames lets you approach a fight how you want. The gung-ho option has been enhanced this time by the ability to mix'n' mismatch which two guns you'll double-fist. I happily sacrificed the ability to downscope in order to John Woo a silenced pistol in one hand, and a machine gun in the other for when my infiltration went bad. The selection process is a touch fiddly to begin with, but once it clicks it's a damn fine addition to the game.
Solid Snake types can go the stealth route, and this is advisable when you have to hunt down commanders who can call in reinforcements. Colossus iterates on this particular approach by adding in a slew of gory kill animations where you use B.J's new hatchet to turn fascists into firewood. Speaking of the hatchet, even in the face of high-cal rifles on horse steroids, it became my favourite weapon. Once you amass a collection of stolen fireaxes, B.J. can hurl them across the room to insta-kill from afar. Sinking one into somebody's skull from half a room away is gratifying as hell, but even when it goes wrong it feels right: forget to account for the axe's parabolic flight pattern and a well-aimed headshot becomes a nutshot. Best mistake.
The rock solid combat gets even better when you realise you're being greatly rewarded for playing well and trying new tactics. Like the predecessor, nailing mini-objectives will earn you powerful perks that augment B.J's movement speed, damage output and ammo capacity. At the midpoint of the game you're also given a choice of one of three physical upgrades that can radically change how you traverse the battlefield. I can't detail what they are, as it's heavy spoiler territory, but each one offers a delightfully quirky, innovative mechanic. MachineGames is trying new things, and it's reminiscent of the innovations some of its staffers did in their Starbreeze Studios days, on cult-hit titles like The Darkness.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has some cool ideas in it, but that's not to say it reinvents the wheel. What you have instead is a talented developer taking an already potent concept and improving just about everything about it, across the board – like a mad Nazi scientist taking a German Shepherd and adding metal armour and a mouth-based flamethrower.
Something pretty special is made when Wolfenstein's gratifying brand of ultra-violence is coupled with an insane (but insanely compelling) plot, and a lovingly detailed world where the even mundane is made amazing by a dark timeline that's worryingly topical. I thought The New Order was a sleeper hit that was criminally under-played. The New Colossus eclipses it in every way to offer the best B.J. action in years.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Switch hardware is under powered when compared to its current-gen competition. You're going to need to go in expecting a visual trade-off here, though it's not as much as you might imagine. Panic Button has already proven to be quite adept at shoehorning Bethesda's games down into this popular Nintendo console. Doom on Switch was a phenomenal piece of porting and Wolfenstein II is very much in the same category.
Basically, this is another handheld miracle. Yes, the lack of sharpness is immediately obvious, but the lower textures are within acceptable boundaries and allow what was a graphically ambitious game to barrel along at a very solid 30 fps. How is this witchcraft achieved? Clever use of adaptive resolution that dynamically scales pixel count based on load. In more layman's terms: during moments of exceptional intensity or architectural complexity Wolfenstein II will sneakily drop itself from maximum resolution down to 360p. In the vast majority of times it does this, you're not taken out of the sweet-spot of SS slaughtering at all.
With the graphics problem more or less solved, Switch owners can enjoy one of the best-written shooters in recent memory. MachineGames has a talent for infusing nutso, balls-to-the-wall action with long cutscenes filled with top-tier acting and incredibly grounded drama. Honestly, it's voodoo on par with the adaptive resolution switching.
Against all odds B.J. – a voiceless, lantern-jawed hero from yesteryear – has been fleshed into a nuanced character replete with a tragic past, a cadre of loveable allies and a penchant for darkly poetic inner-monologues. This is anything but a mindless slaughter-fest.
Thread in a world gone to "Man in the High Castle" levels of insanity and Wolfenstein II is impossible to put down. B.J.'s ongoing grudge match with the nefarious Frau Engel is a riveting game of katze-und-maus that puts you on a pan-American rollercoaster ride through a hideously deformed US of A. In fact, one of the greatest pleasures of this game is to take a moment during the slower moments to drink in the incidental details and mini-stories baked into the levels. Some are hilarious (read: developmentally-challenged Klan members getting schooled on German phrases) and others might make you shiver (housewives totally ok with selling slaves to one another, and receiving their very own "wedding licences").
Also, and I really don't want to spoil this semi-interactive moment, Wolfenstein II includes one of the best cameo scenes in the history of this franchise. It alone is worth the price of admission.
There's just no goose-stepping around this one simple fact: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was one of the best games of 2017 and it polishes up remarkably well on Nintendo Switch. Obviously MachineGames' modern masterpiece can be better consumed on Xbox One, PS4 or on your HAL-9000 gaming PC, but this is the apex of on-the-go first person shooting. It's another miracle port that has the Reich stuff where it counts.
We reviewed Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.
We reviewed Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
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