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June 15, 2017

‘Wolfenstein II’ starts with a wheelchair, Nazis and a machine gun

by John_A

A little over four months away from launch, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus already feels finished. The game takes place almost immediately after the events of 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, with protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz waking up from a coma aboard a German U-boat, confined to a wheelchair, his legs lame. The Nazis have long since won the war, and in 1961 they’re taking their goal of world domination even further. They’re afraid of the game’s one-man army hero, too. And really, after 35 years of Wolfenstein, shouldn’t they be?

Blazkowicz has since earned a few pet names from his prey (“Terror-Billy,” for instance), but years of combat and the horrors of war have left him broken with battle scars — both physical and mental. Not even his “schmeckle” works, apparently. Masculine fragility is a conceit that’s rarely explored in testosterone-driven big-budget video games.

These battle wounds meant that in a demo this week at E3, I was left guiding Blazkowicz around the warship almost entirely as an invalid. Allow me to explain. Being wheelchair-bound meant that I was very vulnerable. My hands — usually reserved for holding instruments of mass murder — were relegated to pushing the wheelchair. Once I found a gun, my movement speed seemed to drop a bit because at that point I was only pushing with one arm while the other held my weapon.

There were even a few brief sections where I was knocked out of the chair and immediately felt helpless. And of course, wheelchairs can’t go upstairs, which meant as I went deeper below deck the area immediately behind me became inaccessible.

It’s an interesting way of keeping the player on a linear path without it feeling restrictive or claustrophobic. That’s not to say I didn’t find myself getting frustrated and traversing the same section over and over because I couldn’t figure out how to progress. Once I realized that I needed to wheel myself onto a set of gears that would lift me to the next area, and learned how to “read” the environment, though, making my way around the ship got easier.

My biggest takeaway is that based on the intro section I played on a PC (it’s also coming out on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), it feels like the team at Machine Games has been working on this sequel since shipping the last game. Demos can be misleading — especially at E3 — but given how The New Order and its expansion The Old Blood turned out, it feels safe to hope that the rest of the game will play this well come October 27th.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

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