Monday 26 August 2019

Wolfenstein II review: Fascism gets the bullet as BJ rails against the dying light

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 18+

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus - Blazkowicz in a spot of bother with the Nazis
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus - Blazkowicz in a spot of bother with the Nazis
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

THE 2014 Wolfenstein reboot arrived as a startling scrambling of the old order. Wolfenstein 3D invented the simplistic first-person shooter in 1992, paving the way for Halo, Call of Duty, Destiny, etc. But its 2014 descendant deftly rewrote the playbook, turning gung-ho hero BJ Blazkowicz into a sympathetic, troubled character – albeit one who still gunned down Nazis (and Nazi zombies) – with oversized guns.

The New Colossus has much less new to say in this continuation of an alternate history in which the Third Reich won WWII. But it still manages to shoehorn themes of racism, sexism and fascism into a visceral shooter.

The gunplay actually feels like the least remarkable part of The New Colossus. It’s never as sharp as the combat of Destiny or as urgent as that of the 2016 Doom reboot (itself a Wolfenstein spin-off). But Nazi-melting lasers and dual-wielding weaponry enliven fairly standard corridor-crawling encounters.

Instead, the game really comes alive via the nuanced world-building (fantastically detailed environments depicting American small towns and ruined cities) and diverse ethnic cast (the chain-smoking, breast-feeding Black Panther is my favourite).

It seems strange to say about such an action icon but the slow mental and physical decline of Blazkowicz in the cut-scenes and the compelling parallels with modern-day fascism hold the interest longer than the familiar firefights with soldiers, robots and dogs.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★ Age: 18+

IF THE groanworthy pun in the title gets you guffawing, you’re going to enjoy this more than me. South Park’s TV show has never been subtle in its humour but at least its satirical stabs at current events almost always hit the mark.

Here, the creators take a second bite at gaming with the successor to 2014’s The Stick of Truth, but it comes off as a bit forced. There’s plenty of game to chew on – a surprisingly deep turn-based RPG in which Cartman and co battle the forces of evil. The RPG system improves on the original in myriad ways, introducing different character classes and special abilities and packing many layers to experiment with.

The deliberately amateurish cartoon visuals echo the TV show aesthetic and the script bulges with toilet humour and cruel putdowns. But stripped of its topicality and the narrative drive of the weekly episode, Fractured But Whole falls a little flat.

Aer: Memories of Old

(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★ Age: 7+

COMPARISONS are inevitable with meditative explorathons such as Journey and Abzu. Aer’s trick, not surprisingly, puts you in the body of a shapeshifting girl who can transform into a bird to unpick the mystery of a magical world made of floating islands in the sky.

The effortless freedom of flight is exhilarating but Aer comes back to earth with a bump when your character switches back to two feet to survey the underground caverns. Pretty and mystical as the subterranean realms are, the simple puzzles and eco-friendly message struggle to maintain the player’s interest over the short running time.

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