This blog post may seem a little bit different than my past posts; not only because it has been a long time since I posted anything to WordPress, but because it’s a departure from the type of content I’ve had in my past WordPress blog posts. I’ve always been a fan of video games and see them as an art form; a unique way for artists to tell a story, build a world, and allow people to explore that world. This blog post is going to be my review of the most recent game I’ve finished, Woflenstein II: The New Colossus.
“Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus”, is a direct sequel to “Wolfenstein: The New Order”. The “Wolfenstein” series of games has been around since the late 80s or early 90s, and the basic formula of the game hasn’t really changed; you shoot Nazis. I had dabbled very briefly in the original Wolfenstein game for DOS here and there via an emulator, but I never actually owned the game when I was a kid, and have never actually finished the game or owned a fully copy. The first game in the series that I actually sat down and played was “The New Order”, and you can read my review of that game here: http://steamcommunity.com/id/gerowen/recommended/201810/
I’ll break this review down into a couple of different parts, not particularly in this order; the visual presentation (graphics), the audio work such as soundtrack and voice acting, the gameplay mechanics, the technical stability and performance of the game, and the story. When I talk about the game’s performance and visual appeal, it will be referring to my personal experience playing the PC version of the game at 1080p, maximum settings (referred to as Mein Leben in the game’s menu) on my gaming PC with the following specs:
CPU: AMD FX 8370 (overclocked to 4.3 Ghz)
Graphics Card: MSI Radeon RX 480 8GB “Gaming” (overclocked to 1,412 Mhz)
RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance Pro, 1866 Mhz DDR3
Storage: 1TB 7200RPM HDD
Note: I played with a mouse and keyboard, although the game does support the use of a controller if you prefer.
As I stated earlier, the story is a direct continuation of the events in “Wolfenstein: The New Order”. It follows William Joseph(BJ) Blaskowicz, also known as “Terror Billy” as he continues fighting against the Nazis who have, in this alternate universe, managed to win the 2nd world war and take over the United States, Europe, and most of the world through the use of advanced, albeit strange, technology they’ve stolen from a secret society of inventors. The story stays true to the example set by “The New Order” by being a very engaging, cinematic experience, even when you are playing and interacting with the events going on around you. There’s lots of unexpected twists, turns, and even some unanswered questions by the end of the game, which I suspect I may find answers to through the side missions or DLC when it comes out. The characters are engaging, believable, and relatable so when a character is in danger, or when Blaskowicz finds himself in a predicament that seems un-winnable, you legitimately feel anxious about what’s going on.
The story, to me, is the most surprising part of this game series. When I first picked up “Wolfenstein: The New Order” earlier this year as my entry point into the franchise, I expected DOOM with Nazis. What I got was exactly that, but with the added bonus of a story and a cast of characters that nearly had me in tears at least once during my play-through of the game. The story of “The New Colossus” continues in that same vein of weaving great story telling and loveable characters around intermittent moments of intense violence against a universally despised enemy.
This, obviously, means that this game is not appropriate for children. If you are a parent and/or you’re considering buying this game for a child, you should know that it includes depictions of Adolf Hitler, grotesque violence (even if it is against Nazis), sexual inuendos, at least one brief sex scene (although no genitalia are actually shown on screen), and at least one instance of a very pregnant lady with her shirt off, covered in the blood of her enemies, screaming, and shooting the crap out of a group of Nazis trying to storm into the room on her (That moment was more hilarious than anything, but there are bare breasts front and center on the screen).
It’s hard to review a game’s “story” without giving too much away, but suffice it to say, I was very pleasantly surprised with how much attention was given to the story in the last Wolfenstein game I played, and this game continued that excellence.
