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Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles - The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe
Score: 80%
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: MachineGames
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/First Person Shooter

For self-indulgent reasons, I come up with my own personal top ten lists for video games and movies at the end of every year. Doing so gives me the opportunity to better understand my own personal tastes, but Iím often surprised by my choices. In the months leading up to its release, I was all but positive Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus would end up in my top three. All MachineGames really had to do was deliver an experience that was at least equal to its predecessor. Here we are at the end of 2017, and not only is Wolfenstein II not in my top three, itís not on my list at all. While it pushes the boundaries of good taste and sanity in all the right ways, its adoption of a particularly cruel design philosophy takes the solid shooter foundation of The New Order and actively undermines it. I gave it a positive review and stand by that review, but the honeymoon is now over and itís time to return to the Nazi-occupied United States of America.

Support is here in the form of Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles, a collection of mini campaigns documenting the exploits of three heroes of the Allied resistance. The first of these sidestories is The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe, an enjoyable diversion with a likable protagonist. It continues the admirable world-building of the series proper and distills everything that is good and bad about Wolfenstein II.

Unter is Uber:
Joe Stallion is a salt of the earth Good American type. A football star and a noble soul, this is a man whose shoulders and moral compass are built of the same stern stuff. But the color of his skin automatically makes him a target of the Reich. Heís labeled an Untermensch and subjugated to the role of gladiator, but instead of fighting to the death in arenas that may or may not include death traps and wild animals, heís forced to play "real football." You know, that boring slog of a sport we know as soccer. As if that wasnít enough indignity, his father has been abducted by Roderick Metze, an American Nazi dentist.

Iím sure there are still some hysterical culture snobs out there who still insist that this game is a timely, prescient bit of message fiction. To the undeluded, Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles Ė The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe is pure grindhouse exploitation. Its comic book style delivery lies in sharp contrast with the lengthy, detailed cutscenes of the core game, and while you can tell that this aesthetic design is primarily in the service of cutting costs, it still works pretty well. The context for all the Nazi killing is comparatively thin, but no less motivating for it. Youíll still be rooting for Joe to take down Metze, just as you rooted for B.J. as he split General Engelís head in half like a rotten cantaloupe.

The three-part prologue to Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles looks to be a clear declaration of intent. Each of these three heroes specializes in a certain playstyle; theyíre not jacks of all trades like William "B.J." Blazkowicz. That being said, the special abilities that helped make the second half of The New Colossus particularly memorable return.

In the case of The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe, our hero is primarily a runner and a gunner. Joe Stallionís history as a football player organically gifts him all the benefits of B.J.ís Ram Shackles. Meaning he can break through structurally-compromised walls and grates by simply sprinting into them. And of course, he can instagib weakened and underarmored enemies. Narratively, this is contrived nonsense. Mechanically, itís acceptable.

The justification for bestowing the new heroes with these formerly-exclusive abilities is, once again, the extreme difficulty. Wolfenstein II is likely going to be remembered for its inability to differentiate between honest challenge and arbitrary punishment. The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe may introduce some new environments and scenarios, but far too many encounters happen in wide open areas where enemies can quickly surround and kill you before you have the opportunity to get the first idea of what kind of situation youíre in. The final encounter, in particular, is a brutal mess -- on the same level as that godawful courtroom escape sequence from the original game.

Some of the violence feels a bit neutered. Gone is the hatchet B.J. used in The New Colossus; the replacement isÖ cans. Wow, are these things unsatisfying to use. And the hand-to-hand kills look like something youíd see at a childís karate meet, save for the occasional snapped neck. I donít know why they went with this, considering the fact that the game is still a total splatterfest.

If The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe is any indication, I think Iíll end up enjoying Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles as a whole. After all, more Wolfenstein II can only be a good thing. That being said, however, itís fairly disposable. There isn't much weight behind the storytelling, and none of the action is surprising or progressive in any particularly meaningful ways. But it is solid, and that's enough to earn a recommendation from me.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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