Tucked neatly into the bombastic encounters with Nazi soldiers – the over-the-top, hatchet-fueled takedowns, the ceaseless, rumbling gun spray – there is a sort of flow, a rhythm to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which once discovered empowers your play.
It's like finding the jet stream of the game.
Go With the Flow
It wasn't until my most recent time with The New Colossus – this time gunning my way through the devastated quarters of New Orleans – that I noticed this.
In July, I played through a section of the game that had me first fighting my way through a submarine and then inside the subterranean Area 52 of America's occupied Southwest.
My time with the game during that session was replete with death, not just of the Nazis, but of protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz. It wasn't merely because the game was difficult. It was as if the level design was fighting against me, as if I was playing not just against the game, but against the grain.
At the time though, running through the level, guns in each hand, blasting away at the enemy, it didn't dawn on me that my play style was making things so much more difficult for me. That realization came earlier this month, during another hour-long session with the game.
Nazi New Orleans
It's unclear just how far into the game the New Orleans level takes place, but the immediate goal of the section is still laid out for you before the gameplay kicks off.
Blazkowicz is asked to sneak into the new ruined and Nazi-infested New Orleans in an attempt to locate and recruit the local resistance group leader. The plan is for Blazkowicz to take down a lot of Nazis and find the leader, while other members of his group sneak into the city and rescue the remaining citizens.
The level opens with Blazkowicz standing no a wall, looking down at the edge of a water-logged quarter of the city. The streets are dotted with husks of vehicles and rubble from destroyed builings; Nazis wander, looking for survivors to kill.
Initially, remembering my failed attempts are rushing through my first play session with the game, I tried to approach the level more methodically.
Diving into the level, I attempted to pick off the outer edge of wandering Nazis, in an attempt to slowly kill them off. But they always managed to overwhelm me.
It wasn't until, half out of frustration, I tried haphazardly bowling through the enemies, bullets pounding away at armored men and mechanical beasts, that I found a sort of rhythm to the play.
The level wanted, rewarded a breathless sort of play that left you little time to examine your surroundings or devise a plan.
A big part of this game rhythm was augmented by the game's gadgets.
As players make their way through the game, they will, by now, have unlocked a single special gadget for Blazkowicz to use, the developers explained to us before we got into the game.
There are three in total in the game and playing through the title to this point unlocks one of them, play through three times and you'll have all three to use. To give us a better sense of how each impacted play, the developers unlocked all three for our sessions.
The result was a stilt-walking, wall-shattering, girdle wearing Blazkowicz. Each sounds a bit ridiculous, but in practice they can completely change the way you approach the game.
The Battle Walker is sure to be the most popular choice among the three. They are a pair of armored stilts that, with a double tap of the jump button, makes Blazkowicz a bit more than twice his height. While the stilts are fantastic to use while in cover, allowing you to pop-up over a double decker bus, for instance, to fire off shots into the heads of hiding Nazis, it’s not the best gadget for those who take a more aggressive approach to the game. You can use the stilts while not in cover, but they’re literally stilts, and when deployed Blazkowicz teeters across the battlefield more like a double-tall President Lincoln at a Fourth of July parade, than a one-man army.
The Ram Shackles are likely to be the approach of players more interested in run-and-gun play. Once unlocked, Blazkowicz can dash into enemies and some objects to kill, knock down or break them. Certain areas of the map I played on had walls lined with noticeable cracks. If I sprinted into these walls, Blazkowicz would bust through them like a deranged Kool-Aid Man. I found the gadget especially useful against the armored Nazi Supersoldaten. A dash into them often pushed them back on their feet, allowing me to circle around and deal copious amounts of damage to their backs. Or, I could just keep running into them, eventually killing the walking tanks.
The final gadget was a much less obvious option and the one that gave me the most pause in terms of – I hate to say this about a game that features mechanized, fire-breathing dogs – plausibility.
The developers call the gadget the constrictor harness, but it basically sounds like a super girdle. You don't have to do anything special to activate this device, but once you've unlocked it, it allows Blazkowicz to squeeze through extraordinarily small pipes and such. The one time I used it, popping down a drain pipe that looked more suitable for someone’s arm than an entire body, it allowed me to slip out in the middle of a courtyard and catch a bunch of Nazis by surprise. But I couldn't get the image out of my head of how it was supposed to work. When I asked the developer on hand about it, my questions were sort of waved off. How does it constrict his waist that much without breaking bones? How can he gets those massive shoulders through an opening, it's a girdle, not a full body suit?
There's also not any animation that goes along with the gadget, so it ends up feeling like a silly take on a special key that provides you access to what amount to shortcuts.
The gadgets, especially the need to at least initially choose just one, highlight the game's sense of flow. Pushing players to embrace a play-style that matched both the level and the gadget they've unlocked.
All shooters seem to have a play approach inherent in their design. Some games, some levels, expect you to be a bit more strategic, or a bit more stealthy. Other's allow you to take a more direct approach.
But I found the New Colossus to embrace this in a way that felt more essentially than in most.
The section of New Orleans that I played through wrapped up with another excellent cut-scene – one of the elements of the game that as a whole seem to help elevate it past your typical shooter – and into a level designed specifically around the fire-breathing Panzerhunds.
In the level, you're given one of these creatures to ride, galloping through Nazi-infested streets setting them on fire and slamming into them.
While the concept of being given a Panzerhund with which to wreak havoc sounds appealing, I actually found this section of the game the least rewarding of all the bits I've played.
Fortunately, it didn't last very long.