Graphics and Visuals
This game just looks absolutely stunning. The streaming texture “pop-in” that I noticed in the last game still exists, but it has been greatly reduced and is far less noticable than it was on this same PC when I played “The New Order”. I have a feeling those of you with this game installed to a faster hard drive or SSD may not notice this at all. There are occasional instances where you can tell certain, inconsequential “background” objects didn’t get as much attention as the rest of the game, but overall the game looks absolutely stunning. Using the “Mein Leben” preset (the highest available) with HDR and motion blur disabled (because I don’t have an HDR screen and at 60+ fps motion blur doesn’t add anything to the experience in my opinion), the game is easily one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. I realize I keep saying that with every new game I play, but these games just keep getting better and better. We’re getting to a point where the most unrealistic aspect of any game is character animations (and motion capture really helps with that), because when it comes to textures and visual effects, we’re at a point where photo-realism, or near photo-realism, is becoming the norm. Lines were clean without being blurred, colors were rich and vivid without having that “neon” effect of being too bright, surfaces had various ways of reflecting or refracting light to make them appear more natural instead of having that “plastic” look that many games were guilty of having during the Playstation3/XBox 360 era, and character animations were generally fluid and natural looking. One of the moments in the game that caught my attention the most is the scene you probably noticed in the preview trailer where you meet the Nazi commander in the diner. When I was in that diner, prior to meeting the Nazi, I noticed that at 1080p you could easily read the small text of the menu from across the room with no blurring or jagged edges. In my opinion the whole game just, generally speaking, looks really crisp, clean and natural. The artists did an outstanding job both with the style and quality of the artwork, and the technical expertise to implement that artwork into a game in such a way that it looks as good as it does with anti-aliasing and other post processing effects applied. My compressed JPG screenshots don’t do the game proper justice because there are some compression artifacts corrupting the very small elements that looked so clean during actual gameplay; I guess I’ll have to configure Steam to save a PNG copy of every screenshot in case I want to use them for future reviews.
You can click the individual images below to view them larger.
The voice acting and musical score in this game are top notch. Listening to the characters speak and watching them interact with one another is more like watching a film than playing a video game. Each cinematic moment of the game is brought to life through the impressive voice acting of this game that makes the interactions feel natural and lifelike. The audio quality is such that the voices sound good, and sound like they fit into the environment instead of like they were recorded in a studio and superimposed onto a digital character.
The sound effects do a very good job of conveying what’s going on around you in the world. In particular, if you are wearing headphones, it is very easy to discern direction and approximate distance based on sound occlusion due to walls, doors, etc. Firing various weapons, walking, breaking down barriers, sticking your hatchet into somebody’s face, all sounds incredibly realistic and natural. If you hurl your hatchet at somebody who is several yards away, you will still hear a muffled “chink” when it sinks into them, along with a brief yelp by said enemy, or a clanking sound as the hatchet bounces off a wall/floor if you miss, giving you the audio feedback to let you know what’s going on in the world around you. You can even fire silenced rounds or toss hatchets against walls to generate sound effects that will distract patroling enemies. If you’re sneaking around an area, you can even eavesdrop on conversations between Nazi soldiers and pick up on some hidden information that back-fills elements of the story.
The musical score did exactly what a musical score is supposed to do; it augmented the existing tensions and attitude in any particular scene, without itself being particularly distracting. Music will pick up to a fast paced track when you’ve alerted the enemy commanders and they set off an alarm, or when a larger or more powerful enemy is in the area, and likewise, when things are calmer, the music is slower. To be honest, the only single musical track in the entire game that I really took note of is the heavy metal rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that played during the ending credits, because during the rest of the game, the background music served mainly as an augmentation to the events on screen, not as an asset in and of itself, and honestly, I think that’s a good thing.
The game is a first person shooter and plays like a first person shooter. You have your run, jump, aim, fire, grenade, etc. commands to issue. There’s nothing particulary groundbreaking here because honestly, there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement in my opinion. The controls feel smooth and responsive, the gunplay feels satisfying, and combat was never such that I felt like myself, or the enemy, had an unfair advantage. There’s also a few levels here and there with various different ways in which you are required, or can choose, to play. Whether you’re on Venus in a refrigerated suit, rolling around in a wheel chair, or riding a panzerhund and setting those Nazis ablaze, the game never got stale or repetitive; I was always looking forward to the next mission.
Like “The New Order” there’s a variety of different ways to tackle combat; you can sneak around and assassinate everyone from the shadows with silent weapons, destroy the alarms so backup can’t be called in, or just run in guns blazing and kill everything and everyone in your path, including the backup that gets called in. I did notice that even on the Medium difficulty, at least to me, it seems like you’re a little bit less “invincible” feeling if you just run into an open area shooting anything that moves. I’m not sure if enemy attacks do more damage, or if I was just noobing it up, but I feel like even if I just wanted to run in guns blazing, there was an incentive to continue using proper cover and concealment instead of just standing out in the open waiting for enemies to walk in front of me.
