Sunday, April 21, 2024

Why You Should Care About Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, A Primer

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to convince people that Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is more than worth their time. That this particular alternate history narrative isn’t incomprehensibly tone deaf, and that the depictions of nazis in power isn’t muddled or an uninspired twist.

I’ve considered writing about the first game, but that can only go so far. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order brought the world’s original first person shooter back into the limelight with a game that was beyond exceptional by every metric. Narrative, characters, gameplay, music, world building—MachineGames’ pseudo-reboot of the Wolfenstein franchise was never supposed to be culturally relevant.

I replayed it a few months ago, after The New Colossus was first announced, and boy howdy it is now. The funniest thing about that, and how the game’s marketing has been altered to suit the, uh, present day, is that the reason the original Wolfenstein 3D chose nazis as the antagonists was because they were the single easiest answer to “what does everyone want to shoot?”. You want to try and sell a game, a new kind of game that’s never existed before where PoV is the major feature, so you need to go with something simple. Something universally reviled with a symbol so recognizable and basic to stick on as many enemy designs they could think of without it being weird. Hence: nazis. Curiously enough, the second lowest common denominator was “literal demons from hell,” which the original Doom capitalized on shortly afterward.

So again, I circle back to that question: how do I convince people that this is worth their time and likely money when the primary feature of “you get to shoot nazis” isn’t necessarily enough? Which, for me, really isn’t; I’ve played more than enough shooters based in WWII at this point. Granted, the best ones were about the Russian side of the war with Stalingrad or the Pacific Campaign (Battlefield 1943 springs to mind) so those don’t really lend themselves so great to killing nazis. Even the original incarnation of Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty: World at War was only fun because of the game mechanics—it didn’t matter that the zombies were nazis! Those are just two words smashed together that sound entertaining. Which, okay, they were, but the best incarnation of that is still the one where you get to play as intentionally bad impressions of Nixon, Castro, JFK, and McNamara during a zombie outbreak in Call of Duty: Black Ops. And those weren’t even nazis!

Anyway, moving back to the topic, yes, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus takes place in an alternate 1961 where America has long since been conquered by the Third Reich after they nuked Manhattan, but again that’s not really enough. Neither is the fact that they have a moon base or that they’ve conquered the planet except for a huge swath of the African continent for reasons we don’t know yet.

I want to say, with confidence and certainty, that the game is taking a more “Civil Rights Movement” angle towards stomping out the nazis rather than the assumed “American Revolution” route, but I can’t because the game isn’t out yet. Sure, gameplay and cutscenes sure as hell allude to that, but that’s gonna be a whole other thing if it turns out to be true. Since I can’t say all of that, I thought—oh. Duh doi, there was shot in the launch trailer that’d work perfectly for this! Oh man, you’re gonna love this:

It’s not just nazis you’re killing in Wolfenstein: The New Order. It’s also killing America’s home grown white supremacists!  You got your neo-nazis, your classic nazis, your American nazis, and every other spin-off and off-shoot imaginable up in this game. What’s not to like?

Image and Gif Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks

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