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Wolfenstein II Part 6: Imprisoned in a Cutscene

By Shamus
on Thursday Mar 8, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

 
 

BJ Blakzowicz has to infiltrate the Nazi complex of caves and generic industrial warehouses so he can plant a nuclear device to blow up Area 52. For a game with such far-out scenarios, it’s amazing how mundane the scenery can be.

At various points throughout the game, you get the opportunity to go for a stealthy approach. Sort of. It doesn’t really work, but it’s there. So let’s talk about…

Stealth

I'm in the dark and behind a box but I've just been spotted by a guy I can't see. He's going to start yelling, and then I'll have to fight everyone in the area, including all the guys I just snuck past. Which means I should've just saved myself the hassle and started shooting the moment I got here.
I'm in the dark and behind a box but I've just been spotted by a guy I can't see. He's going to start yelling, and then I'll have to fight everyone in the area, including all the guys I just snuck past. Which means I should've just saved myself the hassle and started shooting the moment I got here.

I guess they included the stealth sections as a nod to the stealth based gameplay of the original 2D Wolfenstein games? Or maybe they just included them for variety. Whatever. My problem is that while they included stealth sections, they have never bothered to include any stealth mechanics.

You can’t see foes through walls. You can’t see patrol routes. You can’t see vision cones. You can’t tell how visible you are at any given moment. You don’t get any special movement mechanics for moving above foes or doing drop attacks. You don’t get a cloaking power. You can’t create distraction noises to manipulate foes into more favorable positions. You can’t extinguish lights. You can’t steal the uniforms of your victims and put them on to avoid detection. When you ambush a guy, he falls where he was standing and BJ doesn’t pull him into his hiding spot. You can’t tell how loud you’re being and you can’t rely on in-game sounds, since some of the melee takedowns are quite loud to you but inaudible to the Nazis, while your walking footsteps are quietQuieter than sticking an axe in some dude’s face, anyway. to the player but noticeable to your foes.

New Colossus has added a feature to the AI so now they will recognize the bodies of fallen comrades, but since BJ can’t move or hide bodies this doesn’t really add much. It’s just another way to get caught by guys you never saw.

Are the stealth powers of Thief, Dishonored, and Deus Ex “unrealistic”? Yes. These mechanics would offer the player unrealistic powers. But then, sneaking around a room and silently killing 30 heavily armored and armed men is unrealistic, so if you want stealth then you’re not going for realism. I’m not saying that the developer should turn BJ into Adam Jensen or Agent 47. I’m saying this game is not equipped to support proper stealth gameplay.

Here is a commander. If I kill him then he stops calling reinforcements. I don't know why he's pointing his gun at the wall. I think the AI is pretty janky.

Here is a commander. If I kill him then he stops calling reinforcements. I don't know why he's pointing his gun at the wall. I think the AI is pretty janky.

The thing that really kills the stealth is that it’s all or nothing. If you get outed then you can’t run off, hide, wait for them to give up the search, and try to ambush them from another angle. They’ll never go off high alert, and they will magically know where you are at all times. Once stealth is over, you have to finish the entire section in Loud Mode.

They’ve had three games to refine this, and yet the stealth is still a pointless and rudimentary afterthought. It’s never been the strong suit of the series, but it’s actually somehow gotten worse here in New Colossus.

In this section of the game, it honestly feels like the bad guys are better at stealth than BJ. You’re hunting for guys in black armor in a dark room. If you set the brightness to where the designers suggest, you’ll have a very hard time seeing your foes in these caves.

One final gripe is with how the commanders are handled. When you enter a new area, the game will detect the presence of the Nazi commanders in the area and give you a magic compass pointing to them. However, if you break stealth you lose this compass and you just have to find them with your eyeballs. While you’re looking for them, they’re shouting to the the radio and calling for reinforcements.

So you can detect the exact location to a Nazi commander when he’s standing there doing nothing, but the moment he begins shouting into a radio he’s no longer detectable.

Just… WHAT?

Stealth is usually a tradeoff between fun and realism, but here they’ve managed to make something that fails at both. None of it makes a lick of sense, but none of the nonsense is in service of gameplay.

BOOM!

Is there a line of dialog that explains why the base is launching missiles just before you nuke it? I've been through the game twice and I don't remember an explanation for this.

Is there a line of dialog that explains why the base is launching missiles just before you nuke it? I've been through the game twice and I don't remember an explanation for this.