Later in the game there are some new gameplay mechanics added, from which initially you can only choose one. You can acquire all 3 of these “perks” I guess could call them through side missions, but they are completely optional, and by the time you even unlock them at all, you’ve only got a few hours of the main story line left anyway, so when I finished the main storyline so shortly after acquiring the first new “ability”, I felt little incentive to go hunting down the other two simply to accomplish bonus side missions. I might do it later just to get them, but I feel like these perks would have been a little more useful or fun if they had been introduced a little earlier in the game, although I haven’t done many of the side missions yet, so I may have hours and hours of gameplay left ahead of me besides the main story line.
This is the area where I had the most complaints with the previous game, “The New Order”. “Wolfenstein: The New Colossus” has fixed every single technical problem I had with “The New Order”; there are some new issues that exist, but none of them that are nearly as annoying as the ones I encountered with “The New Order”. Please note that any issues listed here are issues that I personally experienced on my machine, but the game was also only released a couple of days ago, so bug fixes and patches are going to be pushed over the coming months, and these issues may not exist by the time you read this review.
First, at least as of this writing, when sneaking through air vents, or anywhere that you might need to drop through a hole, it seems that BJ suffers from a condition people in the Steam forums are calling “Fat Blasko” where you have to travel WAY out over these openings in order to fall through them properly, sometimes walking back and forth a couple of times in order to get him to fall through the opening.
Second, the game repeatedly crashed on my PC until I disabled the “Async Compute” option in the Video settings. Once I disabled the option it disappeared from the menu altogether, which was weird, but that did seem to fix the issue. The game would run fine for a while, and then just out of the blue the animation would freeze, the audio would continue, and the game would minimize itself. Trying to restore it would not work and I would have to use the Windows task manager to kill the process. Disabling “Async Compute” resolved this issue completely. Note that disabling “Async Compute” may increase your CPU load since that option is designed to offload some of the “compute” operations to the graphics card, and those operations will now have to be completed by your CPU, but I noticed no detrimental effects to the game with my hardware.
Aside from those two issues, the game is technically superior to “The New Order” in every way that I can tell. It runs SO much better than “The New Order” did on this same exact hardware. At 1080p, maximum visual settings, the game was above 100 frames per second almost non-stop, approaching 150fps on a regular basis. Occasionally when there was a lot of particle effects on screen or a lot of enemies or shooting going on it would dip into the 80s or 90s, but it was always well above 60fps, which is my cutoff since I, like most of you, use a 60hz monitor to game on. This, I think, is thanks to the fact that the game uses the Vulkan API (like DOOM 2016) instead of OpenGL or an older version of DirectX. Vulkan runs really well on AMD hardware right now. The game does disable most on-screen overlay software, so I had to add some command arguments to the “Launch Options” for the game in Steam so I could use the Steam in-game overlay to capture screenshots and such, but I never was able to get Radeon Relive to take screenshots or capture video footage (Note: Add the following, without quotes to the launch options in Steam to re-enable the Steam in-game overlay, “+r_disableSteamOverlay 0”). Even if I hit “Print Screen” and then paste it into MS Paint, I just get a big black square. I also couldn’t get my Rivatuner overlay to work so I could monitor system load while the game was running, however, the game does have built in performance metrics you can enable under the “Video” settings that can show as little as your framerate or everything including your per core CPU load, frame times, etc.
“Wolfenstein: The New Colossus” is the 2nd Wolfenstein game I have ever actually sat down and played, and it is a worthy successor to “The New Order”. It improved on or fixed every problem I had with the previous title I played, albeit at the expense of adding one or two new issues. The story is compelling and at times even breath taking or heart wrenching if you’re a softie that gets attached to characters like I do. Everything from the visuals to the sound effects to the responsive gameplay mechanics just makes this feel like what I said in my review of the last game may have actually reached somebody’s ears over at Bethesda. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through the campaign and intend to continue playing the side missions and any DLC that becomes available. If you’re a fan of first person shooters, great story telling, or both, I highly recommend this game, although if you haven’t played it, I really recommend playing “The New Order” first because, despite the issues with that title, part of what makes this game amazing is the continuation of the events from “The New Order”. Bethesda included no multiplayer and focused on making a rock solid single player, and I think they hit a homerun. There are a handful of people all around the internet, including on the Steam forums, who, for some reason, see this game as a political jab or a personal attack, but I’m hoping those individuals are the minority and that this title does well enough to let Bethesda know that we appreciate games being finished, stable, and gorgeous with a compelling single player. I will most definitely keep my ears open for the next entry in the series.