Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus headlined Bethesda’s E3 press conference with a relentlessly stylish trailer that only gave us a glimpse of gameplay. However, I had the chance to play through an early mission, and while it felt familiar, it’s exactly what I wanted. I didn’t get a taste of power suit abilities or dual-wielding machine guns, but it set the tone for Wolfenstein’s wild, bombastic nature.
Series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz had a less than ideal ending in his previous adventure, so it’s no surprise to see him crippled in the opening minutes of the new game. It kicks off five months after the events of the The New Order with BJ waking up inside a stolen German U-boat, which works as a hideout for him and the Kreisau Circle resistance group. Unable to walk, BJ struggles to pull himself up into a wheelchair as they’re being invaded by a Nazi battalion that discovered their whereabouts. This is when the fun began.
Beholden to the wheelchair, movement worked as expected; I would slide forward, struggle to turn around, and take precious time to lift the machine gun from my lap as I aimed down sights to fire. Enemies hounded the corridors as I struggled to survive. Even though health packs riddled the rooms, health would drain to 30 hit points, leaving me in a constant state of vulnerability. However, I quickly stumbled upon help from an old friend.
Set Roth, the genius scientist from The New Order, is concerned for BJ’s health and tries to keep him from putting himself in harm’s way; BJ insists on finding his now-wife Anya and fending off the invasion. All the while, an electric field is zapping Nazi pursuers into a bloody mush in the background of the cutscene. One soldier even unwittingly tiptoes across the room only to be violently met with the current events.
Set reveals an alternate method for dealing with threats in a more clever and discreet. Similar electrical traps scatter the path forward, which I could activate to thin out Nazi patrols. However, an all-out firefight is still an option. And I found myself using a mix of both, similar to the previous game, which attests to what creative director Jens Matthies said on GameSpot’s E3 show:
“There’s a lot of freedom in how you can approach a combat scenario. And stealth is also a little different from other [games] in the sense that if things go wrong you can always fall back on blasting.”
Despite the handicap, I felt as badass as ever and the off-the-walls vibe seeped through the U-boat’s walls. I felt empowered by the fact that I could still hold down the fort while relegated to a wheelchair. In this regard, it’s a bold move to kick off such a wild game with a challenging, slow-paced scenario. But it’s an opportunity to paint the new game’s picture.
While retaining its ridiculous nature, The New Colossus keeps things grounded by contrasting the action with environmental storytelling and journal entries riddled throughout that contextualize the events at hand. I read notes by the resistance fighters, who wrote about feelings of doubt about and whether or not they were going to be successful in their rebellion against the Nazis. Another journal gave a glimpse of what Nazi-occupied America was like, describing a chilling atmosphere of constant fear and oppression.
During E3, Matthies also stated, “There’s a lot of room for crazy in this IP, but at the same time we always wanted to feel grounded. Even though things are over the top and extraordinary, they’re also very domestic in a way. I wouldn’t say realistic, but truthful or honest.”
All the while, here I am as BJ in a most vulnerable state, stealthily spinning my wheels, stabbing soldiers from behind, and firing across hallways. I even had to navigate the U-boat by hopping onto rotating gears to get up a floor or sitting on conveyor belts to traverse the rooms and progress through the mission.
In the last playable moments, BJ is caught off guard by a Nazi soldier as he approaches the platform to get to deck level, but a familiar face saves the day. Anya, who’s pregnant with twins, comes to the rescue and a warm embrace between the two is a moment of peace in a world full of chaos. As expected, it doesn’t last long.
As you reach the surface, above is a colossal aircraft that looks to be airlifting the U-boat in an attempt to seize the makeshift resistance base. This was when I felt humbled and dwarfed, realizing how the narrow corridors of the opening minutes contrasted with the sense scale this game seems to offer. But I was no longer in control.
In the concluding cutscene, resistance leader Caroline Becker makes an appearance to take down Nazi soldiers in her Da’at Yichud power suit (which we see BJ use in the reveal trailer). However, she’s quickly disabled and the suit retracts. Both BJ and Caroline are captured and at the mercy of another recognizable character: Frau Engel, a secondary antagonist of The New Order who is now the primary villain. Frau’s anxious and panicky daughter is also present, and is perpetually bullied by her mother because of her shape (and desire to eat cake). Frau hands her daughter an axe and orders her to execute Caroline. This cliffhanger concludes the demo.
Now I’m left with the unfulfilled desire to jump into everything The New Colossus has to offer: the character relationships, power suit abilities, and locations to explore. Based on what I played and saw from the trailer, I can extrapolate a single-player campaign with a level of comical absurdity that occasionally relieves us from the bone-chilling atmosphere and frantic firefights. I’m yearning to get back to the game, and fight the Nazis to take back my country, even if it means blasting through flamethrowing panzerhunds and massive robotic super soldiers.
The formula for Wolfenstein’s new era still oozes with charisma, especially when we see this alternate history expressed in such a bold fashion. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a sense of catharsis when I realized that beyond the playable demo is an opportunity to rebel against a hate group on American soil through a game series I know and love.