I have not been able to stop thinking about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus since I played it on Friday.
In a room full of journalists, seasoned at living a jaded life full of pre-release demos at shows, the hot topic was just how surprising this game managed to be despite already blowing so many surprises at its E3 reveal. It continues to be thoughtful, but in a new way that complements the BJ Blazkowicz from The New Order. It imagines a full world, somehow fuller than its fantastic “German Or Else” and “Liesel” trailers promoted. And all this came across in just an hour.
Perhaps most impressive in this demo (there was the familiar wheelchair “Reunion” demo, but I opted for the slightly newer “Roswell” demo after my handler gave one hell of a sales pitch) is how it handles. Cleary from The New Order, MachineGames knows how to make a good-feeling game, but this is some Doom-level stuff. It’s smooth and fast and constantly on the edge of out of control while completely within your grasp.
The standout subtlety comes when you move in hard drives, BJ leaning slightly into the turn before you actually make the move. It adds a Mario-like sort of momentum to your movements without giving up the speedy precision that a game like this demands when the action finally starts popping off. (And as Dave Oshry of New Blood Interactive points out, this extends even to wheelchairs.)
And it can get there at times. This can be quite a difficult game, based on this demo. It has no problem fully punishing you for not being aware of which enemies can call in reinforcements, which is fair. But it also has a habit of placing in your path guards with hyper awareness. Even once I knocked difficulty down a notch, sneaking up on them was borderline impossible, and stealth was vital to not turning every single room into a protracted firefight with a strangely fragile BJ.
There were plenty of opportunities for it, too, if not upfront. In the “Roswell” demo, you see everyone in the resistance command gather to discuss how BJ will smuggle an atom bomb into the Nazi Oberkommando in Roswell, New Mexico. The lengthy cutscene does a wonderful job of painting everyone as a unique individual with their own agendas and quirks. (My absolute favorite thing, though, is how throughout the entire demo, anytime BJ moves while wearing his Cloud Strife-looking leather jacket, you can hear it creak and stretch like cow hide drum.)
Once you are in Roswell, it would rather jump into the immense worldbuilding the devs have done than the shoot ’em up gameplay you’d expect. BJ is dressed like a firefighter, walking down a quaint city street amidst a Fourth of July parade with his atom bomb in tow in a comically large fire extinguisher guise. Why? Well, it might be that his face is plastered 10-feet high on walls with his wanted status and, uh, “accomplishments.”
As you amble down these streets, it’s easy to get lost in the world, paying no mind to the objective of getting to a covert meeting. Nazi guards are hassling two Ku Klux Klan members, walking a logical and frightening step of Nazi ideology. Another woman casually cracks a joke (or maybe it wasn’t a joke) about selling slaves. In this little vibrant slice of Americana, not enough can be said with how potent the universe has been built.
Once you get to the diner to meet Spesh, a conspiracy theory nut that aids the resistance, you find a son and mother at the counter. But soon a Nazi officer enters and scares them away while you have a very Inglourious Basterds interaction with him over a milkshake. It’s brilliant and brilliantly acted, and once you get down into Spesh’s own command center, you’ll find that that wasn’t an outlier. MachineGames seems to have figured out their storytelling and it works.
The rest of the demo is you futzing around the Oberkommando and a massive train to deliver the explosive payload. And it’s terrific from what I played, but this tiny bit of the game has me most excited for seeing what it does with its characters and story. The guns felt great and rewarding, but after I knocked the difficulty down just for kicks, I kept it there. The prolonged frustration wasn’t worth it.
We’ll see how it shakes out, though, when it finally releases for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 27, 2017.