Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is an Incendiary Masterpiece

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a game that I did not think would exist. At the end of the previous game, 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, I was pretty sure the game’s hero, William Joseph Blazkowicz, known to most of his friends as BJ, was dead. The announcement of the Wolfenstein II earlier this year took me completely by surprise, and I was thrilled at the chance to play another fun Nazi-blasting adventure, but I was possibly even more excited to discover that BJ had survived.

Image: Bethesda

This level of attachment to a video-game protagonist is rare for me. Wolfenstein: The New Order surprised me by how well-written it was, by how well the characters were developed and how fully-realized the game’s world was. For a game that featured a level set aboard a Nazi moon base, The New Order was shockingly good at getting the player to care about its characters. Even without the likable characters and strong world-building, The New Order still would have been a fun adventure. But the game’s creators went the extra mile in expanding on the characters and lore of the game’s universe, which made for a much richer experience.

Wolfenstein II takes all of that and dials it up to eleven. Right from the start of the new game, I was deeply invested in the story, and I cared a lot about BJ and his relationships. At the end of The New Order, BJ defeated the hideously evil Nazi General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse, but was grievously injured in the process. So badly injured that, as I stated above, I thought he was toast. Wolfenstein II opens with BJ being found by his allies and stitched back together. BJ awakens months later after having been in a coma, and at first, he can’t even walk. For the first section of the game, the player controls BJ in a wheelchair.

From the very beginning, the game emphasizes BJ’s vulnerability. He’s not the same man he was in The New Order. His body is broken, and he can only walk at the start of the game once he gets a set of badass power armor. Even then, the game reminds the player how vulnerable BJ is by setting his max health at 50, half of what is usually is. The message is clear: BJ is in trouble.

This is made all the more clear once it is revealed that Anya, BJ’s girlfriend from The New Order, is pregnant with twins. For the first half of the game, BJ doesn’t want to spend time with her, since he knows how broken his body is and doesn’t have the heart to tell Anya that she’ll have to raise their kids by herself, since he’s sure he’s going to die.

Image: Bethesda

That’s heartbreaking. If you’ve never played a Wolfenstein game before, I really need to emphasize how remarkable all of this is because everything else in these games is absolutely ludicrous. The New Order and The New Colossus take place in the 1960’s after the Nazis won World War II. They were able to do this by using technology invented by the Da’at Yichud, an ancient organization of, basically, Jewish science magicians. This technology enabled the Nazis to create energy weapons, computer AI’s, and advanced armor and robots that the Allies could not defeat. The irony that, in the game’s universe, the Nazis won the war using reverse-engineered Jewish technology is very apparent. The games are full of giant Nazi robots, spaceships, and robot dogs. They’re utterly ridiculous.

So it is quite extraordinary that the games put so much effort into getting the player to care about its characters. It also helps that BJ is voiced by an actor named Brian Bloom, who gives one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard in a video game. He’s soulful and introspective, while still being a stone-cold badass. BJ looks quite a bit like the Houston Texans’ JJ Watt, or perhaps the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski. BJ’s first appearance was in Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, in which he was simply a vehicle for killing Nazis. Part of this is due to the limited technology available to game developers at the time, but it is still nothing short of amazing that the new series of Wolfenstein games are able to turn him into a flesh-and-blood human being.

We learn a lot more about BJ’s past in Wolfenstein II. It turns out that his mother was Jewish and his father was abusive and racist. There’s a flashback sequence early in the game in which BJ’s mother hides him in the closet when his father gets home and his father angrily berates her because BJ befriended a black girl. BJ’s father hits his mother and takes BJ to the basement, where he explains his belief that other inferior races need the white man to save them. He then ties BJ’s hands to a sawhorse and forces him to shoot his dog with a shotgun.

This happens within minutes of starting the game. Wolfenstein II is not messing around. BJ encounters his father again in the present, where he learns that his mother was sent to a concentration camp because she was Jewish. BJ’s father is unrepentant and states his intention to turn BJ over to the Nazis, and BJ kills him. Wolfenstein II is a game in which the player character kills his own father, and it feels like an incredibly cathartic moment.

The relationship between BJ and his pregnant girlfriend Anya is extraordinary. Anya loves BJ and is the only person in the game who calls him William. I’ve played a lot of video games, and Wolfenstein II might be the only one in which I felt like two characters actually loved each other. I cared so much about BJ and Anya. There’s a scene late in the game in which Anya, heavily pregnant and already covered in Nazi blood, blasts more Nazis with a machine gun in each hand while BJ watches on in amazement, and I thought, these kids are meant for each other. BJ proposes to Anya at the end of the game, and one of the many reasons I hope there’s a Wolfenstein III in a few years is to see them get together.

