Making a name for yourself isn’t entirely a good thing. B.J. Blazkowicz knows this well – after the events of the last Wolfenstein, he’s now the world’s most wanted man. Nazi propaganda portrays B.J. as a mass murderer, and with ‘wanted’ posters spread across Nazi-occupied America a low profile must be retained when the need calls.
This leads to a couple of instances where Blazkowicz don disguises to mix with civilians, both of which are tense and memorable moments. Believe us when we say this isn’t an experience that’ll be soon forgotten.
In the eyes of his peers, Blazkowicz is a hero. A one-man-army that’ll stop at nothing, with arms as thick as tree trunks and a throwing arm to make any baseball pitcher jealous. A hatchet is his melee weapon of choice, able to remove limbs with one swift blow. Indeed, developers Machine Games learned a trick from id’s DOOM reboot – the grisly one hit kills are immensely satisfying.
With a child on the way, B.J. has far more on the line than before. His partner doesn’t shy away from combat either, taking on the Nazi regime with a bun in the oven. Again, this leads to some surprisingly comical cut-scenes. The storytelling and both character design and development are superb throughout. It’s never assumed that the Nazis are inherently evil; you’re shown reasons to despise them, with their twisted and malicious ways and psychotic tendencies on display from the outset.
B.J. and his ragtag bunch of rebels have made a home for themselves on a U-boat, and thanks to its ability to submerge they’re able to elude the Nazi’s grasp. The U-boat acts as a hub, with a target range, an enigma decoding machine, a playable Wolfenstein 3D arcade cabinet and a couple of optional missions to partake.
Only once is it used for unnecessary padding – there’s one fetch quest much later that slows down the pace somewhat. Still, it’s easy to waste a good couple of hours taking in the sights, listening to squabbles, and becoming acquainted with the good folk who’ve joined your cause. Over time new groups join; seeing them interact with the existing crew members is a joy, with one redneck happy to share his supply of brain cell destroying moonshine.
Of course, the U-boat also allows B.J. and his gang to travel great distances. Missions take place in several American states and cities, taking us to swamps, ruined towns, nuclear bomb sites, sprawling Nazi complexes and more. That vagueness is due to fear of spoilers – some mission settings are rather unexpected.
During missions you’re encouraged to be stealthy – most have areas with Übercommanders on patrol, who can call in reinforcements. Their proximity is displayed, but sometimes trial and error are required to find their exact whereabouts due to some areas being multi-floored. If the shit hits the fan, it’s a case of bringing out the big guns.
And boy howdy are they big. Wolfenstein II doesn’t mess around, with the starting weapon being a high-powered laser able to cut through metal. It isn’t long after that B.J. gets to weld two screen-filling shotguns at once, each pumping out four slugs at a time. Every weapon can be upgraded, with a favourite being the ability to turn the uzi into a nail gun. The perk system is again tied into gunplay, with new passive skills unlocked on the fly. While not a necessarily rewarding set-up, it does give something to focus on due to the perk screen showing progression percentages.
The presence of overpowered weaponry would be pointless without some sizeable targets. Wolfenstein II doesn’t disappoint here either, often putting Blazkowicz in against-the-odds situations. These instances are tough, but if you search the battlefields you’ll always find enough ammo to eventually swing those odds. The health/armour system remains pleasingly old-skool, with the health meter slowing recharging to provide a fighting chance.
Robotic enemies are just as pleasing to take down as their flesh and bone associates, with their metal armour shattering and their battery packs surging. The level of detail is impressive, not just in terms of the robotic enemy designs and within the Nazi uniforms, but also in the environments. The U-boat genuinely appears ‘lived in’ with photos and mementoes on the walls and the crew’s personal possessions adorning their bunkers.
In the absence of multiplayer, Wolfenstein II’s campaign is longer than most – our first run clocked in at 15 hours. There’s an ‘end game’ too, allowing loose ends to be tied up. Sadly though, there’s no way to replay missions (unless you were smart enough to make several save files). This means that a few achievements/trophies can be missed.
Anyway, we digress – enigma codes, gained from defeated Übercommanders, reveal the whereabouts of other high-value targets. These optional assassination missions take place in small districts, set within already visited areas, and have their own collectable items to look out for. The number of collectables is a tad overwhelming overall, but those who want to see and find everything can easily expect to clock up 30+ hours.
Perhaps the most impressive thing here isn’t the satisfying slaughter of a twisted regime, or its remarkably upbeat cut-scenes and surprise-filled storyline, but just how seamless the package as a whole feels. Machine Games has created a beast of a game; a powerful, relentless beast that sinks its claws in and doesn’t let go until the final confrontation. The ‘end game’ then provides a welcome breather – time to dust yourself off before trying a higher difficulty level. This includes a ‘permadeath’ mode, which isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Wolfenstein II is a reminder of how brilliant single-player shooters can be if the developers are left alone to flex their creative talents, rather then generate loot box content and premium DLC.