BJ’s back, baby.
“The guns have a brutal bite, bodies are blown to pieces with absolute glee, and the levels have a more naturally labyrinthine design that continues to recall the best shooters of the 90s PC era.”
As massively increased attendance numbers ensure E3 is even more chaotic and headache-inducing than usual, Wolfenstein 2 is the perfect cure. It’s what I needed.
Mad, fierce and brutal, blasting nazis is as satisfying here in The New Collossus as it was in The New Order and The Old Blood – but MachineGames appears to be even more confident in their formula this time around – and that lets them experiment.
The ending of the previous entry in the series means that things don’t start out too kindly for unapologetic nazi smasher William ‘BJ’ Blazkowicz. Most action games would have you wake up in a hospital and be ready for action in a few seconds – action comes first, after all. Wolfenstein 2 does this – but with a twist. BJ spends the first level in a wheelchair.
He might be an unstoppable super soldier, but in this opening level BJ is significantly weakened. There’s a beat where it looks like he might sit up and start to walk, but no – he has to take the chair. Nothing is going to keep Blazkowicz and the end of his gun from nazis, though, so within minutes you’re multi-tasking – driving the chair and shooting, with BJ stowing his gun between his legs as he wheels the chair about.
This is really the headline from the E3 demo for Wolfenstein, but one can’t help but hope that it’s indicative of the kind of madness we can expect from the rest of the game. It’s a brave choice for a first level and one that’s absurd in its own brilliant way – a bloodied patient, still in hospital gown, taking up a machine gun in one hand before wheeling out into the corridors of a U-boat as a sort of human tank.
Even the U-boat itself isn’t entirely normal – it’s booby trapped with microwave weapons that can fry friend or foe alike in an instant. The level has a sort of natural ebb and flow to it – you go from fighting weaker enemies to switching on and off traps either to blast nazis into atoms or to clear a safe path for you to the next area you need to reach.
The story delights in all this. One cutscene has a constant stream of nazis being exploded in the background. There’s a pulpy-but-gritty tone that continues that Inglorious Basterds feel, and it seems the story will go in some very interesting directions. Every time they speak Bethesda certainly seems confident about the story side of this ammo-burner.
But let’s talk about combat in the wheelchair for a second. It rocks. At one point I’m able to quietly sneak up behind an enemy, and with a click of the middle mouse button I unleash a stealth takedown. The brutal and brilliant animation involves smashing a nazi’s head repeatedly into the armrest of the wheelchair, further bloodying Blazcowicz’s bedclothes. Yep.
At another point I’m faced with a difficult choice – I can hear enemies chattering below and that’s also the only route to my objective. I have to roll myself down the stairs right into a group of enemy soldiers, fully aware that once I start that roll momentum is going to take me and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a tense moment, and one that only exists because of the wheelchair featured in this level.
“This first level is devoid of the duel-wielding madness that defined the first game, but it still shines.”
Being injured, BJ’s health is heavily reduced as well. A few shots will take you down, and I find myself searching the corners of every room in search of extra armor or health boosts.
BJ’s weakened state is in a sense the perfect introduction to the state of the world in Wolfenstein 2. The nazis won, and so America, like Blazkowicz, is in a bad way. The U-boat is in the hands of the resistance, but the nazis are storming it with superior numbers and technology. As you might imagine, one man with a wheelchair doesn’t end up standing that much of a chance.
I do die, but only once – and it was my own fault, since I accidentally pushed myself into the path of a trap I’d activated to fry nazi guards prowling the halls. It’s an instant kill for me, just as it is for them.
This level is honestly mad. There’s a bit where you tumble out of your wheelchair and have to fight off assailants on your back before crawling back to your chair. Moving BJ in the chair is a clunkier affair than on foot, but it also leads to a truly unique feel – such as how BJ feels like he leans this way and that in the chair as you aim, and how you can carefully wheel your way around a corner while leaning forwards out of the chair.
Wheelchair or no, the moment-to-moment combat of Wolfenstein still feels amazing. This first level is devoid of the duel-wielding madness that defined the first game, but it still shines. The guns have a brutal bite, bodies are blown to pieces with absolute glee, and the levels have a more naturally labyrinthine design that continues to recall the best shooters of the 90s PC era. It’s all good shit. For the record, you won’t spend the whole game in the wheelchair, either.
This perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Wolfenstein: The New Order was brilliant, and The New Colossus looks to be more of the same. What I’ve learned with this E3 hands-on is how much I was up for that – I can’t wait to play more.