One of the best features of the rebooted Wolfenstein games has been its likable cast of characters. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was full of complex resistance fighters with different experiences and opinions than hero BJ Blazkowicz. The game’s new downloadable content explores the lives of other people who live and die in the alternate Nazi-controlled US 60s. Wolfenstein without BJ is still fun, but it’s not as impactful.
Episode One of Wolfenstein II’s season of DLC, “The Freedom Chronicles,” is called “The Ballad of Gunslinger Joe.” Football star “Gunslinger” Joe Stallion is taken away for Nazi experimentation, from which he promptly escapes. He goes on a revenge quest after Ubercommander Roderick Metze, a predictably blond and evil Nazi commander who says the word “Reich” with a pronounced “sh” sound that makes him easy to hate. The episode’s three chapters occur across a handful of levels that took me about an hour and a half to clear. There are Panzerhunds to rampage on, giant mechs to fight, and a whole lot of enemies to gorily mow down.
As introduced in Episode Zero of the DLC, Joe’s unique mechanic is Unnecessary Roughness, basically the Ram Shackles of the base game. It fits well with his football persona; he can tackle enemies, run with heavier guns, and charge through breakable walls. The levels suit this ability well. It’s immensely satisfying to body-check a gaggle of Nazis down a long hallway, or to bust into a locked office to change the layout of an arena fight. One sequence takes place in a football field with limited health and ammo, where you run around tackling KKK members. Joe’s special move feels meaty, and it encourages you to rush and retreat from enemies in a dynamic, active way.
The levels themselves are familiar from the base game: city streets, sewers, warehouses, and lots of catwalks and corridors. It’s all basically more Wolfenstein, though without BJ’s moody monologues. The Freedom Chronicles are framed as comic books, intercut with still panels that move the story along. Joe’s narration is superhero campy, but it never quite managed to be charming enough to grab me. The Ballad of Gunslinger Joe touches on heavy themes The New Colossus mastered, like family and race, but without the emotion the main game was able to attain through its running time and relationships. You’re mostly just Joe, alone, charging Nazis to their doom and occasionally talking to yourself.
Wolfenstein’s relationships shone, and while Gunslinger Joe attempts to continue that by looking at people who aren’t just BJ and his friends, it doesn’t have the emotional highs and lows of the base game. Still, it’s full of excellent gunplay and lets me spend more time in Wolfenstein’s strange world, which is more than enough for me.