Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus preview: Eye-melting, Nazi-vaporizing, blood-soaked joy
I was never particularly impressed with HDR, until I played Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
Machine Games' eye-watering follow-up to 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order launches on October 27, 2017 for Xbox One and Windows PC. The original rebooted the classic series widely credited with kick-starting the entire first-person shooter (FPS) genre.
Wolfenstein revolves around an alternate timeline where the Nazis won World War 2 leveraging superior technology and, sometimes, occult artifacts. The only thing standing in their way is B.J. Blazkowicz, an American soldier with an unprecedented affinity for high-octane Nazi slaughter.
While previous entries in the series have been primarily action-oriented, Wolfenstein: The New Order had a surprisingly deep, and touching story, with strong characters, fairly open level designs, and stealth mechanics. In my play session with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus at Gamescom 2017, I discovered that Machine Games appear to have dialed all of the previous game's best features up to 11.
Visual and Setting Making HDR essential
I have an Xbox One S and a HDR-capable set, but never really felt HDR was particularly exciting until I went eyes-on with Wolfenstein II, that is. I played Wolfenstein II at 4K resolution, 60 FPS, on a HDR monitor running on PC. I was told the experience was indicative of what we can expect on the Xbox One X when it launches this November.
I don't think anyone is going to be disappointed with the way Wolfenstein II looks, regardless of platform. The art direction is resoundingly well-executed, but also meticulous in finer details. One part of my demo took place in that now-infamous Roswell level from one of the game's recent trailers. Parade confetti littered the air, splitting the HDR bloom to vivid effect. NPCs chatted away, giving the level a sense of depth and world-building typically reserved for story-driven adventure games. America has been overthrown by the Nazi regime, and the Roswell citizens accepted their occupation with fear and forced jubilation, as Ku Klux Klansmen mingled freely in public.
Wolfenstein II's world is familiar, twisted by the lens of sickening Nazi ideology. Nazi officers parade the streets, berating citizens for their weak attempts at German pronunciation, and American culture in general. The relatively small slice I got to play through was dripping in commentary, both blatant and subtle. For all the Nazi rhetoric about cultural purity, a jaunt through some Wehrmacht barracks reveal a hypocritical love for American food and entertainment. Beyond the cutscenes and cinematics, there's plenty of narratives presented through the game's design, for those willing to look.
For all its visual prowess, Wolfenstein II is about Nazi slaughter, and no games really do it better than this franchise.
Peeling the armor from a hulking Nazi mechanical monstrosity to reveal the mutated human inside is a satisfyingly grotesque experience. Pumping Nazi's full of lead with their own experimental weapons feels as great as ever, and the whole experience was elevated by some incredible HDR features.
I've never really cared for HDR, until now. This game felt designed for it. Lazer weapons at 1000 nits of brightness simply look breath taking, and the environment is designed to complement. Shredding through an enemy with a gigantic heavy laser rips through metallic objects sometimes, sending thousands of HDR sparks onto every surface, giving the game a real sense of 3-dimensional depth. Truly, to really get the best from this game, you're going to need an HDR screen and a capable system.
Wolfenstein II simply looks stunning, with authenticity and intensity pushed to the extremes with 4K resolution, 60 frames-per-second fluidity, and eye-watering HDR. But how does it play?
Gameplay Axe-slinging absurdity
Wolfenstein: The New Order was particularly surprising for its eclectic cast of memorable villains and relatable characters, and many of them return in Wolfenstein II. Frau Engel returns from the previous game, scarred by events in the first. The cinematography in Wolfenstein II remains impressive. Engels was introduced with her face purposefully obscured by objects and camera angles, to emphasize the impact of her previous encounter with B.J. Blazkowicz.
Even in the brief hour I had with the game, the absurd, but relatable characters conjured memories of Metal Gear Solid, where Hideo Kojima's own brand of character delivery remains one of the franchise's most powerful aspects. So many video games get villains wrong, but Frau Engel remains as terrifying and psychotic as the previous game, with a particularly ravenous lust to kill B.J. and his comrades. B.J.'s having none of it, though.
Wolfenstein II gives you a huge arsenal of deadly weaponry to leverage against the new Reich, with many returning staples, often inspired by real WW2 weaponry. You have standard assault rifles and powerful shotguns, with the option to dual wield if you need to take down more powerful foes. Bethesda gave me hands-on with missions that took place in both Roswell, New Mexico, and aboard a stolen sea vessel, used by B.J. and his comrades as a base. Both demonstrations gave me a rewarding amount of variety to play with, even if the full game will have much more.
B.J. comes equipped with a couple of throwing tomahawk axes, which provide DOOM-like contextual melee kills and opportunities for silent, stealth takedowns. Wolfenstein II isn't a full-blown stealth game, but eliminating as many enemies as possible before all hell breaks loose certainly doesn't hurt. All of these kills come with gruesomely satisfying conclusions; sever Nazi limbs with reckless abandon.
Beyond Wolfenstein II's core gameplay, it seems as though Machine Games are keen to inject lots of unique mechanics into the mix. The first level I played aboard the sea vessel, B.J. was confined to a wheelchair, having woken up in a hospital bed with grave injuries. Indeed, B.J.'s health was permanently cut, down to 50, from 100 in the previous title. To make up for it, B.J. ends up with cybernetic enhancements, using the Nazi's own tech against them.
Wheeling yourself around the ship is debilitating and shines a spotlight on B.J.'s tortured body. The controls all feel familiar, with leaning mechanics and dual-wielding as mentioned, with the responsiveness and fluidity you expect of a Wolfenstein game. Albeit, in this level, handicapped by B.J.'s physical condition.
Thankfully, in this level, the ship had been outfitted with microwave wall booby traps, which B.J. could turn on and off at will, luring Nazis to their deaths. As you might expect, the results of walking through one of these microwave fields are pretty spectacular, raining gore like a jam-filled piñata. Glorious.
The game is filled with all sorts of new enemies. The leap in time led to a leap in technology for the Nazi occupation. All sorts of mechanized horrors, mutated beasts, and, of course, cyborg hounds hunt for B.J.'s neck. But, he's not alone.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus seems set for greatness
A rebellion is growing in Nazi occupied America, and it's up to B.J. or "Terror Billy" as the propagandists deem him, to inspire and lead the revolution against global tyranny.
Wolfenstein II in 4K HDR looks truly stunning, and since moving back to the HD Wolfenstein: The New Order on Xbox One, the difference is unmistakable, and quite remarkable. If Wolfenstein II looks anything like my PC demo on Xbox One X, it should be a truly awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping showcase for 4K and HDR.
It looks as though Machine Games might have done it again, raising expectations of what a first-person shooter can truly be. We'll only have to wait until October 27, 2017 to find out.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus launches on October 27, 2017 for Xbox One and PC.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!