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Wolfenstein II Part 5: Tower Defense

By Shamus
on Thursday Mar 1, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

 
 

BJ Blakzowicz gets to the top of the Empire State building and meets the New York branch of the American resistance, which is every bit as important and successful as the Antarctic branch of Ben & Jerrys. Don’t get me wrong. I like these characters in terms of their overall design. Leader Grace Walker is an interesting re-imagining of the idea of a Black Liberation Army leaderYes, it’s about a decade early for the BLA, but the Nazis invaded America so…. Super Spesh is a fun bit of comic relief as an alien conspiracy nut in a world that’s already overflowing with crazy. But as vibrant as they are from a character design standpoint, it doesn’t change the fact that these two are stuck at the top of a crumbling irradiated ruin, surrounded by Nazi troops, and they don’t seem to have a plan to change any of that, much less “liberate the United States”.

They do turn out to be useful laterWell, as useful as any of the other quest dispensers in the story. Obviously BJ does all the shooting., but wouldn’t this sequence be more interesting if these characters had something concrete that we needed? As it stands, our motivation is, “Caroline wanted to make contact with these people and none of us is capable of forming plans so let’s just do that and hope something good happens”. It’s not strictly wrong, but it could be better. If the game wants to give us vague orders like, “Go here to make the plot happen” that’s fine. But if that’s all the more the writer cares about framing and motivation then they shouldn’t waste our time with so many non-interactive cutscenes.

Grace, BJ, and Super Spesh.

Grace, BJ, and Super Spesh.

After BJ meets Grace and Super Spesh the Nazis attack. BJ must hold off waves of Nazis while the resistance escapes. The cutscene makes it look like Grace and Spesh live alone at the top of the tower, but then Grace starts shouting to “her people” and we realize there were actually a bunch of other people in the room that the cameraman has been ignoring. These people are resistance fighters living in a sea of Nazis but I guess none of them can fight for themselves. BJ has to hold off the Nazis while the entire group escapes.

All of that is fine, but couldn’t the writer find the time to give us some of this context in the previous six minutes of cutscenes? “Hey Player Character, we’ve got a lot of people up here. Our fighters are all dead. The only folks we got left is my signals intel crew. They’re the best in the business, but they can’t do us any good if we can’t keep them alive.” Yes, you can sort of extrapolate that this must be the case based on what we see later, but we shouldn’t need to extrapolate answers to basic questions like, “Why should I care about these people?” Particularly after a long cutscene full of dialog.

Instead of doing the business of the plot, we get a digression where Grace goes on a rant about how it doesn’t make any sense to compliment a brave person for having “balls”, since balls are soft and fragile. I don’t have a problem with this as a way of characterizing her, but I do have a problem with spending screen time on this instead of giving us exposition and context.

A lot of scenes in the game are like this, which makes the story feel self indulgent on the part of the writer. They obviously have a bunch of monologues and scenes they wanted to put in the game, and that stuff took priority over putting in a few lines of dialog to give us a sense of why we came here and what we’re getting out of it.

Let’s compare the next defensive section to the defensive scenarios of Half-Life 2…

Tower Defense

This resistance base is actually kinda cool, but you never get the chance to really look at it. You go right from a cutscene to the siege to another cutscene.

This resistance base is actually kinda cool, but you never get the chance to really look at it. You go right from a cutscene to the siege to another cutscene.

Note that whenever you need to defend a room in the Half-Life series, the designer always gives you time to familiarize yourself with the battlefield beforehand. Where will the enemies enter the room? Where are the good defensive positions? Where are the environmental hazardsLike exploding barrels. so I can use them strategically instead of blundering into them? Where are the ammunition and health items located? Where are the useful bottlenecks? The dialog made it sound like I’m supposed to be covering everyone’s escape, but is there a specific choke point I’m supposed to hold or do I just need to hold off waves of dudes?

If you don’t allow the player to map this out on their own, then they have to figure it out during the sound & fury of a gunfight while dying repeatedly. Letting them explore the space allows them to make plans and execute them instead of just shooting dudes chaotically. Unplanned chaos is what regular gameplay is like, and defensive scenarios are supposed to offer a contrast to that.

But this section doesn’t give the player this opportunity. The mooks start pouring in as soon as the cutscene ends, before the player has a chance to get their bearings.

This isn’t an unreasonable thing to ask for! BJ clearly had the opportunity to explore this space before the fight. Presumably, he knows his way around by now. The player doesn’t. Giving them thirty seconds to explore the room before the siege begins would give them a chance to close the gap between what they know and what their character knows.

I’ve seen a lot of people complain about this brutal difficulty spike on the forums and social media. I felt the same way on my first couple of attempts. Going strictly by player deathsAccording to my admittedly small sample size., this is one of the most brutal fights in the game, even though it’s just against the usual assortment of mooks.

Maybe that’s deliberate. Maybe the designers really did intend this first-act gunfight to be overall more difficult than the final showdown on the Ausmerzer at the end, but I doubt it. What I think actually happened is that they tweaked this fight so that it provided a “tough but fair” challenge to the playtesters who already knew the layout, which made it very frustrating for first-time players. The way it is now, you have to learn the layout under fire and maybe die a couple of times before you can make a plan and act on it.

Pep Talk

Okay, I get what you're saying and you've made some really good points. But have you considered just changing your mind anyway?

Okay, I get what you're saying and you've made some really good points. But have you considered just changing your mind anyway?

After the Siege, BJ and Grace have a conversation that makes no sense. BJ talks about how they want to liberate America. Grace argues that white America is a lost cause because they’ve already settled into Nazi rule. Then BJ says some platitudes about freedom and suddenly Grace starts agreeing with him.

This is wrong twice. One, what was she fighting for if she already thought this was a lost cause? I thought we were teaming up with her because mumble mumble something about revolution. But now she’s not even aligned with our cause? What was her plan then?