BJ “sneaks” into the Nazi caves, plants his explosives, and leaves. This nukes the Roswell base, blowing up all the Nazi super-science toys they stole from the good guys at the start of the war. From here he gets a motorcycle and rides to his home in Texas.

He’s here to pick up a ring his mother gave him as a child, which was shown in a flashback during the overlong introduction to the game. While you’re here, you can watch a few more childhood flashbacks, or you can move on to the house to get the ring. Inside, he’s confronted by his father.

The flashbacks make it clear that BJ’s father Rip Blazkowicz was a cruel, hateful, violent, narrow-minded man. He beat his wife. He beat his son. He killed his son’s dog as a punishment for BJ playing with a black girl. When the two meet again here in 1961, we learn that Rip gave up his Jewish wife to the Nazis. And now he’s planning to execute his son. Also: BJ doesn’t notice until the end of the scene, but Rip called the Nazis to the house, so if he doesn’t finish his son then they will.

I think that’s about as evil as you can possibly make this guy. He’s a complete cartoon. Even when faced with a legendary and world-famous Nazi killer who’s wearing a suit of armor and is bristling with guns, Rip is such a thick-headed moron that he thinks he can continue to bully his son.

I'm not really a fan of the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. It doesn't look great on a 16:9 screen, which is what most of us will be using to play the game.

I'm not really a fan of the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. It doesn't look great on a 16:9 screen, which is what most of us will be using to play the game.

I get it. He’s a strawman. He’s an exaggerated vessel of the worst aspects of human beings. He’s here so we can kill this embodiment of evil without guilt. My problem is that this story already has lots of characters that serve this exact purpose. We have the Nazi footsoldiers in general, and Frau Engel specifically. We get to do a lot of cathartic Nazi killing in this game. That’s arguably the reason the game exists. So why are we spending this entire character to simply repeat that same theme? Is this really the most interesting thing the writer could think to do with BJ’s father?

In a game about igniting an American revolution, this is the only American civilian we talk to. For story purposes, he should probably be representative of what has happened to this country. Maybe he started off as basically a sane man with some mild racist tendencies, but once the Nazis took over the fear and desperation overcame him. So then he gave up his wife, informed on his neighbors, disavowed his son, and accepted the rewards for doing so. Each time he thought this would be the last time. And now, he confesses, he’s given you up as well. Then the player can decide to kill him or walk away. (With him dying in the subsequent attack anyway.)

That would give us a new perspective, and would re-focus our anger on the Nazis for the soul-devouring police state they created. This would be a contrast to the Nazis.

As written, this scene feels pointless and self-indulgent. When presented with the opportunity to show what kind of man raised BJ, the writer built up this twisted strawman and let the player kill him with an axe. We get to kill a lot of dudes with axes in this game. BJ’s father should be something more than a lame mook.

Captured

Engel finally has BJ and she finds the wedding ring he discovered. Now might be a good time for her to bring up Bubi, her lover that BJ murdered in The New Order. But it never comes up.

Engel finally has BJ and she finds the wedding ring he discovered. Now might be a good time for her to bring up Bubi, her lover that BJ murdered in The New Order. But it never comes up.

Frau Engel shows up with her airship. There’s a brief but hopeless fight and BJ is captured. His armor comes off, and he’s powerless. (He still can’t use his legs.) Engel shows up and leers over him. She also takes his ring, which he was obviously planning on giving to Anya to propose to her.

Thus begins twenty five minutes of cutscenes. Self-indulgent doesn’t begin to describe this. No decision-making. No new character development or revelations. Aside from a deeply flawed shooting section I’ll talk about next week, there’s not even any interactivity. The plot feels like it moves forward at a couple of points, but they turn out to be fake-outs. The writer actually burns up a few minutes of screen time with a doomed rescue plot where you stand there and watch the attempt fail, with nothing to do but slightly move your camera around. And this sequence follows the visit home, which was itself about 20 minutes of cutscenes with little bits of wandering around in between. This is terrible pacing.

BJ is thrown in Nazi prison. The plan is to give him a show trial, drag him around the country for a PR tour, and then give him a televised public execution.

Our buddy Super Spesh shows up, posing as BJ’s lawyer. He tries to hatch an escape attempt, but ends up shot in the head by Engel for his trouble. Engel also announces that your friends have all come here for this rescue attempt. Engel knows all about it and plans to kill them all.

