Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus' opening salvo puts a twist on video game power fantasies

IBTimes UK goes hands-on with Bethesda and Machine Games' Nazi slaughtering simulator.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus E3 announcement trailerBethesda

Gaming is rife with power fantasies, and there's no better vessel for them than a first-person shooter. Putting people in the shoes of a super-human powerhouse, these action-packed joyrides arm players to the teeth and send them gleefully gunning down foes as a one man army.

Wolfenstein, with its unabashed revelry for all-out Nazi slaughter, has always been a larger-than-life series that embodies the great video game power fantasy, which makes it all the more surprising that the latest entry in the series, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, starts by making the player vulnerable.

The sequel to 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order once again tells the story of Billy 'B.J.' Blazkowicz, an American Soldier who wakes up after a coma to discover that the Allies lost World War 2.

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Having none of it, he joins a struggling underground resistance in an attempt to release the world from the clutches of Nazi Germany.

Wolfenstein's E3 2017 demo focuses on the game's opening moments, picking up exactly where the last game left off.

After a daring mission doesn't go to plan, Blazkowicz awakens to find his base under attack. With his chest marked from top to bottom with terrible scars, he doesn't even look like he should be alive. As he sits up to grab his gun, Billy quickly encounters another pretty serious problem – his legs don't work.

With the resistance's submarine rocked by explosions there's no time for him to panic. As the nearby shouts and gunshots get closer, the nervous soldier guarding Blazkowicz hurriedly pushes a wheelchair towards him before stepping out into the darkness.

Slowly wheeling Billy out of the room, I experience a feeling nobody would typically associate with Wolfenstein – fragility.

As you'd expect, movement in the chair immediately feels different to other shooters. Sneaking through the sub's corridors at torso height, I use the analogue stick to slowly and quietly wheel Billy around the bullet-ridden ship. With Billy obviously in a bad way, stealth is encouraged, as no matter how much I healed him throughout the demo, his health continued to fall as he bled out.

Groaning in pain with every movement, the only way to get our hero to move quickly is to push the chair with both arms – leaving him without a gun to defend himself with. When he is armed however, Blazkowicz is still as deadly a shot as ever.

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Wolfenstein 2 is set in Nazi-controlled America. The recent trailer showed a unsettling blend of Americana and fascist imagery.Bethesda

As with the last game, gunplay here feels suitably slick. In Wolfenstein 2, Nazis take just as long to topple as ever, forcing me to grab every bit of ammo I could find. Yet, it's not just the Nazi's armour that makes killing them difficult.

With one arm required to steer, Billy's weapon choice is restricted, limiting him to a lightweight machine pistol. It's another small touch, but when combined these elements make you really think before going in all guns blazing, creating tension within each enemy encounter.

The submarine's verticality also presents a challenge for poor old Billy. With various paths blocked, our hero has to find ramps and other creative ways to get to his objective. In an inspired section, players must guide Billy up a conveyor belt in order to make it to the sub's control room.

Just as his destination is in sight, incoming gunfire forces Billy to swerve into cover. It's a distraction, the encroaching Nazis quickly pressing a button that reverses the conveyor belt's direction. Powerless, poor Billy just rolls back down, plumping him right in the midst of a heavily armed batch of enemy soldiers.

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In order to get back to the controls, Billy has to sneak around the other side of the sub. The route is heavily guarded, but thankfully, dangerous electrical generators make great traps, allowing players to lure soldiers in and quietly fry them. Using the sub's mechanical systems, I manage to hoist Billy up and over to the next floor, wheeling him off just in time to avoid getting crushed to death.

As fans of the last game would expect, Wolfenstein 2's cinematics are suitably intense. Just like in its predecessor, the in-engine cutscenes hammer home just how vastly outnumbered the Allies are, in no small part thanks to the terrifying Nazi leader, Frau Engel.

The game will also take Blazkowicz to New Orleans.Bethesda

While the subject matter could easily be cheesy, once again Wolfenstein 2 takes this alternate universe scenario and makes it refreshing and gritty. Instead of Team America-style Nazi ass-whooping, once again the story emphasises that our outnumbered heroes are constantly struggling against a foe they're enormously out-gunned by.

Wolfenstein has always been, at its heart, a David vs Goliath story, and while the events of the demo strongly hint that Billy will soon get to wallop Nazis in a super-powered suit, it's brilliant to see the odds stacked even further against our already struggling protagonist.

While having a vulnerable hero was an enjoyable and refreshing mechanic, it's also a design choice that could help create a bit of empathy among able-bodied players. For anyone wheelchair-bound, seeing one of gaming's most badass heroes kicking a whole load of arse in this way is brilliantly empowering – and what more could you really ask for from a power fantasy?

I came away thoroughly impressed with Wolfenstein 2. It builds upon what made the 2014 original great with some bold new twists. On the basis of this demo, Machine Games' upcoming shooter is oozing with potential - and I can't wait to see what other surprises it has in store.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus will be released on 27 October for PS4, Xbox One and PC.

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