MachineGames’ depressingly topical, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus released last year to much critical acclaim but surprisingly average sales. After the New Order proved a surprise home-run for Bethesda, it was assumed that it’s sequel would do equally fantastic business. For one reason or another though, that wasn’t to be the case, but despite it failing to fly out of the traps, it’s more slow-burn success has ensured that the games’ Switch port doesn’t feel as late to the party as it might have done. More importantly though, despite running on what is essentially mobile hardware, it doesn’t feel technologically behind the times either.
The obvious thing to do upon booting up The New Colossus on Switch is to compare it to the cutting edge PS4 and Xbox One versions, and while it does lose some fidelity and plenty of detail by comparison, it’s still a genuinely gorgeous looking game when judged on its own merits. More importantly though, we should remember that what has been created here is essentially a genuinely comparable handheld port of one of the most technologically taxing games of the generation. What the team at Panic Button has done here is basically witchcraft. I’m sure somebody with the required know-how could explain how it was done in more technical terms, but yeah, I’m going with witchcraft.
It does take a hit in handheld mode, but even after a relatively major dip from the 720p resolution achieved when played in docked mode, on the go, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is still something of a technological marvel. Saying that, while it is totally playable in handheld mode, due to the slightly fiddly nature of the Joy-Cons and the generally reduced performance, this is still a game best enjoyed on the big screen and accompanied by Nintendo’s fantastic Pro Controller. The problem with this of course is that, with no real advantage to playing the game using motion controls, there is no way to genuinely recommend the Switch version over the visually superior Xbox and PS4 versions. Saying that though, if the Switch is your only console or if you prefer playing games on the go, you’re getting the full version of the game here and essentially the exact same experience as everyone else.
As for the quality of the game itself, well, while many will (and have) disagreed with me, The New Colossus, like its predecessor, is something of a mixed bag. The way that the writers and developers have taken one of the most quintessentially retro games around and somehow created an experience that feels simultaneously retro and cutting edge has to be applauded. The story and characters too, they all sit on a knife-edge between being heartfelt, dramatic and often, downright ludicrous. It creates a tone completely unique to this series, and while it isn’t always successful (sometimes the absurd and the earnest prove strange bedfellows), it does make for a genuinely interesting and hard-hitting gaming narrative.
That’s even more true of the sequel than it was of the original; despite what Bethesda and MachineGames might have said in the build up to release, there is plenty of commentary here on Trump’s America and the rise of the alt right. Beyond the far too familiar sounds of everyday racism, the in-game acceptance of Nazi-based occupancy by a large number of the US population deals rather bluntly with what is becoming an increasingly disturbing and normalised part of modern-day life.
Despite its obvious political aspirations, none of that comes at the cost of characterisation. The Nazi’s are largely as evil as you would expect, but the resistance, while clearly fighting on the right side of this alternate history, are all suitably complex characters with their own vices and personal demons. This is a story of good vs. evil, but the good guys come with every shade of grey you would associate with the human race. Even the square-jawed hero, B.J. Blazkowicz, the former poster boy for generic 80s hero guy manages to deliver the kind of depth that honestly feels at odds with his somewhat clichéd aesthetic.
There are occasional tonal inconsistencies and a handful of strange narrative choices, but both the story and characters are genuinely top-notch. In fact, my only real issue with the game is what many actually consider to be its strongest point – the gunplay. Yes, the guns feels great and the stealth is actually pretty decent, but man, it sure can be frustrating. This is a tricky game, one that upholds old school standards by doing away with regenerating health and only including limited health packs – that’s all well and good I suppose, but I for one find picking up health packs and ammo a bit of a chore, and yes, dying loads drives me up the wall too. Things get easier as you naturally fine tune your approach based upon the games’ somewhat unique mechanics, but I found plenty of the set pieces nothing short of infuriating. I know, I should ‘get gud’ or whatever, but there were definitely parts of this game that were a proper toil. I had the same issue with the first game, and again, while many will disagree with me, I would be remiss not to warn the easily incensed out there. That shouldn’t put you off of course. This has all been done very purposefully to create a specific and largely very successful gaming experience. It’s one that I largely enjoyed but one that occasionally makes me really rather angry.
In honesty, my issues with The New Colossus’ gunplay are personal rather than technical and many will love the games’ robust shooter mechanics, solid stealth and ultra-violent gameplay. The narrative and characterisation are both utterly fantastic, and despite a few technical issues in handheld mode, MachineGames and Panic Button have done a tremendously impressive job of fitting one of the most technically taxing games of the generation onto a handheld powered by mobile technology. It doesn’t look as good as the PS4 or Xbox One versions (it never could), but this port probably looks a lot better than you might expect and certainly hasn’t lost any of the games’ initial impact in the process.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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