The game never follows up on this or explains how your friends escaped. The game even remembers to have BJ specifically ask about it later, and then someone deflects the question. It’s like this entire sequence was designed to be as pointless as possible, with scenes that go nowhere and things that never lead to a payoff. Again, we could forgive this sort of thing if these were short cutscenes used to string missions together, but if you’re going to burn half an hour of the player’s time then there is absolutely no excuse for these kind of oversights.

So why are the pre-rendered cutscenes in 2.39:1 and the in-engine stuff is 16:9? Is the designer TRYING to make the changes as jarring as possible?

So why are the pre-rendered cutscenes in 2.39:1 and the in-engine stuff is 16:9? Is the designer TRYING to make the changes as jarring as possible?

After taunting BJ a bit, Engel makes him suck on the gun that just killed Super Spesh while she asks him how it tastes. This is all done in first person. (The sound design is pretty amazing. Never had a gun in my mouth before, but the sound really sold it for me.) You could argue that this is all to build her up as the villain, except we already did that at the start of the game when she beheaded Caroline, and we’ll do it again in a few minutes when she beheads BJ. We’re spending a lot of screen time (and holding up the gameplay) to sell something the player has already bought into.

Worse, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that BJ would let her do this. She points a gun at him and tells him to open his mouth, which he does. Except:

  1. BJ is clearly depicted as a man who isn’t afraid of death threats. Heck, that was the big “gotcha” moment of his confrontation with Rip. His dad pointed a shotgun at his head and he wasn’t afraid. So how is she using a gun to control him?
  2. The story has established that BJ believes he’s dying from his injuries, so he has nothing left to lose. He’s not looking for escape. He’s already accepted his fate.
  3. He knows he’s going to be executed in public and that will probably be worse than a quick shot to the head right now.
  4. Over the next few weeks, he knows the Nazis will drag him around the country and show him off as part of a PR / propaganda tour, and he knows it would be great if he could prevent that.

It’s true that his restraints prevent him from acting, but the player can’t see that at this point, so from the player’s perspective there’s zero excuse for him not trying. Even if we ignore that, this man has nothing to lose and everything to gain by refusing to suck the gun. If she shoots him, he wins.

Here's BJ at one of the stops on his pre-execution press junket.

Here's BJ at one of the stops on his pre-execution press junket.

The writer is breaking the established attributes of our main character to reinforce something even the dullest viewer should fully understand by this point: Engel is the bad guy and needs to die.

Yes, you can find scenes like this in a Tarantino movie, but those movies aren’t just a showcase of gore and shocking violence. While people are getting set on fire and having their eyeballs plucked out you also get witty banter, exposition, setups, callbacks, or character beats. But The New Colosssus seems to be imitating the style without the substance. The story gives us no new information here. No further character development. BJ doesn’t speak so we don’t even get any banter. The writer just had this idea for a “cool” scene and they decided we should all sit through it, even if it’s superfluous to the story. Heck, we don’t even have any real tension. We know she’s not going to shoot him and he’s not going to take any action, which means nothing can come of this. There’s nothing for the player to be afraid of in the short term and we already know what’s going to happen in the long term. This block of cutscenes is already really long and this sequence doesn’t earn its keep in terms of screen time.

At the very least the writer could use this scene to setup her death at the end. Maybe she could throw out a line that BJ could echo back to her at the moment of triumph. Or maybe their final fight could be a callback to this moment in some way.

But no. The writer is playing with their Nazi action figures, and you have to stop playing your videogame and watch.

Footnotes:

[1] Quieter than sticking an axe in some dude’s face, anyway.


 
 
Comments (76)

  1. Adeon says:

    Regarding the rockets taking off at Roswell, my assumption was that they were supposed to be the German High Command (there’s a specific name the game gives them but I can’t recall it) heading out to Venus. Of course that just raises the larger question of why they decided to go to Venus at that particular time?

    • Tom A. Vibeto says:

      Yes, I’m pretty sure the game mentioned that the commanders are escaping. I probably remember wrong but I remember I got that info when I was fleeing the base. In the office to the right just before you leave but have to fight those two heavy armor (one of them has a flame thrower). Don’t remember if it was on the speaker system or in a readable note.

  2. ccesarano says:

    I feel like the 2:39 aspect ratio is a common thing in games because the cinematics director either loves movies but doesn’t understand why you’d make that choice for a theater (where the screen can be stretched out to be wider without sacrificing height and thus promising more to view…in a theater), or because they want the viewer to feel like it’s more cinematic that way. I’ve never really understood why games letterbox cut-scenes aside from “now’s a good time to put down the controller”… or perhaps they do so in order to remove some of what needs to be rendered so the cut-scene can run as smoothly as possible?

