There are a lot of scary sequences in Wolfenstein. There are towering robotic guards with glowing eyes and endless ammunition that you have to battle. There are robotic, fire-breathing dogs that chase you relentlessly and take quite a bit of bullets. But easily the scariest sequences are the ones that provide hints at how America has changed under Nazi rule. The head of Lincoln’s Memorial has been replaced by Hitler’s. New York City has been reduced to a nuclear wasteland where the bodies of those who survived the initial blast still haunt the sewers. The creepiest is, of course, the town of Roswell, where you see the town celebrating a Nazi parade through the city streets. Local girls flirt with Nazi soldiers. Hooded Klansmen walk proudly through the streets. America hasn’t just been defeated, it’s been assimilated. You’re seeing not just destruction, but submission. That America is one of the scariest things I’ve seen in any game since PT.
It’s a shame Wolfenstein 2 makes you wait so long to see it. In the game, your hero B. J. Blazkowicz has been rescued by his friends from the events of the first game. You’re asked to repeat the decision you made in the first game and then launch into slaughtering Nazis. You’ll fight them in the seas and oceans, you’ll fight them in the beaches, you’ll fight them in the fields and streets, and – yeah – you’ll fight them in space (again). The enemies are plentiful and varied. Even better, the action is often broken up with sections where you covertly execute officers before the can alert endless waves of reinforcements. For me, those sequences generally ended violently with me desperately chasing down a fleeing Nazi officer while exchanging fire with incoming soldiers. When I finally caught the officer, it was always enormously satisfying to forgo my automatic weapons in favor of Blazkowicz’s extremely brutal hatchet.
The best parts of Wolfenstein are the slow parts. There is a great sequence on the streets of Roswell where you see the Nazis condescending to a pair of hooded Klansmen. The cutscenes where your boat crew celebrate victories and mourn losses are well-written and meaningful. The hilarious sequence in which you audition for a movie role with a famously temperamental director is especially fun. And, above all, the sequences in which you revisit your past and confront your demons really shine. Blazkowicz’s backstory is captivating; it’s a shame that the game lets go of his story about midway through the adventure.
In fact, the slow parts are so much fun that I wound up wishing I could skip the fairly repetitive gunplay sequences. Blazkowicz is a stubborn but vulnerable hero, in more ways than one. Unfortunately, the game is much more successful at portraying his emotional pain than his physical health and you’ll frequently die without being aware that your health was low. I quickly abandoned any hope of playing stealthy in the sections where the game invites you to play that way; soldiers are preternaturally good at sniffing you out. And firefights are fun but they can be irritatingly difficult (and replaying sections is never much fun). Like some other talented writers, I found myself dropping the difficulty in order to clear the level and see what happened next in the story. The story is really great; it’s hard not to wish that the gameplay could be equally as compelling.
THE BEST PARTS
The story and the characters make for a compelling experience. I love how Blazkowicz frequently makes a disastrously wrong decision only to be rescued by his character, his friends or his luck.
THE WORST PARTS
The gameplay is fun but punishingly difficult. This is compounded by the fact that the game doesn’t convey your health in real time very well. Take my advice, play on easy.
OUR TAKE: PLAY IT
The story is worth the experience but the gameplay feels a little repetitive (no matter how varied and wild the environments get). For what it’s worth: while I wouldn’t buy it at full price, it is a steal at $20 this Black Friday.