Secondly, BJ never says anything to convince her. She spells out reasons why the citizens of the US are a lost cause, and BJ doesn’t say anything to counter this. But she changes her mind anyway because there’s a musical swell while he makes his dumb arguments and that makes this feel inspirational.

This is one of those moments that really depends on trust in the storyteller. This scene could totally work if I was engaged with the story, if I liked the characters, and if I was having fun in the cutscenes. A Wolfenstein game is a fine place for cheesy dialog, broad characters, and scenes that sell themselves on style more than substance.

But by this point in the story I was getting restless in the cutscenes because they ran long while doing very little to entertain me, explain things, or move the plot forward.

Texas

This is a really good moment, although I think I care because the previous Wolfenstein game did a good job at setting up this relationship.

This is a really good moment, although I think I care because the previous Wolfenstein game did a good job at setting up this relationship.

I don’t want to make it sound like the entire plot is dross. The next section has a couple of really good scenes. There’s a running plot where BJ is convinced he’s dying. He won’t take off the power armor because he’s afraid it’s the only thing keeping him alive. Anya, his girlfriend from the first game, is six months pregnant and wondering why he’s suddenly so distant. There are a few cute moments with some of the side characters and it’s all broken by segments where BJ runs around the submarine, doing errands. It’s all fine, and some of it is pretty good.

The plan is for BJ to sneak into the Nazi base at Area 52 in Roswell and nuke the place. He dresses up like a fireman, with the nuke stowed in the fire extinguisher he’s carrying around. He’s supposed to meet up with a contact in New Mexico. When he gets there, he ends up in a diner where he bumps into a Nazi officer. The Nazi orders a strawberry milkshake, and then begins questioning BJ and asking to see his papers.


Link (YouTube)

This scene is was actually used in some of the pre-release trailers. Which makes sense. It’s a really solid scene. The writer is no Quentin Tarantino, but this scene has a lot of the hallmarks of his style and does a good job of creating some tension. You’ve got characters doing some trivial banter, while at the same time you’re doing a little worldbuilding, while at the same time gradually turning up the heat on a volatile situation.

The scene also has some humorous dramatic irony. The Nazi keeps saying BJ looks familiar, and right behind the Nazi are wanted posters with BJ’s face on them. These scene bears a slight resemblance to a scene in The New Order. In both scenes, a Nazi asks BJ for his papers and he has to remain calm in the face of a deadly threat. They’re both good scenes, but once again I have to say The New Order did it better.

In Order, the scene introduces us to Frau Engel and her sidekick Bubi, who will be recurring villains going forward. In Colossus, we meet a nameless Nazi who likes Milkshakes and who will be dead by the end of the scene.

In Order, the scene is interactive. Frau Engel has this test designed to discover if you’re a Jew or not. She shows you some cards and you have to pick one without knowing what the result will be. Meanwhile, there’s a pistol on the table and you might be tempted to shoot your way out. The choices create uncertainty, which creates suspense. In Colossus, the cutscene is linear and there are no decisions to be made.

In Order, BJ is unarmed and surrounded by a lot of Nazis, making him powerless. In Colossus, he’s got an axe, which gameplay has already taught us is a one-hit kill.

In Order, the Nazis have observed that BJ is carrying two cups of coffee and have deduced that he’s traveling with someone. This ups the stakes for BJ, since being outed will also place Anya in danger. In Colossus, there’s no such threat. The player might even reason to themselves, “I can axe this guy in the face, take his weapon, and shoot my way out of here.” Therefore the tension can’t build because the player doesn’t feel like they’ve lost control of the situation.

This scene is good enough to be in the trailer, but Wolfenstein: The New Order still did it better.

Overthinking Occupation

Do you guys really need to keep wearing the hoods? I mean, you're legit now, aren't you?

Do you guys really need to keep wearing the hoods? I mean, you're legit now, aren't you?

We visit several locations in the United States during the course of the game, but most locations are ruins, Nazi military bases, or war zones. This section is the only time we see the civilian areas of the country and see what’s become of the country we’re trying to liberate.

We learn that the Nazis are letting the KKK run the south, and during our walk downtown we see KKK guys casually chatting with Nazi stormtroopers.

This is interesting because the war ended 14 years ago. At this point in history, we would have the first generation of adults who had little or no meaningful memories of the old USA. The men signing up for military duty now were raised in Nazi America. They’ve spent their entire lives attending Nazi public schools, watching Nazi television, and reading Nazi books. They would all speak German as a second language, and for people working with the Nazis on a daily basis it might gradually become their primary language.

Certainly there would be a few holdouts, keeping the old ideals alive and hiding the occasional book from the censors, but for the coming generation this will be the only world they’ve ever known.

And if you think about it, this would suggest that most of the faceless troopers you’ve been blowing away were probably more likely to be from Houston than Hamburg. The Nazis won the war, but unless they invented a cloning machine then they wouldn’t have the numbers to occupy the entire planet like this. Certainly some of their forces would need to be locally sourced. Perhaps they would have German officers in charge of native conscripts, with all of the really good hardware (the mech suits, the power armor, and the zap guns) reserved for guys from the Fatherland.

That's a lot of Nazi flags. Like, I bet they don't have this many Nazi flags on main street in Berlin.

That's a lot of Nazi flags. Like, I bet they don't have this many Nazi flags on main street in Berlin.

I have to wonder: What is the KKK at this point? The Nazis have put them “in charge”, but what does that mean? Are they a political party? A government agency? Are mayors, sheriffs, and city councils elected by the people, or are they appointed by the Nazi leadership? Because directly vetting and assigning a mayor for every pissant little city in the US would require an enormous bureaucracy.

To be absolutely clear: I’m not suggesting that Wolfenstein II would be a better game if the writer explained all of this. I wouldn’t want a scene where BJ has to go through a bunch of anguish because he realizes he’s been gunning down conscripted Tennessee farm boys. Like Star Wars, a big appeal of this series – indeed, maybe the entire point – is to have an unambiguously evil force to oppose so that we can do our first-person manshoots without worrying that our main character has gone too far.