    I guess there’s a lot of potential reasons, but few of them are clear and it seems superficial rather than artistic.

    • Milo Christiansen says:

      Honestly, I thought the day of the letterbox was done when I left 4:3, but I was wrong…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Technically you can stretch your screen like that as well if you use a three monitor setup,so the ultra wide aspect ratio does make sense there.But why it is the default and not another option,thats the mystery.

    • Jabrwock says:

      I’ve never really understood why games letterbox cut-scenes aside from “now’s a good time to put down the controller”…

      That’s pretty much how I’ve always seen it used. It’s visual shorthand. Screen shifts to “cinematic” aspect ratio, so you know you’re in a cutscene, so that’s why your controller stops responding. I always liked how they did it in Homeworld, the HUD faded or was wiped offscreen, and the aspect ratio slowly shifted to letterbox. It took maybe a second, but it was a visual indicator that a cutscene was happening.

      It also explains the 2:39 ratio. Most monitors now are capable of 16:9, so if you still want that visual shorthand, you need a “more letterbox than letterbox” ratio to still give you the visual cues that this is a cutscene.

      The problem here is that they weren’t consistent between cutscenes, so the visual shorthand is no longer meaningful.

    • Bubble181 says:

      One handy thing about it is subtitles. I’m aware Americans hardly ever care or want to know about them, but a BIG part of the world plays games (and watches videos) with subs. In letterbox, your subtitles are over a nice big black rectangle. Full screen, your subs are over all kinds of backgrounds, and you either give them non-transparent background (hiding parts of the video) or not (meaning you occasionally get white-on-white or black-on-black).

      I’m sure this isn’t the reason for letterbox – I’m inclined to agree with the others it’s about signalling a cutscene – but it’s nice and handy.

      • Nimrandir says:

        Yeah, many of us still use subtitles for when (say) somebody starts talking to you in the middle of the cutscene.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        You can have subtitles by cutting out just the bottom of the video,not the top as well.

        • Galacticplumber says:

          Or just picking a color for them you never intend to use or anything like it. Could be something as simple as white with a black outline or reversed. No problem with that unless you intend a scene of zebras or some nonsense like that.

      • Philadelphus says:

        American subtitle-user here. I’d use subtitles for real life, if I could. I can process text several orders of magnitude faster and easier than speech, so subtitles allow me to actually enjoy the dialog in games and movies without spending the hefty amount of mental energy necessary on figuring out just what that person with the difficult accent said or what that particular unfamiliar name is.

      • ccesarano says:

        Oh man, so this is what happens when you’re early to comment. I’m not used to replies.

        Actually, I’d agree with this point given I play just about every Japanese game in its native language with subtitles rather than English dub, as long as the option is provided. In those instances the letter-boxing is, I agree, incredibly valuable.

        I sometimes leave subtitles on during English games but it’s usually a distraction. I won’t be paying attention during combat (doesn’t help I’m not paying attention to the dialogue anyway) and I feel like I’m not really registering the narrative when reading it as its spoken. It’s odd that I don’t feel this way about JRPG’s or anime when reading their subtitles, but games I do.

      • Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

        White text outlined in black is viewable on literally any colour background imaginable, so it shouldn’t matter if the text is covered or not.

  3. trevalyan says:

    Why do you think the game wants a contrast to the Nazis? In case the Klan walking around outside, the relative speed of American surrender, and the complete lack of resistance from the theoretically gun-hungry population failed to make it clear: Americans and Nazis are best buds. Especially white Americans. It’s the one theme the game never backs down from. Even more than “Nazis are evil,” which they curiously downplay by ignoring the atrocities which defined the Third Reich.

    And it gives BJ serious daddy issues, which I guess works great with the target audience.

    • Nope says:

      Because if you want to go to all the effort of painting these guys as evil, you generally want to show things worth saving, so that the conflict there can drive the narrative.

      The player is meant to be invested in revolution against the nazis. Showing why this goal is worth BJ’s life should go beyond his own interest in his family.

      • trevalyan says:

        That is why the game -should- want contrast. In this scene, which has real potential at explaining the dire choice between collaboration and extinction, Blaz Sr. is as bad as the Nazis. Maybe worse. There’s some distance between “this is bigger than your family” to “your dad is garbage, get a new family.”

