Hands-on: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus mixes Nazi slaying with surprise and delight

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Game demos are rarely surprising. Not really, anyway. They’re not meant to be.

A game demo is meant to sell you on a game, and to do so it usually checks off the most obvious boxes—reveal a few weapons, walk the player through a combat or stealth sequence (or both), show them the game plays okay, maybe pick one or two “Very Big Story Moments” to tease at bigger revelations, and end on a small hook. Accessible. Familiar. Relatable. But not surprising.

Which is why Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was such a joy to demo at E3 last week, and ultimately wound up being one of our favorite games of E3 2017. As soon as I’d started playing, I knew I was in for something special—something as creative as any sequence in Wolfenstein: The New Order, and that’s saying quite a lot given the heights that game reached at times. (Literally.)

Terror-Billy

You’re in a wheelchair. That’s the hook.

Maybe it seems small or insignificant, reading that. I get it, and I wish we had video to show off. Bethesda wouldn’t let us capture our behind-closed-doors demo, but there’s a bit of footage at around 1:20 in the video below.

The New Colossus picks up immediately after the dire ending of The New Order. Longtime Wolfenstein protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz has spent most of the last five months in a coma (again). Now, having woken up on a stolen Nazi U-boat, under attack by the deranged Frau Engel, he must defend his friends while only a husk of his former self.

It’s all in the details. That’s where developer Machine Games succeeded in New Order and it’s that same eye that made the New Colossus demo magical.

The way you move, for instance. Blazkowicz can steer his wheelchair around the decks of the U-boat quite a bit better than I imagine any real-world human could manage, but it’s still clumsy. Turning is sluggish, you’ll occasionally get caught on a corner or trapped behind a desk, and getting up a ramp is a laborious fight against momentum. It gets even more ridiculous in the latter half of the demo, which sees Blazkowicz bunny-hopping onto giant metal gears to get up a floor, hunting down hydraulic lifts, and taking a long ride on a conveyor belt.

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