Still, I find it hard not to look around this small town and wonder what the place would really look like after all this time, and how it all works.

Anyway, once BJ deals with Herr Milkshake, he goes through a secret tunnel to the Nazi base. This involves a lot of sneaking, so next time we’ll talk about what the developer did with stealth gameplay this time around.

Footnotes:

[1] Yes, it’s about a decade early for the BLA, but the Nazis invaded America so…

[2] Well, as useful as any of the other quest dispensers in the story. Obviously BJ does all the shooting.

[3] Like exploding barrels.

[4] According to my admittedly small sample size.


 
 
Comments (84)

  1. Decius says:

    Area 52 in Roswell?

    Why not have the Empire State building in Jersey City?

    • Shas'ui says:

      As a long time Roswell resident, I can safely say that despite our efforts to confuse people for tourism money, it is indeed quite silly. Esp. so when the famous “Roswell incident” (~75 miles away from town) happened in 1947, so unless some serious time-wimey stuff happened to ensure that it happened in this timeline as well, it would be very unlikely to be associated at all with aliens/Area51. More likely the only thing Roswell would be notable for during the time would be the POW camp, which would presumably be liberated at this point.

  2. Gethsemani says:

    The train scene in TNO stands head and shoulders over its’ equivalent in TNC. Not just because of those things Shamus mentioned, but because it is a much more efficient scene overall. TNO is, in many ways, a game about how shitty Nazis are and the first half of the game is about establishing how bad life under Nazi reign would be. The train scene with Engels comes on the heels of the prologue, where we see Nazis slaughtering the sick and infirm and the scenes with Anya’s family where they discuss how bad it is. So we know Poles and people with handicaps have it bad (as one might expect from the Nazis…) and then we get into a scene that shows us how high ranking Nazis will toy with and intimidate regular citizens just for kicks. Engels doesn’t know who BJ is and from her dialogue she makes it clear she believes him to be a true Aryan, yet she indulges in forcing him through her “test” just to get amused by his fear of slipping up.

    The train scene establishes the “real” big bad and the dragon, it sets the tone for the game and it remains tensely interactive. It isn’t very long, but it crams a lot of important stuff in. Which is a stark contrast to the meandering, self-aggrandizing cutscenes of TNC. As I believe I’ve said here before, my impression of TNC is that of a game in which the writer’s tried to recreate the bottled lightning of the predecessor but failed to understand that what made TNO so effective was that it was pretty conservative with cutscenes and exposition. When it did do those things it was generally brief but a lot of it all at once.

    TNO understood that it was a game about shooting Nazis with a narrative played straight despite that. TNC tries to be a straight narrative about shooting Nazis and revels in it, which falls flat for me.

  3. Lee says:

    See, they show you what they eat, and you just starting asking questions about their civil service processes. You’re never happy. ;)

  4. trevalyan says:

    Remember what the KKK was. Fundamentally, it was a terrorist organization (“resistance movement” if you asked them) that relied on striking from the shadows to terrorize nominally legitimate authority. It was similar to Hamas in that respect.

    Now, when you look at pictures of Hamas, you often think of balaclava-wearing terrorist fighters with green headbands. But they don’t wear that in the streets unless they are on duty, or temporarily trying to conceal their identities to avoid reprisals from their enemies. In the same way, making KKK robes into daily wear not only makes you look completely ridiculous as well as evil, but aggressively paints you as a target once people obviously figure out who you are.

    Besides- doesn’t this take place in New York? If the Nazis don’t know that Yankees are more likely to accept German authority over a bunch of rednecks that they took some pride in defeating, it is a wonder they managed to conquer the world. Really, this concept demonstrates the author’s own ham-handed ideology than any plausible expression of Nazi occupation.

    • Isaac says:

      “But they don’t wear that in the streets unless they are on duty, or temporarily trying to conceal their identities to avoid reprisals from their enemies. In the same way, making KKK robes into daily wear not only makes you look completely ridiculous as well as evil, but aggressively paints you as a target once people obviously figure out who you are.”

      This logic doesn’t apply to the 1960s South (or Southwest rather). The KKK represented the power that Whites held in openly segregated societies. Why would they be a target for a majority of other Southern Whites?

      • trevalyan says:

        Assuming that a near majority of Southern whites don’t despise them for their collaboration with an alien invader, which is iffy in itself and goes against the KKK’s own mythology in resisting non-Southerners, I didn’t say their main problem was with a collaborationist majority. (If it was they would be egged in the streets.) If there is resistance against you, whether in Iraq or Atlanta, one of their primary goals is to find your home and pay you a “visit.” In that sense, it is smart to wear a mask. But it is smarter to not be identified as a Klan member at all. Which is difficult if you wear your robes out like a uniform, because people can just track you to your home.

        • Isaac says:

          “Assuming that a near majority of Southern whites don’t despise them for their collaboration with an alien invader…”

          It is argued and shown throughout Wolfenstein 2 that most of White America has capitulated to and even embraced the ideology of their Nazi occupiers. This is why Grace is (rightfully) cynical about involving non-Jewish or non-minority White people in her group.

          • trevalyan says:

            So America likes Nazis enough to let them have a more pleasant stay than in, say, Poland. I know that’s what the game says, but here is the problem. If the majority culture is overtly sympathetic to your destruction, your minority will be destroyed. Nelson Mandela lived in a black majority nation, against a tyrannical and genuinely awful white apartheid overclass. Most of the world offer Mandela nearly unconditional support, and also put international sanctions on the apartheid government. Not only were they white bigots, btw, I have never seen an actual person who expressed any support for them, in person or on television. Even among rabid conservatives who think Ann Coulter is soft-hearted. Anyways… even then, Mandela’s guerilla resistance movement was crushed utterly. It took decades for international pressure to bear fruit, against a government that is sunshine and rainbows compared to the unrestrained malevolence of all-powerful Nazi Germany.

