Clever Combat and Quirky Characters Collide in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Early on in 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz wakes from a 14-year coma to discover the Nazis have won the war. As we recently discovered during our hands-on session with its sequel, however, his situation is somehow even more dire at the start of this new story.

Picking up shortly after the concluding events of its predecessor, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus finds our Hitler-hating hero in such a weakened physical state that he’s confined to a wheelchair. More than just a story conceit, B.J.’s unfortunate situation is cleverly woven into the gameplay. To properly experience his pain and suffering, our health was capped at 50—down from the usual 100. In addition to managing this reduced life counter, we were also tasked with navigating the tight confines of a German U-boat from B.J.’s wheelchair.

Before long though, a machine gun landed in our lap and we were able to do what B.J. does best, albeit from a seated position. The combat felt as satisfyingly crunchy as ever, but the fresh perspective added a fun new twist on turning Nazis into pulpy puddles. As we quietly rolled around the craft’s claustrophobic corridors, we were able to silence some threats stealthily, while others fell under chaotic hails of our hand-cannon’s bullets.

Microwave traps—provided by B.J.’s old buddy Set Roth—also came in handy, as they essentially zapped our Hitler-heiling targets out of existence. Switches spread throughout the environment allowed us some control over these cool devices, but we learned the hard way leaving them on could also lead to our own disintegration. Once we mastered their use though, we had a literal blast luring clueless marks into their path before watching them get cooked.

On top of managing the microwaves to gain a strategic advantage, we had to get creative in moving B.J. to the boat’s upper levels. Because he was wheelchair-bound and the craft wasn’t outfitted with elevators, we utilized large spinning gears, moving conveyor belts, and other makeshift modes of transportation to get around. In one of the demo’s highlights, we were tossed from the chair while riding a conveyor belt, forcing a prone B.J. to clear a cluster of baddies as the machine pushed him forward.

While Wolfenstein II‘s clever combat and imaginative environmental exploration was the focus of our hands-on preview, the demo was also packed with engaging cut-scenes and character interactions. The last game’s excellent story—and amazing supporting cast—helped it stand out from other single-player shooters, and the sequel seems to be doubling down on those elements. In addition to a hilarious exchange with Set—who had a few choice words about our weakened state—we briefly reunited with B.J.s lady love Anya.

It was fan-favorite fuhrer Frau Engel, however, who stole the show. As frightening and sadistically funny as ever, the antagonist ultimately caught up with B.J. or, “Terror Billy”, as she affectionately refers to him. Before dealing with her prisoners though, Engel had a colorful conversation with her daughter, a timid young woman who’s accused of eating too much cake and generally serving as an ongoing disappointment to her ruthless mum.

Their exchange escalated when Frau forced an ax on her scared offspring, commanding her to behead one of B.J.s captured allies. The demo closed on this cliffhanger, leaving us anxious to learn where her blade will land and if she could potentially become an ally. More than that though, it reminded us just how adept developer MachineGames is at balancing epic, over-the-top action with absorbing storytelling and unforgettable characters.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus doesn’t hit til October 27, but based on our extremely polished time with the game, it’s already shaping up to be one of the year’s best shooters.