Riding a fire-breathing robot dog around a ruined city, using it to roast Nazis alive, feels very cathartic. Even more than that, it feels like it makes sense. In Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, developer Machine Games might have made the perfect game to sum up 2017’s insane reality. “We’re never trying to contain ourselves in craziness levels,” says the game’s narrative designer Tommy Tordsson Björk. “That’s not really what the ultimate goal is – because the goal is just the story, and if the story turns out to be crazy, that’s sort of a side effect then, you know?”
This new section of the campaign that I played added plenty we haven’t seen in previous demos. For starters, there’s a toy box full of new gadgets that make the most of hero William J. Blazkowicz’s rebuilt body, and they’re just as nuts as the rest of the game. First, there’s a harness that allows BJ to crush his lungs and fit through vents; the developer explaining it to me compared it to Bishop from Alien, I kept thinking of that liver-eating dude Eugene Tooms from The X-Files. Next, there’s the ability to rush through weakened walls, because doors are so last year. Finally, there are stilts that let BJ access new areas and scale walls. The vents and the wall-smashing came pretty naturally, but the stilts took some figuring out; when I managed to use them to successfully reach a platform or get to a new location, it was thanks to accidental fumbling as much as carefully planned-out strategy.
But that’s one of the joys of Wolfenstein. Yes, you can use your new abilities to stealth your way into a warehouse (here we were working our way through ruined city streets in New Orleans), but the game won’t penalize you for just equipping your shotgun and going in like a Berserker on meth. The developers gave us a few more gun upgrades this time, including the Kraftwerk laser cutter, and every single one felt satisfying and punchy – you’d be forgiven for feeling phantom recoil in your trigger finger.
In terms of story, we got a glimpse of a new character: Horton Boone, the southern Resistance Leader who likes dressing up as a priest. He gave us his pitch for Nazi fighting while jazz punctuated every sentence, which might very well be the first instance of beat poetry ever featured in a AAA shooter. Boone’s just another slightly cracked member of Wolfenstein’s ever-expanding ensemble cast, which has all the color and madness of a Bravo reality show, but with guns. Sorry – more guns. Again, in any other game, this bit would seem too much, too over the top. Here, it fits right in.
“I have so many favourites,” says Tordsson Björk of his characters. “I really love Grace, this revolutionary leader that you get to meet in this game – she’s such a really fun, cool character to explore. And I really like Wyatt and the personal journey that he goes on, which is a big change from what his story was in the New Order. He was this straight-faced, sort of ordinary stand-up kind of guy, and now he’s going on this psychedelic journey, you know?”
My personal favorite, worryingly, is the scarred and ruthless villain Frau Irene Engel. She’s so twisted, so grotesque – but in The New Colossus, we’re reminded that she’s also a mother, which only makes her worse, somehow.
“I mean, monsters can be scary, but human monsters are scarier,” says Tordsson Björk. “Having this sadistic psychopath Nazi commander. and exploring this relationship between her and her daughter, makes her scarier.”
Wolfenstein: The New Order was a hit, and it feels likely that its sequel will do just as well. So is this that start of a long-running series from Machine Games? It’s narrative designer isn’t revealing much, except that The New Colossus will have a definitive ending. “I think that’s the way we approach every product that we work on,” he says. “It has to have a satisfying conclusion, because if there isn’t another game then you’ve had this journey, and that’s OK. But we have so many different ideas that would be awesome to explore in a third game, so we’ll see.”
We’ve been shown very specific slices of Wolfenstein 2 so far, and it’s hard to know how all the insanity of the storyline and action will hang together at the end. “It’s pretty crazy when I think about it – how much story we have to tell and how much you haven’t seen,” laughs Tordsson Björk. There are so many ideas, in gameplay and story, that it could end up being a hot mess of violence. Or it could be just the game 2017 needs. All I know for sure is that I’m desperate to get back on the Panzerhund.