            Without white support, a secret war against Naziism would have already failed. Successful guerrila action means blending in with the populace. In Europe, the Nazis forced “social undesirables” to wear identifying markers and confined them to ghettos. In America after 15 years of Nazi rule, it would be incredibly easy to round blacks and other visible minorities up for concentration camps or worse. Then again… after realizing what the Nazis accomplished in six years while fighting a horrific continent-spanning war, maybe there are very few black Americans to find in this setting. The notion that Nazis would permit minorities to walk around so the KKK could cosplay antebellum Charleston requires an optimism bordering on madness. Which is completely at odds with the regard the game holds for Nazis in general and white Americans in particular.

            • Isaac says:

              “So America likes Nazis enough to let them have a more pleasant stay than in, say, Poland.”

              Fam there are ppl today who have no Southern ancestry yet still fly Confederate flags (even if their families most likely fought for the Union!) and post-Civil War consensus among Whites (think Lost Cause revisionism era) was that the Confederacy was really not so bad. You’d also have to consider that most of White America are 1) not ethnic Slavs or Jewish and 2) Protestant. Not exactly a group that the Nazis would want to outright enslave or exterminate.

              “Nelson Mandela lived in a black majority nation, against a tyrannical and genuinely awful white apartheid overclass. Most of the world offer Mandela nearly unconditional support, and also put international sanctions on the apartheid government.”

              Idk where you’re getting this. ANC and its armed wing, MK, were considered to be communists supported by Cuba & the USSR. Most of the West turned a blind eye to apartheid until it looked like it was no longer sustainable and communist influence in Africa was waning (i.e. the end of the Cold War basically).

              “…btw, I have never seen an actual person who expressed any support for them, in person or on television”

              Whenwes (who still exist today): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whenwe

              “Without white support, a secret war against Nazism would have already failed.”

              In the fictional world of Wolfenstein 2, there is little to know White support for revolution. That is Grace’s point.

              i kinda get the rest of your point tho

              • trevalyan says:

                I’m interested why you don’t think apartheid was sustainable. Capital flight only took place after Western sanctions got going in 1984: the Soviets were still in Afghanistan then, and victory was hardly guaranteed.

                Let me take your strongest point, though: yes, the Confederacy held white supremacy as a principle. But they also believed in democracy (for whites only), and upholding it against DC was one of their professed motivations. Jackson and Lee could have joined the Union in the Civil War: and nothing would unite feuding Americans faster than foreign interlopers invading its soil.

                Being allowed to keep slaves, which was not the style for a century, would hardly be sufficient enticement for banning English- in real life the Nazis were not stupid enough to ban primary languages in collaborationist countries.

                • Isaac says:

                  “I’m interested why you don’t think apartheid was sustainable.”

                  1) Soviet influence in Africa was waning by the late 80s and early 90s and 2) As a result more of the West starting taking a stand against apartheid since they no longer needed to tolerate it.

                  “Jackson and Lee could have joined the Union in the Civil War.”

                  The Confederates fought for slavery. They left the Union because they feared that Lincoln would free their slaves (which they saw as the end of the South itself considering how they viewed Black people as inferior and how much slavery contributed to the Southern economy).

                  They didn’t fight for the democracy. You can’t claim to fight for democracy while also fighting to keep your slaves. That’s fucking dumb.

                  • Shamus says:

                    Okay. We’re WAY off-topic here and I’ve already read the “why the north and south were REALLY fighting” debate a dozen or so times in my life so I know where this is going.

                    This thread is over. Go talk about something else.

        • Nope says:

          But why the robes? It is a bit silly. If the nazis have taken over, you don’t need to wear an identity-concealing robe as a member of the KKK, it’s a position of social privilige.

          It’s obvious why they did it, it’s a convenient visual shorthand. Everyone recognises the KKK outfit, but it is a bit clumsy.

    • Somniorum says:

      “Besides- doesn’t this take place in New York?”

      The section with the KKK takes place in the South.

  5. Viktor says:

    “After the Siege, BJ and Grace have a conversation that makes no sense. BJ talks about how they want to liberate America. Grace argues that white America is a lost cause because they’ve already settled into Nazi rule. Then BJ says some platitudes about freedom and suddenly Grace starts agreeing with him.

    This is wrong twice. One, what was she fighting for if she already thought this was a lost cause? I thought we were teaming up with her because mumble mumble something about revolution. But now she’s not even aligned with our cause? What was her plan then?

    Secondly, BJ never says anything to convince her. She spells out reasons why the citizens of the US are a lost cause, and BJ doesn’t say anything to counter this. But she changes her mind anyway because there’s a musical swell while he makes his dumb arguments and that makes this feel inspirational.”

    I haven’t played the game, so take this with a grain of salt since it’s entirely based on these articles, but Shamus seems to have missed something obvious here. Grace hasn’t given up on America as a whole, she’s given up on white people and doesn’t want to fight for them. She’s a black woman who sees white people mostly getting along with the Nazis, of course she’s not going to concern herself with trying to save and recruit white americans. But that doesn’t mean that she’s given up on the cause as a whole, just that she expects white people to be part of the problem and doesn’t want to waste resources on them.

    That still leaves the “switching opinion outright due to one speech” problem, though.

    • Isaac says:

      I’ve played the game twice and what you’re saying is correct

    • Mr. Wolf says:

      So we’re fighting Nazis and our main ally is a racist? It boggles the mind.

      • Isaac says:

        grace isn’t racist for distrusting the intentions of white people considering everything that has happened in the America of TNC

        • Gethsemani says:

          She sure is though, at least in the text of the game. In a later cutscene she calls Sigrun a nazi, which prompts Sigrun to slap her to the ground a deliver a passionate monologue about how Grace does not get to call other people less than human. After which Grace seems to have a wake-up call and treats Sigrun with more respect.