The game’s villain is thoroughly despicable. Her name is Frau Engel, and she already has a bone to pick with BJ after the events of The New Order. She’s sadistic and vicious, at one point beheading one of BJ’s friends and dangling the severed head in front of his face while making kissing noises. She also has a chubby daughter named Sigrun, who does not follow her mother’s evil ways. Sigrun is kind and ends up joining BJ’s side and helping the rebels fight the Nazis.

Image: Bethesda

One would think that fighting to free America from Nazi control would unequivocally be a good thing, and it is, but Wolfenstein II also takes pains to show that the situation is not black and white. At one point while I was playing, after killing a few enemies in one area, going somewhere else, and then returning to the original area, I encountered more Nazis. They were talking, and before I started blasting them I stopped to listen to their conversation. One of them was expressing his shock that one of his friends had recently been killed (presumably by me), because he was just about to get married. “How am I going to tell his fiancée?” the Nazi exclaimed. This actually made me feel bad about killing Nazis in a video game. I have killed many Nazis in many video games, and not once have I ever felt bad about it. Not until Wolfenstein II.

If it wasn’t already clear, Wolfenstein II is a game with balls. It is not afraid to go to places most video games wouldn’t and I’m not just talking about the story and the characters. The entire game is politically charged, and almost frighteningly relevant to the current political climate. Most games shy away from this sort of thing, but Wolfenstein II charges into it with a full head of steam. In one level, BJ is on an undercover mission on the streets of Roswell, New Mexico, and there are fully-hooded Klansmen walking around in the street. You’re probably getting tired of hearing me say stuff like this, but I have never seen this in a game before. Later on, some of the enemies you fight are Klansmen, and Wolfenstein II is the only game I have ever played that lets you plant an axe in a Klansman’s neck.

Image: Bethesda

Later on, the player encounters Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler is an old man at this point, and he’s clearly more than a little senile. He waves a gun around and shoots people at random, pisses in a bucket and at one point collapses into the fetal position and cries for his mother. It’s a provocative scene, made even more so by how plausible it is. At the time period in which the game takes place, Hitler has had absolute power for decades, and he has become a coddled dictator who is used to getting whatever he wants. He’s well on his way to being insane (if he’s not there already) and everyone has to act like he’s infallible for fear of being shot in the face. By the way, the entire Hitler scene takes place on a Nazi base on the planet Venus, and it is incredible that the fact the Hitler scene takes place on Venus is not the craziest thing about it.

Image: Bethesda

“When you take freedom away from the American people, you are playing with fire,” BJ says to a fellow revolutionary. “And I intend to pour gasoline all over that fire.” A game like Wolfenstein II takes 2-3 years to make, so it’s not like the game’s developers saw what was happening in the news over the past couple months regarding Nazis and white supremacists and decided to put all of this politically-charged stuff in the game. It was already there to begin with. The developers have stated that the game was not intended to be a commentary on current events, but the fact that it feels like one is a testament to the strength of the game’s writing. Also, the development company that made Wolfenstein II is Swedish. Think about that.

It’s so refreshing in this era of political correctness to encounter something that does not give a damn about being politically correct. Wolfenstein II’s primary advertising tagline was “Make America Nazi-Free Again.” I love how the game’s marketing was so brazenly unconcerned about not pissing people off. And the game has drawn criticism from alt-right whackos who say it unfairly associates them with Nazis, but the game’s creators did not care and nothing about the game or its marketing was changed, which makes me love it all the more. The game’s story ends with BJ and his friends executing the evil Frau Engel on live TV, and the end credits play with the accompaniment of a metal version of the Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Image: Bethesda

I love Wolfenstein II. It’s bold and brazen and oh-so-satisfying. It’s also loads of fun to actually play, and isn’t so concerned with character development that it forgets to deliver on the core gameplay. The Nazi-killing action is fun, furious, and gory as hell, which is everything it should be. Please let there be a Wolfenstein III.

Recently Taylor Sheridan, the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, made his directorial debut with Wind River, a thriller that follows the investigation of a murdered young woman at a Native American reservation in Wyoming. It’s a chilling and excellent film, and we’ll be talking about it next week.

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