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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review – No More Nazis

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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review – No More Nazis
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is perhaps the best first person shooter of this generation.



In 2014, that was a fairly bland statement to make. Monsters were monsters, zombies were already dead, and Nazis were, well, Nazis. Let’s not beat around the bush: Nazis, actual, goose-stepping, Hitler-heiling, head-shaving, Swastika-flying white supremacists, are a stain of the fabric of the human tapestry. They orchestrated the remorseless murder of more than 6 million Jews, advocated for racial cleansing, and plotted to take over the entire world. Their horrific ideology needs to be opposed wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head, and they do not deserve mercy, pity, sympathy, or the benefit of the doubt. The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.

None of those statements should be controversial. The Nazis were evil, and the world went to war to stop them. It’s why we call the Greatest Generation the Greatest Generation. They fought against, and defeated, the greatest organized evil the world has ever known. Now, you might ask, why I am bringing up the fact that the Nazis were evil in a review for a video game?

Like it or not, it is impossible to judge a work of art without taking into account the time period in which it was created. In 2014, killing Nazis was about as bland as video games got. In 2017, with Nazis marching in the streets both in the United States and around the world, a game in which the Nazis won World War II, have conquered the United States, and are marching in the streets, is unnerving. The fact that people are upset about a game that is about removing said Nazis from American soil and have accused Bethesda of using the game to make a political statement is terrifying. MachineGames did not envision the current political climate when they made Wolfenstein II, but it’s here, MachineGames does not shy away from it. If anything, they feed on it.



"B.J. is dying, and his mortality is front and center in The New Colossus. He constantly worries about Anya and his unborn children, and what will happen in the resistance after he’s gone."

The New Colossus opens where The New Order closed. B.J. Blazkowicz is on the brink of death after killing General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse and destroying his compound, dealing a significant blow to the global Nazi regime. You see, the Nazis won World War II, and in this alternate version of the 1960s, they control everything. B.J. escapes with his fellow resistance fighters before Deathshead’s compound goes nuclear. By all rights, he should be dead. Instead, he lapses into a coma. When he wakes up five months later, the world has changed: his partner Anya is pregnant with twins, the Kreisau Circle has continued without him, and his body is broken. The man who “was born to kill Nazis” is confined to a wheelchair. For the first time in the series, B.J. is mortal.

Eventually, B.J. acquires a suit of power armor that allows him to fight, but it becomes obvious very quickly that the suit is all that is keeping him together. B.J. is dying, and his mortality is front and center in The New Colossus. He constantly worries about Anya and his unborn children, and what will happen in the resistance after he’s gone. In one particularly moving moment, Anya offers to help him take off the suit and take a shower, as he can no longer bathe himself. B.J.’s refuses. He worries that if he takes the suit off, he won’t be able to get it back on.

If The New Order is about learning how to fight again, even when all hope seems lost, The New Colossus is about how hard continuing the fight is. The Kreisau Circle has won a major victory, but they’re tired and broken. They know that if the resistance is going to continue, they’ll need help. They head to the United States, in the hope that by partnering with resistance groups there they’ll be able to free the country, and after that, the rest of the world. One group, the Black Resistance Front, operates out of the top floors of the Empire State Building in what’s left of New York City; in this timeline, the Nazis dropped an atomic bomb on it to end the war. The group is led by Grace Walker, a smart, unapologetic feminist who ends up as a leader in the Kreisau Circle. The other, the Proletariat Movement, is in New Orleans, which is now a walled-off dumping ground for “undesirables.”



"At the local movie theater, two patrons talk happily about how the new regime has eradicated the “filth” that corrupted old Hollywood, while newspaper articles tout the regime’s “reorganizing” of the corrupt and dishonest American media."

Most of what you see of America is a ruin, which can make for some pretty repetitive environments. The one exception is the city of Roswell, which B.J. visits during a Nazi parade – citizens are required to attend, of course. Patriotism isn’t optional under fascist regimes. B.J., disguised as a firefighter, wanders around town listening to conversations and collecting intel. It’s a remarkable, quiet sequence that highlights one of the game’s greatest strengths: its storytelling. Members of the KKK walk around town openly, while being quizzed by Nazi soldiers on how their German is shaping up. In a year, you learn, speaking English will be illegal. Those who can’t speak German will be sent to camps for “re-education.”

On another corner, a woman and her aunt discuss plans for the woman’s upcoming wedding and the aunt’s upcoming slave auction. Closer to the parade, a woman tries to suck up to a German SS officer, and ends up espousing the wrong kind of bigotry, which gets her reported for observation. At the local movie theater, two patrons talk happily about how the new regime has eradicated the “filth” that corrupted old Hollywood, while newspaper articles tout the regime’s “reorganizing” of the corrupt and dishonest American media and the glory of Adolf Hitler. Other articles discuss residents praising the new regime, and how happy they are to finally live in a world where they can be openly proud of being white.

The New Colossus isn’t subtle, but its makes its points. What’s terrifying is how close to reality much of this sounds. But that’s one of the game’s core strengths: its writing. Wolfenstein understands its characters and its setting, and because of that, things never feel out of place. Scenes can ping-pong between happy, sad, serious, touching, and pulp silliness without feeling odd or contrived because all of it feels true, from Anya’s worry for B.J to Super Spesh’s alien conspiracy theory or B.J.’s inability to deal with his own mortality. Each character, new and old, embodies this, as do the environments you’ll explore and the collectibles you’ll find. Wolfenstein II is the rare shooter that may be at its best when there’s no shooting happening at all.
 

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