          The implication of Grace’s and Sigrun’s arcs is that Grace is a well-intentioned extremist, but that ultimately her racism is no more tolerable than the racism of the Nazis. That calling a German a Nazi and treating them worse because of it (as Grace does) is no better than calling black people various slurs and treating them worse for it.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            But wasnt sigrun a nice just days ago?Was grace calling her that because of her skin or because she is engels daughter?I mean the whole “You may have betrayed the bad guy and helped us,but can we really trust you” thing is one of the common tropes.

          • Shamus says:

            Of all the flailing around the game does, I think the Grace / Sigrun arc is the only one that really landed for me. That was a good moment.

          • Isaac says:

            1)Everyone (even Anya) treats Sigrun with distrust and disdain after she’s brought onto the submarine not just Grace.

            2) Of course Grace doesn’t trust her! Nazis have enslaved non-White Americans and, of course, they’re Nazis! Why would Grace or anyone else in the resistance initially trust her?

            3) Equating Grace’s initial (and understandable) distrust for BJ and her cynicism about White people wanting to fight against the Nazis to the actual racism of Nazis is just…what? This is like how in Bioshock Infinite where the story tried to say that the revolution of the non-White underclass was just as bad as the dominant racist White class that enslaved and oppressed them. Just..what?

            4) “That calling a German a Nazi and treating them worse because of it (as Grace does) is no better than calling black people various slurs and treating them worse for it.”

            Again, this makes no sense since Sigrun was actually a Nazi and was seemingly complicit with their regime until she changed sides. Grace doesn’t hate her for being White or German! She hates her because she was a Nazi and Grace sees her as someone cannot trust after everything the Nazis have done to America. That is why she repeatedly refers to her as a Nazi.

            • Shamus says:

              Shit man, take it easy.

              In a game as scattershot as this one, I’m not at all surprised people are coming to wildly different conclusions about what the game is saying. Rather than being outraged (maybe you’re not really outraged, but you’ve got a lot of demanding question marks and exclamation marks in there) that someone else doesn’t “get it”, it’s probably safer to wonder how the game could fumble such straightforward messages.

              Yes, Grace’s attitude towards Sigrun is understandable. But because BJ never speaks up for her, Grace has no idea what Sigrun has done or why. Was the writer unwilling to spend time having BJ explain events to Grace because that exposition would be redundant for the player, and are we suppsed to assume that exposition happened off-screen? If Grace knew all the facts, would that change her opinion of Sigrun? I mean, Sigrun saved the life of BJ and Wyatt, and as a result saved the life of the entire resistance movement. And she did so by betraying her own mother. Does Grace understand this?

              Is Grace hostile towards Sigrun because she doesn’t have all the information, or does she know the facts but is ignoring them because of her (understandable but counterproductive) hated of white people / Germans / Nazis?

              We don’t know. At various points in the game you could find a line or two of dialog to support any theory you like, but the writer never actually puts in the time to properly frame this conflict. Even after Sigrun asserts herself, we don’t get a real response out of Grace to indicate she’s changed her understanding, opinions, or worldview.

              And I would be totally fine with this, except this game has hours of cutscenes and it’s sort of inexcusable to give this B-plot so little attention in all that time.

              This game brings up many touchy subjects and then handles them so sloppily that audience confusion is almost inevitable.

              • Viktor says:

                The problem is that the game is definitely commenting on a real-world issue, and people react based on that.
                Geth said: “The implication of Grace’s and Sigrun’s arcs is that Grace is a well-intentioned extremist, but that ultimately her racism is no more tolerable than the racism of the Nazis. That calling a German a Nazi and treating them worse because of it (as Grace does) is no better than calling black people various slurs and treating them worse for it.”
                At that point, we’re into real-world politics with all the baggage that entails. And there’s no way to avoid that discussion given the subject matter of the games.

                Geth, on one side you’ve got an international political organization comprised primarily of one ethnic group that has declared all other groups are subhumans who need to die. On the other side you’ve got one of the people marked for execution who hates members of the majority because doing so keeps her alive. Those are not the same thing, in either cause or scope.

              • Hector says:

                To me, this smacks of something that, I see a lot of, but for which there isn’t a convenient name: a world that very clearly wasn’t thought out. The problem shows up when writers (directors, developers, etc.) don’t really commit to communicating the world in a coherent fashion, probably because they never thought anything through or even wanted to. But this outright destroys the very drama they’re trying to create. It creates the feeling the world is just cheap set dressing for the supposedly “interesting” events, but it can rob those events of any meaning.

                I don’t think it was an accident for the earlier Wolfenstein games to focus on a relatively narrow set of environments which don’t require trying to explain the entire world. If you don’t want/can’t/have no time to really dig into a world, then you simply don’t show it at all.

  6. Hal says:

    All I’m hearing is that somebody on the staff watched “The Man in the High Castle” and thought, “That would be great in the next Wolfenstein game. Let’s do that.”

  7. Paul Spooner says:

    I suspect the reason the storm trooper masks, flags, and KKK hoods are still prominent even years afterward is that if they followed the Nazi occupation to a logical end then the parallels would imply [political screed redacted] which could do nothing but hurt sales.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,would it be possible for you and Bob to space out these long text reviews a bit?Having them back to back like this can be overwhelming,especially for people who come here once a day or less often.Plus it hurts the conversation on both.

  9. BlueHorus says:

    I have to admit being bemused by the comparisons to and discussions of real-life nazism/WWII history. This is still a Wolfenstein game, a series about about shooting nazis in the face with dual-wielded shotguns.
    A rigorously thought-out, accurate portrayal of what a nazi-occupied world would be like was neither expected nor required.
    The story’s there to to take the player from one nazi-shooting gallery to another, possibly to a fun setpiece or two; no more, no less.

