On Sunday, I decided to play Wolfenstein: The New Order in preperation for Wolfenstein 2, which I will be getting sometime within the next month. It’s might sound weird, but I can’t jump straight into a sequel, if I haven’t played any other game from the same franchise. That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever be able to play Witcher III, mainly because I can’t get myself to play the earlier games. (The first one hasn’t aged well at all, to be honest.)
Anyway, I started playing at around 10 o’ clock in the morning and by the time it was 9-10 in the afternoon, I was done. Given that I play mostly RPGs (which can take up to 50-60 hours to complete just the main camapign), I had forgotten that FPS campaigns tend to end rather quickly. Still, I welcomed the shortness of the game, mainly because I just didn’t feel like playing it for more than a day.
That’s the beauty of Wolfenstein: It promises you non-stop Nazi-killing action and that’s exactly what you get. No more, no less.
A Bethesda Game by Any Other Name
While the game was produced by MachineGames, it was published by Bethesda and you can really feel it. From the moment the game puts you in the shoes of B.J. Blazkowicz in an airplane as you’re flying towards Deathsheads’ castle, you get that gritty, almost stressful feeling that you might have felt in a game like Dishonored or Doom.
In fact, I kept getting reminded of Dishonored II throughout different, seemingly unconnected, parts of the game. For example, in between missions you spend some time in the secret hideout of the resistance fighters, which you can fully explore and find secrets in – and there are secrets aplenty. Each of the side characters have their own rooms that have been decorated to their taste in great detail.
Take for instance Max Hass, who has literally lost half his head for some unknown reason. The only thing Max is able to say is his own name, exactly like Hodor from Game of Thrones. Throughout the game, you are shown the relationship between Max and Klaus Kreutz. At the beginning, it just looks like Max and Klaus are like George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men. But as you explore the rebel headquarters and especially when you see Max’s room, you realize that Max is more child than man. He has toys, he paints pictures, and above all he dislikes all the violence that’s going on around him. At that point, you realize that there is a father-son relationship between Klaus and Max. The story goes into more detail about this little sideplot, but it does a great job of show-not-tell.
Strangely enough, the game also reminded me of all the fun I had playing the good old classic Medal of Honor: Allied Assault back in 2002. At the end of the day, if you take away all the robot-zombie dogs, big robot-zombie humans, and even bigger robots that probably work thanks to some human viscera, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a classic World War II game. And just like Allied Assault, we even get a beach assault.
Why Stealth When You Can Commit Mass Murder?
Well, mainly because stealthing can be more satisfying at times. Seriously though, there is nothing quite like stumbling upon a large open room, discovering a little air vent, using your laser cutter to go in it, and then shooting a Nazi captain from 14 meters away using a silenced pistol in the head. You’d think it would get old, but it never does.
Technically, there is nothing stopping you from dual-wielding your assault rifles and running into that open room guns blazing like a Nazi-murdering machine. Except, if you don’t kill the captains then they raise the alarm and the game becomes significantly more difficult. I am not able to confirm this, but I am pretty sure that more enemies spawn out of thin air if this happens, which can feel unfair at times. But hey, as Captain Price once said, always check your corners.
Going back to the stealth mechanic, though, it does feel unfairly powerful after you get the hang of it. First, none of the enemies have any spatial awareness. So you can sneak up to a sleeping zombie-robot dog and a guard that’s facing the window and kill the dog without alerting the guard. Note that the dogs will squeal and whimper very loudly. You can also kill the guard and the dog will continue sleeping peacefully too.
I took the stealthy path for exactly these two reasons: It feels more fulfilling than just senselessly massacring anyone and it’s definitely much easier. But, that also made me realize that this game isn’t really a stealth game. It doesn’t punish you in the same way that a game like Dishonored might, with its various morality meters and multiple endings. As many of the characters in the game repeatedly say, your only objective is to kill Nazis.
The Politics of Killing Nazis
The politics of a game that is essentially a Nazi killing simulator are basically as subtle as a punch in the face. So if you’re looking for deep social analysis, this probably isn’t your game. And besides, we don’t really need a game to tell us that Nazis are evil and a political ideology that purports that some humans are inherently superior to others based on pseudo-science and advocates genocide has no place in the world. Right?
Still, there are some profound moments that touch upon important points. For me, the most important of these is the relationship between J and Blazkowicz.
(And yes, this means that I chose the Wyatt timeline over Fergus timeline. In my defence, I roleplayed as if Blazkowicz believed that the Nazis would be defeated and therefore Wyatt would be able to have a happy life, one that Fergus probably already had.)
Both J (who is CLEARLY Jimi Hendrix) and Blazkowicz are Americans and Blazkowicz tries to use that as a way of bonding with J. However, J isn’t having any of it, mainly because, as a Black man, the America he experienced was significantly different from what Blazkowicz experienced.
More specifically, he talks about how if he want to the movies as a youth, he’d have to go through the colored entrance and how they wouldn’t even sell him any snacks because he is Black. He then says “Back home, you were the Nazis” to Blazkowicz, which, unsurprisingly ticks him off. White Americans getting defensive when accused of being racist is pretty realistic, if you ask me.
Other than that, the game ultimately is about rebellion and resistance. It’s about the morality of doing cruel and violent things, when you know that’s the only way to stop even more cruel and more violent things. The best example to this are the “Ramona’s Diary Entries,” which are actually written by Anya Oliwa, who is the main love interest.
In these entries, Anya talks about all the Nazis that she has killed over the course of 20 years. You see her struggling with her actions, even feeling remorse at times. But then she remembers that she’s acting for revenge and what she believes is right.
But Anya is only one of the many characters in the resistance and they all have their reasons for fighting the Nazis. At that point, I can’t help but ask myself what I would do in that situation. I’d like to think I would do the right thing, but it’s difficult to know what would happen when you’re facing relentless tyranny.
Come For the Nazi Slaughter, Stay For Social Commentary?
Probably not. But if you know where to look, you’ll find both of these things in Wolfenstein: The New Order.
If you like first-person shooters, World War II stories, dystopian settings, and bulky American heroes, then this is your game.
But if you’re offended by a game about killing Nazis, then I’d like you to kindly return to 1940s and stay the fuck there.