Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus’s first round of downloadable content has unlocked. The Freedom Chronicles: Episode Zero blend pulp sensibilities with strong levels design to create a fun package that shows a lot of promise.
The Freedom Chronicles follows three heroes as they fight to restore order in the Nazi-controlled future, framing itself as a series of pulp stories written by a member of the resistance in The New Colossus’ grittier campaign. Episode Zero’s first scenario tells the story of Joseph Stallion, a former American football player turned resistance fighter and his journey to assassinate an evil dentist who joined the Nazis. The concept is wonderfully absurd, embracing the type of high camp that Wolfenstein: The Old Blood harnessed to great effect.
“Gunslinger Joe’s” gameplay scenario the least successful of the DLC. The goal is to steal a massive Panzerhund, a type of robotic dog. The focused level design allows for some prime sneaking, but it doesn’t completely click with Joe’s abilities. He’s a tough fighter who can smash through walls to make new paths, and while there are a few opportunities to cause havoc, Joe’s never quite given a chance to really flex his muscles. Ideally, his story will build to offer more expansive and frantic scenarios.
The second gameplay snippet is a genuine gem. Jessica Valiant is a former British secret agent codenamed “Silent Death” on the hunt for a Nazi collaborator and film star. Her mission is set in a film studio and focuses on stealth. Stealth was a hit or miss affair in The New Colossus; the game’s claustrophobic levels often funneled players towards gunfights. Valiant’s segment is meticulously crafted, with well-placed cover and ventilation shafts that facilitate a tense game of cat and mouse with her Nazi prey. Most memorable are a large television studio set and an auditorium with multiple levels and hiding places. Her scenario offers a more subtle pace than anything from the main campaign. It’s almost too good to be side content, and I’m thoroughly excited to slit more Nazi throats in future episodes.
The DLC’s final character is the least interesting, but his scenario is still fun to play. Captain Gerald Wilkins is a gritty soldier infiltrating Alaska to destroy a Nazi superweapon. It’s the least imaginative setup of any of the DLC stories, but Wilkins has access to a pair of stilt shoes that allows him to move back and forth through multiple levels. He can slide up to catwalks, bounce to light fixtures, and stomp down on Nazis. This, like the other protagonists’ abilities, is a feature lifted from the main campaign, but the level design is properly built around this mechanic instead of trying to compensate for a variety of potential choices. As a result, Wilkin’s scenario strikes a great balance between navigation and gunplay. While his story seems a little flimsy, I found his chapter to have the best shootouts.
The Freedom Chronicles also released alongside an arcade mode where players can fight Nazis in various arenas and vie for high scores. It’s straightforward, but The New Colossus’ gunplay is wonderfully frantic. Sliding around arenas with shotguns akimbo has always felt good, and the competitive chase for higher scores encourages more aggression than ever. It’s not quite as interesting as Episode Zero, but it’s still pretty damn fun.
As much as I really enjoyed The New Colossus, it sometimes lacked focus. Levels were interesting playgrounds for killing Nazis, but weren’t always good about incorporating different approaches or techniques. Spaces were cramped and battles sometimes escalated so quickly that it was hard to react to. Episode Zero’s campy scenarios don’t just show a lighter side to The New Colossus, they expand on the game’s core gameplay to deliver a highly focused experience with a lot of charm.