    The writing as described by Shamus seems to me to be on a par with Bethesda’s shallow ‘string together some good-looking setpieces’ and/or ‘put in a thing the player will recognise and call it a day’ standards.

    – Do people wander around in KKK garb? Of course they do, it’s an instantly-recognisable outfit all over the world that’s associated with ‘racism in America’. Presumably you get to kill some KKK folks later on in the game.
    – Why did the last game feature a conspiracy by a secret jewish organisation that helped the nazis win? Well (at a guess), if a group of writers were to brainstorm a load of keywords associated with ‘nazi’, ‘Jew’ would be pretty near the top, and the conspiracy angle would make for a striking plot twist as well as link into a common accusation (secretly controlling the world) that’s made against Jewish people.

    TL:DR/Summary: Why are you looking for depth in Wolfenstein?

    (Feel free to tell me that The New Order was actually surprisingly deep and full of good worldbuilding. I’ve only really heard good things about that game.)

    • Shamus says:

      Like I said, “To be absolutely clear: I’m not suggesting that Wolfenstein II would be a better game if the writer explained all of this. I wouldn’t want a scene where BJ has to go through a bunch of anguish because he realizes he’s been gunning down conscripted Tennessee farm boys. Like Star Wars, a big appeal of this series – indeed, maybe the entire point – is to have an unambiguously evil force to oppose so that we can do our first-person manshoots without worrying that our main character has gone too far.”

      I just thought it was an interesting point to muse about. I wasn’t faulting TNC over it.

      • BlueHorus says:

        From what you’ve said, a scene of BJ realising he’s gunning down hapless conscripts could be pretty good, actually. If they have to put a cutscene-heavy story in their game, let’s at least try and make it good…

        But. First, I’ll say I’m ‘bemused’, not necessarily criticising, and certainly not looking to offend. I probably came across as more strident than I actually am.
        If people want to discuss and overthink a game, then sure, why not – what’s it to me? And musing about what a nazi-occupied USA would actually look like 14 years later is somewhat interesting. The fact that you’re possibly thinking about the story more than the writer did is neither here nor there.

        It’s just that, sometimes, the explanation for something that happens in a story is ‘bad or shallow writing’.
        Maybe there just isn’t a hidden depth or meaning to the secret Jewish organisation plot.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          It’s just that, sometimes, the explanation for something that happens in a story is ‘bad or shallow writing’.

          I think that is Shamus’s point.But he isnt just saying “the writing is bad” and leaving it at that,he is analyzing in depth why it is bad.

    • trevalyan says:

      IGN. GiantBomb. GDC. SXSW. The D.I.C.E. awards. Game Informer. These are just the people who are handing awards for TNC’s story/ narrative. If half the games industry is telling us this was the best story of 2017, you can’t just dismiss criticism with “don’t look at me lads, I’m just a silly game about shooting Nazis wot.”

      You want Nazis getting killed? I haven’t had a problem with that for thirty years. Nazis as ridiculous? Couldn’t make Hogan’s Heroes or Downfall memes work otherwise. Nazis invading America? We’re on our third Red Alert game, why not? Serious treatments about the nature of racism and evil? I have a history degree with graduate-level classes on Nazi Germany, and can detail films from Triumph of the Will to Conspiracy, so I’m probably more qualified than you are to talk about the nature of the Third Reich.

      The notion that Nazis conquered the world because they reverse engineered Jewish super machines is not just absurd, but gratuitously offensive. I wouldn’t have a problem with alien tech, but this way means that the world is doomed because of “a secret Jewish organization that helped the Nazis win.” Keep murderers and their victims on the opposite side of the blame scale, please.

      • Isaac says:

        why do u keep saying this: “I wouldn’t have a problem with alien tech, but this way means that the world is doomed because of ‘a secret Jewish organization that helped the Nazis win.'”

        What the lore says: “The Da’at Yichud had hundreds of safe-keeps containing their knowledge and inventions scattered around the world, which kept them from falling into the wrong hands and each vault has a gatekeeper. However, the Nazis led by Deathshead found one of their safe-keeps, killed the gatekeeper, stole their secrets, and used them to win World War II. Even after the war, Nazi research into Da’at Yichud technology are continued in labs such as the London Nautica to create and/or reverse-engineered new weapons such as the LaserKraftWerk.”

        Here: http://wolfenstein.wikia.com/wiki/Da%27at_Yichud

      • Geebs says:

        I don’t really agree that the secret super-tech plot point is “gratuitously offensive”. It works on at least two levels – it lampoons the utter ridiculousness of such conspiracy theories (in the real world) through sheer overblown implausibility, while at the same time it shows the Nazis (in the game), whose sense of identity is in large part derived from their supposed superiority in science and engineering, to be a bunch of pathetic plagiarists.

          • Nope says:

            Does it lampoon it?

            In the game, the Nazis are RIGHT about this.

            If it lampoons anything, it lampoons not believing a nazi conspiracy theory, and I’d like to give the developers a little more credit than that.

        • Redrock says:

          As I’ve said before, it becomes if not offensive than at least puzzling when you take into account the fact that the game both states that yes, there is a secret international Jewish conspiracy, and also downplays the extent of the Holocaust. I think it’s fair to say that in the game we get more hand-wringing about the threat that Nazism poses to Africans than any straight mention of the calamity that it was for Jewish people. Taken together those two messages or lack thereof become at the very least worth mentioning.

          And I’m not sure that actually confirming every anti-semitic conspiracy theory ever within the lore of the game is lampooning their utter ridiculousness. It may be taken as such if one is being generous, but the intent here is far from apparent.

          I want to point out yet again that I wouldn’t call any of that offensive. But it is curious from a culturological perspective.

          • Isaac says:

            they were not a conspiracy: “The Da’at Yichud is an ancient Jewish mystical secret society that has designed and created inventions centuries ahead of contemporary times. Their practices are based on pure reason and are described as a way of understanding God through knowledge and natural law rather than, according to Set Roth, “supernatural bupkis”. Their creations never had a purpose beyond the act of creation and were nothing more than a method of communing with God. ”

            Conspiracy: “a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.”

