Whilst we all enjoy directing our most powerful swears to ferocious shittercunts like EA and Ubisoft for leading the charge to make mainstream gaming the metaphorical equivalent of troughs of rice cracker paste that you gobble wholesale while the parts that once felt the joyous wonder of gaming slowly atrophy, it’s worth kindly regarding publishers who make the kinda things we like. Recently I’ve discovered an appreciation for both SEGA and Bethesda Softworks who as developers I couldn’t give a dingo’s left arsecheek for but as publishers I very much appreciate for respectively keeping bigger budget PC Grand strategy games and good ol’ fashioned linear FPS games going. Like what developer Machine Games have been doing with these new Wolfensteins, the second (well, third if we count The Old Blood but apparently we shouldn’t as this is Wolfenstein 2. It’s taken 8 Wolfenstein games for one of them to be officially labelled Wolfenstein 2, make of that what you will) of which I’d like to talk about now.
Once again do we occupy the combat boots of BJ Blazkowicz, an RPG character who put all his stat points into pectoral muscles and his ability points into passive resistances to aging and cutscene injuries. He begins the game waking up from a 5 month coma (which is a pretty good recovery rate considering he’s coming off a fight against Lord Mecha-Nazi and also a nuclear bomb) to find there’s still shitloads of Nazis that need killing and just because his legs don’t work that’s no excuse to slack on the job. The first level neatly encapsulates Neo-Wolfenstein perfectly, on the one hand our hero takes a ride on the rollercoaster of Physical and Emotional Brutality, on the other hand we bathe in the absurdity of a wheelchair bound cripple in a bathrobe trundle around shooting up all the Nazis to badarse rock music (kind of makes you wonder how these Nazis took over the world when they can’t seem to beat one cripple).
The plot takes BJ and his Coalition of the Untermensch to the occupied USA to liberate it from the Nazis who’ve spent the last decade installing healthy fast food shops and broadcasting hip new TV shows. Doesn’t seem like they made the place that much worse, really. The game doesn’t indulge in defiled American iconography as much as it probably should have, particularly when it tries to make us sad about a Manhattan that’s been nuked all to fuck. Seems a bit hypocritical to play on my hatred of the Nazis with poignant depictions of nuclear slaughter when, you know, that’s how the real World War 2 ended. Although the developers are from Sweden so what the fuck do they know about winning World War 2? In all you only really go to like three cities, might as well have set the game in Australia. I’d have paid good money for a vision of Melbourne that’s been visited by the Fairy Atomic Cleansing Godmother. Or perhaps Sydney, if only to indulge the fantasy of property prices being fucking affordable for once.
But really, the strength of Wolf 2 lies in the characterisation and atmosphere. There’s a bit early on when some Nazi sheila from the first game shows up to do something completely fucking vile and I started to think “oo, that’s a bit much”. I mean, here I was thinking that part in the first game where she sits the player down and forces them to admire her vacation snaps at gunpoint represented the height of villainy (plus, you know, running forced labour camps and shit), but the more I thought about it the more I understand that it’s taking things a little bit too far that’s kind of why these Nouveau Wolfenstein’s work. I imagine soon after they coded in gameplay in which the player can dual wield triple barreled automatic shotguns, the firing of which feels like the orgasms of a mad death-god, they realised that attempting storytelling and atmosphere that was anything but overdone would feel a bit weird. By having the player immerse themself in all the meaty over the top action the suspension of disbelief is lowered enough for all the absurdity to wash over and for the characters to be taken seriously.
