- Spoiler: show
I didn't play Wolfenstein: The New Order until late last year, and after listening to years of gushing praise for it I was disappointed to find myself resenting the final product. I had somehow built it up in my mind as a brutal imagining of a world where the Axis won World War II. This is sort of what I got, but I hadn't anticipated a brain-snatching plot or the Jewish Wizards from outer space. Engel was the standout villain in The First Order for me, as she felt more grounded in her over-the-top villainy, so it's probably not a coincidence that The New Colossus elevates her to main villain status and I enjoyed the final videogame much more as a result.
I found BJ to be a dull protagonist in The New Order, so I was glad to see The New Colossus fill in his back story and give some context and motivation to his behavior and personality. He's still a grim meathead with little interesting to offer as a character, but at least there's an explanation for why he is that way now. BJ's relationship with his father undergirds the first half of The New Colossus, which chugs along with purpose and seems to know exactly where it's going up to the big plot twist. But it loses that steam in the back half, as though the story was planned out in detail until the big set piece and everything after that was a hazy mess of half-written notecards. BJ's certainty of his impending death is resolved but replaced with no interesting perspective on his new situation, the infiltration of the New Orleans ghetto and the characters introduced there offer no necessary step towards the final assault on Engel's flying base, and much like The New Order, reaching the climax of The New Colossus requires an inexplicable trip to a Nazi space base. The final boss fight is against two faceless elite mooks with no compelling relationship with the protagonists; Engel meets her end in a cathartic-but-toothless way from a game design perspective. At the outset you can choose to save Wyatt or Fergus, just as in the New Order, and each offers nominally unique contributions to the story. I say "nominally" because their modularity is apparent, being simultaneously expendable and interchangeable at any given point in the plot.
A Switch port of a AAA PS4/Xbox/PC videogame requires some visual compromises, and The New Colossus port comes from the technical wizards at Panic Button which also brought DOOM 2016 and Rocket League to the platform. DOOM ran well enough but still suffered from single-digit framerate drops in some of the more hectic set pieces and the textures were often disappointingly simplified. The New Colossus feels like a step ahead; I experienced no hiccups in framerate and character textures hold up a lot better. But sometimes the cracks shine through; Engel is defined by the scar she received from BJ in The New Order, and while this scar is rendered in horrifying detail in FMV, her in-game model is so blurry the scar is practically indistinguishable. Another place where I felt like I was playing a visually compromised port was in larger areas, as blurred textures at longer ranges allowed distant enemies to disappear into the background without losing their ability to fire on me. These only occurred in a few places and were a minor annoyance.
I had a better grasp on what I was in for with The New Colossus which probably contributed to my greater enjoyment of it. It's wackier and more over-the-top than The New Order (one memorable sequence sees one of BJ's allies getting high on LSD and chasing a cartoon chameleon into battle), and Engel is a more grounded, detestable villain than the giggling, brain-snatching General Deathshead from The New Order. This more grounded villain also helped The New Colossus have more interesting contrasts with the political situation of the world we live in--the protagonist's actions are sometimes viewed through the Nazi propaganda being fed to the wider world, and the twisting of language and context echoes eerily with what happens on social media.
You also get to kick Hitler in the face. Five stars.