            • Nope says:

              But having a secret Jewish organisation which sequesters advanced technology, and what looks like a metric shit-ton of gold is still a problem whatever way you slice semantics about the word used.

              A key bit of Nazi propaganda was that Jews were controlling the economy, the banks, and that they were organised along a racial line, and that they were sequestering wealth and beggaring the country.

              TNO unfortunately uses points from Nazi propaganda to characterise its Jewish characters.

              It’s a bit concerning that the Nazis gain from stealing this technology, and also that our “Dragon” in the first game is coded gay (Yes he’s Engel’s boy toy, but his mannerisms are pretty OTT). It muddles up the morals of the story considerably, and it’s not for any good reason.

              • Olivier FAURE says:

                I don’t know about this personally, but I’ve been told that Engel’s right hand man’s behavior was meant to evoke more “snotty German aristocrat” than “homosexual”. I dunno, different time, I guess.

                I mean, they’re pretty clearly together, and I don’t think the implication is that he’s closeted or bisexual.

      • BlueHorus says:

        The notion that Nazis conquered the world because they reverse engineered Jewish super machines is not just absurd, but gratuitously offensive…Keep murderers and their victims on the opposite side of the blame scale, please.

        So I agree with the ‘absurd’, but don’t understand the ‘offensive’ part. Is this not just too removed from reality?

        Imagine if there was a Fantastic 4 comic about Dr Doom invading a country like Rwanda and stealing natural resources in order to make a giant killer robot.
        Sure, you COULD get offended about a story of white people plundering Africa’s wealth as has definitely happened in the past – but come on, it’s a story about the Thing punching a giant robot. Possibly in space.*
        It doesn’t necessarily have anything to say about real life.

        If half the games industry is telling us this was the best story of 2017, you can’t just dismiss criticism with “don’t look at me lads, I’m just a silly game about shooting Nazis wot.”

        You could just say ‘well that’s stupid of them’ and not buy the game…

        *Hey, I might just start writing this idea down…

        • trevalyan says:

          I think it takes a lot to actually offend me in media. Your Dr. Doom example is fine: I think it’s probably been done before? When a cache was broken into in TNO, I might have raised an eyebrow, but it’s as good an explanation as any for the Germans getting superweapons. Would have been nice for the British to get them too, but not the story here. I accept that.

          My problem is that -with- the Yichud explaining the cache to America, the anti-grav tech failed. And the Germans found a way to make it work for their flying fortress. So it makes Jewish and American scientists look stupid, while German scientists look smart. Clearly done to force a plot, while stepping on the themes the game has control over: that evil makes you dumb. In fact, if the Yichud can’t help America to progress at least as quickly as the Nazis despite a head start measured in centuries, maybe their scientific competence is an informed attribute?

          (A theme which completely ignores Deathshead’s considerable abilities, the legacy of Wolfenstein’s mad science, and the real-world history of German conquest. But this is the theme chosen by TNC, and they failed dramatically at it.)

          And there is no chance, ever, that I would pay money for TNC. Following a Let’s Play and reading the lore was more than enough for me. I could drop out of caring about Wolfenstein, as I have with Star Wars, but the game so neatly encapsulates so many of my pet peeves in modern gaming that I really want to stick around for this project’s conclusion.

          PS: Sorry Shamus, breaking your main rule was really dumb. :(

    • Jabrwock says:

      Why are you looking for depth in Wolfenstein?

      I like to think of the question this way, why are they spending so much time setting up cutscenes that wouldn’t be out of place in /r/im14andthisisdeep

      • Nope says:

        I really think this is the key to the awkward things in Wolfenstein. They’ve tried to give it story, and they’re tried to include a lot of the absurdity of the old games, and the melodrama and “realism” of the setting makes some of these elements incongrous. even in TNO, I ended up skipping cutscenes eventually because the game takes itself and it’s story so seriously, and puts so much effort into the cutscenes, but they’re just fake-deep.

  10. Abnaxis says:

    Note that whenever you need to defend a room in the Half-Life series, the designer always gives you time to familiarize yourself with the battlefield beforehand. Where will the enemies enter the room? Where are the good defensive positions? Where are the environmental hazards[3] so I can use them strategically instead of blundering into them?

    L4D was really good about that too. I’m really going to miss L4D…

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    – BJ,white america is lost.They accepted the nazis as their superiors.I gave up on trying to help them.
    – We fight,or we die!
    – Well if you put it like that,then I agree.We should strike back against the nazis!

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And if you think about it, this would suggest that most of the faceless troopers you’ve been blowing away were probably more likely to be from Houston than Hamburg.
    .
    .
    .

    Heck,that was even the case in the real world in nazi occupied countries,at the beginning of the war when germans were still having low casualties.Most of the troops keeping the peace were local collaborators.

    • Redrock says:

      Not so sure about that. Not in France, at least, and probably not in Poland. Collaborators were mainly running local administrations, gestapo-inspired police units, etc. But actual troops, as in well-armed soldiers, those would still mostly be Wermacht or SS.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Soldiers were there to lend aid and sow fear when needed,but locals were the ones doing day to day stuff.They werent in nazi uniforms,of course,but we can say thats due to making the game easier to develop(which the above comment by Christopher supports).

        • RandomInternetCommenter says:

          There were no native troops “keeping the peace” or “doing day to day stuff” for the Germans in France or Poland. This is not an issue you can rephrase your way out of. You made a mistake (and one that is deeply insulting to the descendants of people involved), accept it and move on.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            So the vichy were italians then?And french youth workings were a rap group?And Henri Lafont,Pierre Loutrel and Pierre Bonny were all germans?And I can go on and on and on and on if you wish,listing how the free guard sometimes fought the resistance on their own and other numerous armed frenchmen who were aiding the nazis.

