BJ Blazkowicz is America’s Number One Celebrity Terrorist in Wolfenstein II [Preview]
There are few things in this world as unsettling as walking down the street in a Nazi-fied American town. Though the version of that world only exists in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, it's a harrowing bit of revisionist history that puts you on edge the moment BJ steps out into Roswell's main street in 1961. Nazis and Third Reich imagery is plastered all over, with plenty of white people in the streets celebrating a parade. Making things even more alien were the posters of "Terror-Billy" plastered over every open space that wasn't already filled with fascist propaganda or decoration.
In Wolfenstein II, you may be stepping into the shoes of a resistance hero, but in the Nazi-occupied United States, BJ Blazkowicz is public enemy number one.
A glimpse at this alternative take on America was offered in the original trailer for Wolfenstein II during E3. I got to play through the Roswell mission last week, and saw first-hand just how deeply ingrained the Nazi way of life became since the end of the war in Machine Games' timeline. While BJ was overseas helping the resistance put up a fight against the Reich, the grip of fascism only grew stronger in the US. Roving security drones blanket the streets, stopping only to scan for personal identification documents proving people are who they say they are. There's nary a minority in sight — though we do know BJ will work with African-American revolutionaries in the sequel — which makes the overly sanitized town feel even more like a Pleasantvillian nightmare.
This bit of Wolfenstein II is one of those rare instances where you don't have your hand on the trigger of a machine gun, but it's still as fraught with tension as any stage with real combat. There are heavily armored Nazi troops on nearly every corner, and each little block you visit is another pocket of Roswell life. Characters converse about current events, including the legend of "Terror-Billy," the name applied to BJ by Nazi propagandists.
It's also the name of his character in the Elite Hans line of merchandise (GI Joe but for Nazis) you'll come across in-game. You might have seen the collector's edition of the game touting that it comes with a fully realized BJ figure from this line of fictional toys, but Elite Hans extends even further in the game world with pinball machines and more. Merchandising as propaganda isn't something new — hello, Desert Storm trading cards — but the way it is used to make a "villain" a celebrity is something you wouldn't have seen during war time in that era. Just that tiny bit of work reveals much about the Nazi propaganda machine, and how it's evolved in the year since BJ last showed his appreciation for ze Germans. You've just got to keep your eyes open to catch all these small hints at life beyond the fight for freedom.
One thing you can say about Machine Games is it has shown a willingness to go the extra mile in making the world of Wolfenstein feel authentic. It's not just in the swastika flags hanging from buildings, or the way the developers have been able to hypothesize advances in technology under the Reich. It's in little moments, like Nazi commanders giving Klan members a hard time for not knowing enough proper German. It's in the way a family waiting in a diner hurries out the door when an SS soldier walks in for a milkshake. There's all this minutiae that goes towards making places like Roswell more real, and that only adds to the unease you feel as BJ slowly working his way to a contact, avoiding all interaction with the red and black infection spreading throughout his homeland.
Without spoiling much more, the mission at hand after making contact with our inside man involved fighting our way onto a super-train that would transport us to the elusive and mysterious Area 52. We all know by now how obsessed the Nazi leadership was with the occult, and Area 52 happens to be one of the locations in the United States where a host of alien objects have been uncovered. Of course, what the Reich perceives as technological advances they can use to their own gain, BJ knows to be an ancient site of the Da'at Yichud. It's also the location on which the Nazis built the Oberkommando, one of their major installations in America, and the location of a big meeting with the upper echelon of Nazi command. BJ just so happens to have plans to make it explode.
After working through the limited confines of downtown Roswell, the map of Area 52 felt positively gargantuan. Sneaking around, which was viable strategy in The New Order, only sufficed for a few moments. Though there were multiple paths to take and explore, Area 52 was both too vast and filled with too many Nazis to make a stealth approach worthwhile. Hopefully that's not indicative of changes to the full game, as sneakily eliminating Nazis was a favorite tactic of my "Terror-Billy." Area 52 is a stage that comes later in the game, so perhaps it's by design that you've got to make a lot of noise in this portion. Hey, if that's what the game wants, who are we to not oblige.
There were plenty of weapons to make use of in this portion, including a heavy laser dropped by some of the big, armored brutes guarding Area 52's secrets. You'll need all the help you can get to fend off some of Wolfenstein II's new enemies, like the Ubersoldiers, which are incredibly fast and agile robotic troops in Nazi employ. Lasers make short work of anyone and anything though, so if you're looking to leave a pile of ash in your wake, Wolfenstein II has you covered. Sure, shotguns and machine guns feel just as weighty and balanced as before, but there's only so much fun you can have with those versus new additions like the laser, or the new throwable axe. Trust me, the axe is going to be your friend.
You'll still have to pick up ammo, armor and especially health. Hordes of enemies come calling if you don't take out the Commanders, and even when you do, you'll still have to contend with a fair number of Nazis. It's daunting enough when you have full health, but BJ at this point is apparently still recovering from his previous injuries somewhat. Though the Da'at Yichud Power Suit Caroline wore previously is now in BJ's possession, he still doesn't have a great grasp on health. While the 50HP limit in the earlier submarine level made sense, here it is a massive detriment to your ability to stay alive. I died countless times on the way to the mid-boss, and even more than that fighting the giant mech at the end of the demo. It wasn't for lack of trying, but eventually BJ just runs out of health at too rapid a pace to keep up with a continuing onslaught.
Like the lack of stealth, I hope these health management issues were something only present in the demo, and not wholly indicative of the final product. Wolfenstein II is still a few months away, so more tuning and balancing is clearly going to happen before the sequel ships.
Beyond that, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is still shaping up to be one of the year's most impressive titles. Machine Games hasn't strayed from giving the previously cartoonish franchise some real depth of character, and the story and world-building elements all seem as sharp as ever. There was very little to improve upon with the shooting aspects, though even there the developers have made nice adjustments (like dual-wielding different guns) to make this sequel more than just a fresh splash of paint. We have a better sense of how New Colossus will set itself apart from its predecessor, and hope the final product delivers on the promise of our early times with the game.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus will be available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 27.