“The Big Easy. Can’t undo your tragedy, but I can punish the people responsible.”
B.J. Blazkowicz’s sole reflection on the despoilment of New Orleans is a single line slotted into the only quiet moment in a 30-minute long Nazi-killing rampage through the once exuberant birthplace of jazz. New Orleans has been turned into a ghetto, a titanic wall erected around its circumference to keep its inhabitants in place while Panzerhunds and Supersoldaten purge the city, street by street. One line doesn’t do the scenario justice.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus sidesteps the insidious nature of what’s going on in its version of New Orleans – it isn’t made clear whether this is an ongoing program of ethnic cleansing or a brutal effort to quell the the city’s resident rebel cell. This latest hands-on taste of Wolfenstein II is all guns, muscle, and toys, but none of the intimacy and horror that usually drives Blazkowicz’s solo campaigns of death and destruction to all things swastika-covered.
Related: check out our Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus perks guide.
The mission starts with you staring down the fire-spewing, mechanical jaws of a Panzerhund, and ends with you riding one through the city streets, lighting the night sky with jets of ignited diesel. The journey between those two bookending moments of spectacle is just as fast and fierce – melting Nazis with lasers, wedging hatchets into their craniums, and generally getting on with the job of turning the foot soldiers of pure evil into piles of viscera.
But before any of that, there’s still a hulking, robotic doggo to deal with. I get some time to size up the battle from the the ghetto wall: there are a few clusters of soldiers patrolling the streets while the Panzerhund incinerates vehicles and buildings nearby. I take the only route available, leaping straight down into murky drain water before climbing up to street level and opening fire on every Nazi in sight. I down a group of four soldiers in a couple of seconds and can’t help but grin over how long it takes to reduce them to a crumpled, bloody mess. I’m too slow to react to the Panzerhund, though: it plods out from behind a double-decker tram and opens its jaws, engulfing me in a stream of fiery death that I can’t escape, even with the blistering sprint speed afforded to me by the Da’at Yichud Power Suit.
I die very quickly on my second attempt – the result of getting stuck in a ditch after accidentally activating one of the Power Suits more curious abilities, a pair of stilts that raise you roughly a storey off the ground.
Third time’s the proverbial charm. This time I use the full width of the street as well as any available cover to my advantage, sprinting through Creole porches to flank the Panzerhund, dipping into the burning shells of stores and houses to reload, quickly rummage around for health packs, and never staying out in the open for too long. I focus on the soldiers, picking them off one by one with a versatile dual-wield combination: grenade-launching Kampfpistole in my right hand for dealing with clusters of bad guys, Sturmgewehr in my left hand for popping Nazi skulls at range. Two minutes later and it is just me and the Panzerhund, a welcome bit of breathing space to finish off the wounded metal brute.
I bait the mech into one end of the street and charge as quickly as possible to the opposite end, switching to dual Sturmgewehrs so that I can unload as many bullets as possible at the beast when it appears from behind cover. Then I notice my reticle turn red as I hover over the abandoned cars littering the street and a new plan is born – I lob a couple of grenades at the cars and let the resultant explosion do the bulk of the damage before heaping on the pain by unloading both assault rifles on the behemoth, punching a hole in one of its fuel pipes that brings the steel pup down in an eruption of diesel, armour shards, and fire.
This is familiar territory for anyone who played The New Order. Weapons feel punchy and impactful, both in their ability to tear Nazis limb from limb, and in how much audiovisual feedback they give. The Schockhammer with its rotating trio of barrels and hefty kick is the best feeling shotgun in gaming since Unreal Tournament’s Flak Cannon – even more so with the Ricochet upgrade equipped, which loads every shell with shrapnel that bounces between targets, dealing extra damage. Likewise, the Kampfpistole feels terrific to wield with its devilish delay between squeezing the trigger and hearing a thunderous boom ring out – the chunks of gore and thick plume of dust confirming the hit.
The Power Suit plays its part just a few minutes later in a trainyard skirmish with a pair of Supersoldaten and yet another Panzerhund. This area is more labyrinthine, with overturned train carriages creating a network of shortcuts and routes throughout the arena, which are perfectly suited to the speed and versatility of the Power Suit. It isn’t just the boosted sprint speed either, as the armour’s full suite of combat abilities come to the fore in this new stage.
Here, the Battle Walker stilts let you quickly climb atop train carriages and containers, giving you a vantage point over the battlefield – a great opportunity to lob grenades and unload a magazine or two before rejoining the melee. Ram Shackles are the indisputable winner though, dealing a massive blow to an enemy simply by sprinting head first into them. Against standard Nazis it is an insta-gib ability, showering Blazkowicz in blood and flesh while barely breaking his stride, but it really comes into its own against Supersoldaten who you can stagger for long enough to decimate with a barrage of Schockhammer fire. Is there a better example of what B.J. Blazkowicz represents than being able to literally run through a Nazi?
As said, this sequence culminates with you riding a Panzerhund through the French Quarter by moonlight, lighting the way ahead with blasts from the flamethrower, breaking the nightly silence with the screams of burning Nazis. It is four minutes of pure spectacle without so much as a pause to catch your breath.
As liberating as this section of the mission is, it leaves me feeling cold. It is definitely fun – the most fun I’ve had with a single-player FPS since The New Order let me shoot Nazis on the moon. However, here I am on a rescue mission in a city-wide ghetto and the only human sign of the conflict I see is the aftermath of a firing squad. The cutscene that precedes the mission features Fergus smashing a cookie into his head with his robotic hand and two resistance members shagging in a submarine. Halfway through the mission Anya gets in contact just to let you know she’s turned on. Even Blazkowicz can only muster a single, vague line about the plight of an entire city. The New Orleans mission is unnervingly scant in its presentation of Nazi evil, there is none of The New Order’s willingness to show the whole, nasty picture; the reason you are so gleefully tearing through legions of Nazis.
As ferocious as the gameplay is, this section of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus feels a little toothless. I love killing virtual Nazis, but these ones feel far removed from the terror of The New Order’s Camp Belica and Asylum sequences – killing them doesn’t feel as righteous. Between the Power Suit, mix-and-match dual-wielding, and fire-breathing mech, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is more thrilling than ever, handing over unbridled power to you and letting you loose on the Nazi menace. Hopefully, this is just a missed opportunity, because it would be shame to see B.J. Blazkowicz return to his role as meathead vehicle of anti-fascist destruction after The New Order worked so hard to turn him into a relatable character. Even Terror-Billy needs to be reminded of the evils of Nazism.