            As for poland,volksdeutscher selbstschutz was a thing.While these were mostly of german descent,they were still citizens of poland before the war.

            Romanticize the resistances all you want,but the fact is that every country occupied by the forces of the axis had their share of collaborators who were perfectly willing to serve,either because they shared the fascist views,or because they believed this would further their separate goals.

          • Bubble181 says:

            Err, yeah, as the descendant of three resistance fighters and one collaborator (yeah, fun family parties), as well as a student of modern history, I have to agree with Daemian here.

            In all countries you mention, there *were* collaborating groups; either because of a “someone has to do it or we all die” mentality, or because of a joint belief in nazism/fascism/the particular brand of nationalism being peddled that day, or out of greed/lust for profit, or out of self defense (better a heel than dead).

            Or did the Waffen-SS not exist? The NSKK? The Geheime Feldpolizei?

            Over 75% of Belgian cities, communities and villages were ruled by German-appointed but ultimately Belgian politicians and civil servants. Some “to weaken the oppressor from the inside out”, many because they were pretty often given the choice of “keep doing your job or die”, what-have-you, I most certainly don’t blame all people involved for their choices. But denying they existed is ridiculous.
            Nazism and fascism weren’t “dirty words” in the late ’30s. Plenty of American (and other) supporters of the political ideology, until some other things came to light.
            Anyway, it’s hard to comment on these topics without going back to modern politics and how some points of view are being normalized and acceptable, so I’ll stop writing here.

  13. PPX14 says:

    Gosh I do so dislike Tarantino’s take on those sort of tense exchanges. The beginning of Inglourious Basterds, while acted very well by Christoph Waltz, was insanely boring and seemed a complete failure in emulating the Spaghetti Westerns he so loves (as do I!).

    The trailer clip looked so overdone, so maniacal that yes there was tension, but I suppose it just seemed to match that overall tone of the clips I’ve seen of The New Order and Colossus – crazy yet somehow still seeming like it’s taking itself way too seriously and with forced-seeming characters.

    I guess that’s what I think of Tarantino too, so it’s just not for me. But it really doesn’t look like it is as fun in tone as it should be.

  14. Christopher says:

    Where’s Japan in all this, did they give them Asia or something similar?

  15. Jabrwock says:

    Wouldn’t the KKK confuse the crap out of the Nazis? Their uniform looks like Catholics participating in Easter penitents…

  16. Matt says:

    And if you think about it, this would suggest that most of the faceless troopers you’ve been blowing away were probably more likely to be from Houston than Hamburg. The Nazis won the war, but unless they invented a cloning machine then they wouldn’t have the numbers to occupy the entire planet like this

    This has always been my problem with getting into various alternate history stories where the Nazis won, for example in this game or The Man in the High Castle. There just weren’t enough Germans to invade all of Europe, the USSR, the British Empire, and the United States! Even supposing nuclear weapons or super-science that might allow them to win any individual battle at little cost or force the surrender of the Allies, they did not have the logistical capacity to maintain an occupation in all of these places. There simply weren’t enough trucks, ships, factories, etc., to say nothing of the long-term economic problems that would have resulted from a fascist regime. As a result, these types of scenarios always feel, to me, extremely contrived.

    I think a more interesting and more plausible scenario would involve some kind of home-grown American Fascist Party that manages to either keep the US out of the war in Europe or seizes power. I think this creates more interesting post-war scenarios, too. Fascist America would be philosophically similar to Nazi Europe, but would have its own hegemonic interests that could create a very different Cold War. I think it also gives writers more room to envision a uniquely American kind of fascism, rather than recycle Nazi imagery.

  17. tremor3258 says:

    This is an odd point to raise, but on the ‘not sure this many flags on main street in Berlin’.

    I’ve seen pictures from Goettingnen (a university town) during WWII. If anything, there aren’t enough flags for the main street of a town.

    • Jabrwock says:

      Probably depends on the town. If those in charge or prominent citizens believe the rest of the inhabitants aren’t patriotic enough, then they tend to overdo it on the flags, and it becomes a sad game of keeping up with the Jones in terms of virtue signaling or trying to avoid being singled out and ostracized. See also flag pins.

    • Bubble181 says:

      I was just thinking that, as far as America-shown-in-Europe is concerned, those aren’t enough flags for an average American suburbian road or small town main street :P

  18. krellen says:

    The dramatic tension on that scene was completely drained out for me as soon as Kommandant Milkshake took a drink and apparently his shake was already almost empty. And then continued to be almost empty for every subsequent sip he took. THAT IS NOT WHAT USING A STRAW SOUNDS LIKE NORMALLY.

  19. poiumty says:

    >which makes the story feel self indulgent on the part of the writer

    Hit the nail on the head, and all that. And the greatest thing the writer wants you to know is that he is the biggest, baddest, most hardboiled nazi hater on the face of the universe.

    Like you know how some writers go to such lengths to mock and/or demean their evil bastard antagonists that it starts being funny how much of the disdain is coming through the fourth wall? That’s how it felt like to me. I laughed, at points. Except it wasn’t a happy laugh. It was the kind of laugh you do before you roll your eyes.

  20. Cradok says:

    It happens in the Fergus timeline, so you didn’t go over it, but Grace’s arrival onto the sub made me really dislike her for the rest of the game. The game frames the scene where she takes Caroline’s room differently, for Wyatt, you can’t see the nameplate and the room looks stripped, so it seems she’s claiming an empty room, while for Fergus it’s the opposite, nameplate and stuff still in the room. Also, with Wyatt, she just calls him ‘white boy’ which he takes in his stride, but for Fergus she calls him English, and when he asks for a ‘please’ and to not call him that, she gets pissy about it, and calls him English again.

    The difference in this basically changes the scene from her being forward to outright disrespecting two characters that I was quite attached to. Add in how she later treats Sigrun and even BJ to an extent, and I spent the whole time disliking her.

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