Well, up to a point that is. The first half of the game is pretty great, an odyssey of despair and chunky brutality that lays bare BJ’s soul and flattens it several time with a steamroller made of fiery anguish. It leans hard on the shock value but it’s the good kind of shock value, the kind that is linked to character development, not sadistic giggles. And then about halfway through, without wishing to spoil, the stupidest thing ever happens, even stupider than that Max Hass bloke what is missing half a brain. The game sits down, bends over and starts pissing right up it’s own nostrils. Some characters get introduced but never get anything to do, certain dangling plot threads go completely unresolved, there’s an attempt to top one of the more memorable bits from Wolf 1: The New Orifice that feels more than a wee bit forced and the ending sticks the landing about as well as them two Malaysian Airways flights. I get the distinct impression this was a game that didn’t quite come together right in development, especially with the raw gameplay department
Oh yeah, gameplay, should probably talk about that. Well, shit, it’s a shooter and there’s Nazis in it, do the math. Occasionally they bring their Nazi dogs, Nazi robots, Nazi cyborgs and Nazi robotic cyborg dogs and you shoot them all with big chunky guns. Sometimes you sneak around a bit, which seems incongruous what with BJ having the sort of physicality you’d get if Ser Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane made a clone of himself and then consumed it, but oh well. I found myself lowering the difficulty at times too, it seems the occupying Nazis have been exercising their newfound second amendment rights since holy shit are they really good shots now. Lurking around cover to carefully pick away at the Nazis seems unworthy for a Wolfenstein but that’s sort of what I’d been reduced to, and that’s not fun.
There’s an attempt to innovate by giving BJ some fancy suit powers (spoilers: he gets a fancy suit to walk with, can’t make a whole game about being on a wheelchair it’d be unseemly for our hero to be thwarted by stairs the whole time) like the ability to crush a Nazi’s head by jumping on them Super Mario style but these are what we call gimmicks. It’s never more expedient than just shooting them which also happens to be considerably safer and features cool gun noises. I’d like to show Machine Games this game called Crysis which actually managed to elevate shooter gameplay with fancy suit powers. I’d also like to show them DOOM 2016 and Titanfall 2, shooters that encourage the player to stretch their legs by slapping them about when they sit in cover trying to be all tactical and shit. It’s not that the shooting is bad, per se, it’s just never elevated that far past functional, which was the case in Wolf 1:TNO. Kind of makes me wonder what Machine Games have been doing the past three years aside from drawing Swastikas on everything.
One final note to wrap up on and that’s about politics. You might have noticed a few weeks ago Bethesda tweeting out messages like ‘Make America Nazi Free Again’ and such, which pissed some people off. Perhaps they were people who are Nazis or people who think a game about Nazis in America should not have political leanings, ie morons. And yeah, surprise, Wolfenstein is about pissing off Nazis. I feel at an early stage of development it was determined that not only should a game be about the violent slaughter of Nazis but that it should come from all the people Nazis hate the most. I joked earlier about the good guys being a coalition of the Untermensch but it’s apropos. The Jews, slavs, blacks, anarchists, communists, mentally subnormal, radical feminists and noncompliant Germans have all teamed up to give Fritz the ol’ heave ho. All that’s missing are some gay Gypsies (it’s very rare I play a game and think “ya know, this could really use some more gay” but this is one of those times).
And in case you are undecided on the issue, allow me to be unequivocal. THIS IS A GOOD THING. IT’S GOOD THAT FROM TIME TO TIME WE MAKE THINGS THAT PISS NAZIS OFF. IT’S VERY SAD TO SEE THE NAZIS OF AMERICA TODAY STRUTTING AROUND ALL EMPOWERED AND SHIT AND OCCASIONALLY ATTEMPTING A MURDER. ANYTHING THAT VIOLATES THEIR VIEW OF THE WORLD IS A POSITIVE THING. SOME MIGHT SAY A GAME WITH THIS SORT OF CAST IS LEANING A BIT TOO HARD ON THE POLITICAL CORRECT INCLUSIVITY SPECTRUM BUT I’D ARGUE A FANTASTICAL GAME ABOUT DESTROYING NAZIS AND NAZIDOM IS EXACTLY THE SORT OF GAME THAT SHOULD. I GUESS THAT ABOUT DOES IT, GOOD DAY.