Just over eight months since its release elsewhere, Panic Button’s next ‘how did they manage to get that running on Switch’ port descends on Nintendo’s hybrid console. Having already given the likes of Rocket League and DOOM the same treatment, it falls to the Austin-based studio to bring something as graphically impressive and technically challenging as Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus to a very different platform. The result is another technical marvel, but one that boasts some familiar concessions.
If you’ve played the first game you’ll know what to expect, but for if you’re new to the series you’re in for a real (albeit, disturbing) treat. You step into the bloodied and well-worn shoes of one William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz, a damaged American soldier who is having to deal with the fact that the Nazis have won WW2 thanks to an advent of some conveniently advanced technology. Having struck a decisive blow to the Third Reich at the conclusion of the first game, The New Colossus begins with B.J. and his new family of misfit rebels ruthlessly hunted by Frau Engel, a sadistic commander left horrifically scarred from her last encounter with our gruff hero.
Talking of 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order, you don’t have to have played the first game to understand the black humoured alt-history backdrop, but some of the story’s more shocking and poignant moments won’t have quite as much impact if you're going in cold. It’s frustrating that Bethesda didn’t sign off on a Switch port of the first game - or consider packing them together - but we would advise you to play the original just so its divergent timeline (which is briefly recounted in a bitesize cutscene at the start) makes more narrative sense.
Because despite being a first-person shooter first and foremost, The New Colossus boasts one of the best single-player stories the genre has ever seen. One that takes the schlocky alt-history of its action - Nazis in mechs with giant lasers, anyone? - and weaves it around a story that’s not afraid to delve into some pretty taboo subjects. It’s guilty of being rather tasteless at times, looking for cheap shocks as much as presenting genuine discourse on the likes of race and discrimination, but it usually ends up falling back on the same B-movie silliness that made the first game such a riot.
This being an FPS, you're getting the same template as its predecessor, only with more guns and gore strapped to it. And what guns they are, too - whether you’re melting vents to reveal new pathways with your Lasergewehr, or turning foes to instant gore with a nasty shotgun, there’s a delicious heft to each bullet and shell that MachineGames has made its own. There could have been a little more variety, but with an upgrade system that enables you to transform each weapon to your playstyle (such as the SMG that can be effectively be modded into a silenced nail gun), there’s a pleasing sense of progression to this small yet mighty selection of boomsticks.
Most levels are open enough to offer both stealth and ‘loud’ options - which is especially useful when hunting the officers who need to be taken down quietly in order to avoid calling in a small army’s worth of reinforcements. Most fights tend to descend into all-out chaos - any game that lets you dual-wield assault rifles is hardly looking to be played entirely in the shadows - but it’s empowering to have the choice (and enough space in the level design) to ambush enemies and turn the tide. There’s also a passive perk system that rewards you for performing certain in-game challenges; it lets you get on with the slaying rather than messing about with skill trees.
As you might expect, there are all manner of Nazis to butcher, ranging from basic bullet-sponge grunts all the way up to some terrifying monstrosities we won’t ruin for you here, but it’s when the game takes its finger off the trigger that The New Colossus really shines. A sequence set in a very different take on Roswell - complete with a colourful parade and a litany of hooded KKK members - offers a chance to see a side of Wolfenstein’s skewed '60s-set timeline beyond simple ultraviolence. The New Colossus has clearly taken a few leaves out of The Man in the High Castle's book when it comes to world-building and it's far stronger a story as a result. It’s just a shame these sequences are so rare and short-lived.
So let’s talk performance on Switch. Much like that aforementioned id Software port, The New Colossus is an incredibly impressive feat of technical mastery. The fact this game is even running on Switch is a marvel in itself, but in order to work this conjuration of black magic, Panic Button has had to tone down the captivating visuals and rendering that made last year’s PC/console release such a must-play. That’s not to say this Switch version is unplayable or ugly - far from it, in fact - it’s just taken an inevitable and noticeable blow in the visual department.
Running at a relatively steady 30 frames-per-second, there’s thankfully very little slowdown, which is a shock considering it boasts far larger, semi-open environments compared to those found in The New Order. But in order to fit in every area - ranging from the claustrophobic corridors of a stolen U-boat to the open plan ruin of an irradiated Manhattan - the dev has had to employ some obvious tricks, and some are far more obvious than others.
The biggest is the obvious reduction in resolution and texture detail. Everything from character faces to weapons have had their details and textures dulled, and it can be a little jarring, especially if you’ve played the game previously on another platform. We suspect the game is using a dynamic resolution system as well, like DOOM did, where the number of pixels on-screen fluctuates depending on the intensity of the action. This technique is clearly one of many concessions the studio has had to implement to get The New Colossus running so well - and it's a fair trade-off to get an FPS performing to this standard on Switch - but it’s hard to miss the difference in fidelity between the game's pre-rendered cutscenes and actual Switch gameplay assets.
If you’ve never played the game before on other platforms, many of these texturing details won’t be so obvious and probably won’t have much impact your experience - mainly due to how much the game relies on darkness and shadow to conceal its graphical constraints - but to those looking to double-dip from previous versions, it’s difficult to ignore a visual muddiness that can often make locating and manually acquiring items such as armour and ammunition a frustrating trial and error affair as you scan the floor and wait for the relevant white prompt to appear on-screen.
There’s quite a bit of motion blur employed as well - something original developer MachineGames employed on the other console versions, and something Panic Button relied heavily on with last year’s impressive DOOM port - but it’s easier to spot on Switch when you’re sprinting around a Nazi stronghold blowing chunks out of your foes. These issues also stand out significantly more in handheld mode, with docked mode offering the most robust experience on Nintendo’s hardware. Having said that, the fact you can play on the go is a massive boon, and the experience holds up well enough in handheld mode, despite the cutbacks.
Motion controls for both the Joy-Con and the Pro Controller are also supported at launch (something that was retroactively added to the Switch version of DOOM months later), and they work really well. Whether you're playing in handheld mode, tabletop or on the TV, it's a game-changing addition; being able to fine-tune your aim is amazing, and we honestly don't know how people play PS4 and Xbox One shooters without it.
While we didn’t experience this at any point during our specific playthrough, a number of reviewers did encounter an issue with the game’s main ‘Pause’ menu (found by pressing ‘+’). Some users were unable to navigate through these menus, effectively removing the ability to save manually or upgrade weapons - which is a little harsh considering The New Colossus can be a little merciless when you start to ramp up the difficulty. It's not a widespread issue, and will likely be patched out by Panic Button soon enough, so if you happen to experience it, rest easy - we imagine it will be history pretty soon.
While its graphical downgrade is hard to miss, that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is the best single-player FPS experience you can have on Switch right now. The lack of a multiplayer mode (the versions on other consoles didn’t have one either, so don’t worry about being short-changed) still grates, but with its brilliantly-written story and intense action, not even 2017’s DOOM port can stand up to B.J.’s latest war on the Reich.