Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus...A long title, with many different parts to take in, but the part which most emphasizes the game itself is the "II". TNC is very clearly a "middle child" game, one which was conceived after the huge success of The New Order but also alongside other future titles, notably Young Bloods. Is this beneficial or detrimental to TNC a a whole? The answer is both.
A point in the games favor is that all backstory has already been set up. Not really through Wolfenstein 09 (we don't talk about that anymore) but through The Old Blood and The New Order respectively. Since you're thrown into a scenario fairly early on that shows most of the main characters on screen it is certainly expected that you are familiar with the plot points thus far. The story which takes place throughout this adventure is the area where it falters the most. You are William J. Blazcowicz, American soldier and notorious Nazi killer. Your exploits in previous games have earned you the nickname "Terror-Billy" amongst the Nazi regime and your ragtag team has been deemed to be such a threat that the German army sent one of their best generals to take you down. Throughout the next few hours of gameplay you will travel across the United States recruiting other revolutionaries for your cause while evading the Nazi war machine. Then the game...kinda just ends.
This is what I mean I mean by TNC being a "middle" game. The beginning of the story and growth of its characters was done very well in The New Order and I'm sure Young Bloods will do a great job wrapping up their arcs, but TNC doesn't contribute much to a series that is extremely character driven. This isn't helped by the dramatic shifts of tone that occur throughout the campaign at alarming rates. In the beginning you are given a glimpse into the headquarters of a small but well-armed revolutionary force as they desperately try to recruit more people to their cause in an America that has surrendered and integrated Nazi culture into their own. Then out of nowhere you are treated to some hard sci-fi that involves transplanting consciousness between bodies and auditioning to be yourself in a movie on Venus. The level before that you're confronting demons of your past and dealing with real world issues like spousal abuse and child neglect. The level after it you're shown a 15 minute cutscene that involves everyone in the revolution getting blackout drunk and fighting, having sex, or doing insane party stunts. There's no smooth transition between any of these tones, which leads to very jarring inconsistencies throughout the campaign.
On the subject of tone, the game also sends mixed messages. There's one part in particular where BJ has a flashback of rescuing a rat from drowning, which speaks to his belief about the value of all life. An hour after this flashback he launches a nuclear strike on a massive population area with nary a regard for the death toll. In the first level a weakened Blazko is forced to watch one of his closest friends get executed in front of him. During the funeral he reflects on the futility of life and how quickly one can be cut short, right before he goes back to exterminating human life hundreds of people at a time. Are each of these moments effective when contained in their own bubble? For sure. The problem is they don't fit very well within the same story as each other, and for a game with a campaign so short you really notice things like this.
While the story may have its issues, the gameplay is rock solid. The stealth doesn't really work all that well but stealth has never and will never work in a first person game so I can't really hold much against that. The weapons are all powerful and impactful, with the ability to carry so many simultaneously making combat a high octane game of maneuverability instead of the usual belly crawl and pop up shooting gallery to victory. The weapons may have a bit of a recoil problem, but everything moves so fast and your arsenal is so varied you hardly notice. Late in the game you are given contraptions to use, none of which I found particularly fun or effective, but they at least added some variety with movement. There are many different types of both human and mechanical enemies with equally as many ways to dispatch them, making the combat in this game the best part about it by far.
The graphics are also worthy of note and praise, despite needing the Large Hadron Collider to run the game at full specs. Even on relatively low settings everything looked gorgeous, particularly the in-engine cutscenes. The environments are all distinct from one another, with amazing amounts of detail put into each one. It's one of those games where just walking around looking at things feels engaging because of the authenticity and detail put into the locations you visit. The world is also built up convincingly through text collectibles, which just add to the games engrossing atmosphere.
The way content is divided into this game is strange, however. The main campaign (ignoring side missions and collectibles) won't take any longer than 5-6 hours, but the post-game content which involves revisiting the levels from the game to pick up collectibles and kill Nazi commanders takes just as much time. It seems like as much thought went into post-game messing around as the main game, which does add to the sense of replayability but also detracts from how good the game could truly have been with a bit more polish and attention to the story, probably with another hour or 2 of character development bolted onto it.
So what's the verdict on Wolfenstein II? It's truly hard to say. The story is all over the place but missing the ironic self-awareness that would have tipped the scales in favor of parody and just ends up being silly and rushed. The actual gameplay is great, and follows a solid loop that doesn't get old no matter how much fighting you ultimately end up doing. You can definitely do worse for yourself when selecting a new game to play, and if you can forgive a plot that doesn't really go anywhere you can certainly have a great time with TNC.