        Anyways. Historically, the “gentlemanly” face of Naziism was pointed west, and the ruthless skull pointed east. It is easy to mock collaboration now, but it took years to expel the Nazis from continental Europe and it was by no means certain until very late. BUT… I am spending way too much time on history, and I hope I can keep focus strictly on Wolfenstein’s narrative/ gameplay until the last installment.

      • Syal says:

        The player is meant to be invested in revolution against the nazis.

        So far it sounds more like The Outlaw Josey Wales, fighting out of stubbornness.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Why do you think the game wants a contrast to the Nazis?

      I think the point was that it wouldve been better if the game did that,not that the game wants to do it.

      • BlueHorus says:

        Also, it would have made the encounter with BJ’s dad mean something.

        I have to ask: someone who’s played the game – how much time do you spend with this guy?
        Is it literally just some flashbacks showing that he was a bad guy, his cutscene speech proving he’s still a bad guy, and then him getting the chop at the end of the cutscene?

        Because if so, what a waste. He could have been in large amounts of the game: taunting/scolding BJ over the radio, giving information to Engel, collaborating with the nazis to bring down the resistance (‘I have to save the family name, look what you made me do’ etc), playing BJ recordings of his mother to unsettle him.
        An entire arc of him turning against the nazis as a form of redemption – or only pretending to as a trap.
        Etc.

        • poiumty says:

          Yeah he only appears in flashbacks, and then, in what I would imagine the writer thinks is a Shyamalan-esque twist, he’s there, in BJ’s run-down childhood home, just waiting behind the door for BJ to show up.

          He reveals he really is All the Evil in the World and he’s conveniently called in the nazis too. Then BJ kills him.

      • trevalyan says:

        My question was rhetorical. If the game was made well, it would have contrast, because that is how competent writers operate. It is possible to paint only in black and white: crude propagandists do this only partly because they are incapable and have their jobs because of their fanaticism, but also partly because they know their work is a lie. Even if it is only subconscious.

  4. trevalyan says:

    Oh, and the old BJ could be chained up like Prometheus, but he’d still remember to spit in Engel’s dried-up Nazi eye. And then bite off the gun barrel, because he’s just that tough.

  5. Dreadjaws says:

    Ugh. If there’s something that ruins my enjoyment of a story is a cartoonish villain. This was a major issue for me in “It”. The main villain was pretty good, if a bit excessive at his attempts to be scary, but every time that goddamn bully kid showed up I just couldn’t help but roll my eyes in impatience.

    A good villain makes you angry at him, but a character like this only makes you angry at the writer. By the time when they try to give the kid some sympathetic backstory I lost any chance of being invested in him. I didn’t care what happened to him, I just wanted him to stop showing up on screen because his presence irritated me.

    I honestly prefer it when they use a dumb villain with a generic plan for world domination. It’s lazy, yes, but I can get on board with that if I’m having fun. But whenever a cartoonish villain shows up I’m no longer having fun. Which is a large problem when fun was the entire reason I was engaging in this story in the first place.

    • Galacticplumber says:

      It’s even relatively easy to do well. Just make someone with a sick/terrifying sense of humor such that he sees what he’s doing as having fun, then lean into it such that your target has the intended levels of directed abhorrence, and/or fear. This is what’s happening when the Joker is done well. It gets easier still if the villain has some manner of creed or greater purpose behind their actions to mentally chew on. The greater purpose can be some greater good nonsense, some desire for chaos, revenge on someone(s), or even a dozen different kinds of simple megalomania. Then all you have to do is sell it via acting, or written detail and care depending on the medium in use.

    • poiumty says:

      Frau Engel is one of the most boring villains of all time, showing up only to be dastardly and go HUEHUEHUE DO YOU HATE ME NOW, PLAYER? when she isn’t conveniently running away because she’s paradoxically both a powerful figure and a coward.

      If the story was in any way worth me caring about it, I’d probably hate the more intricate parts of her character. As she is, I don’t even care.

      You’d think since this is Wolfenstein, it would be Hitler as the bad guy to end all bad guys: a scheming genius that has conquered the world with his charisma and ruthlessness, and all these B rate bad guys would pale in comparison.

      Hoo boy. We’ll get to Hitler soon enough.

      • trevalyan says:

        Hitler as incompetent is a time-honored tradition, even if it is especially incongruous in a world where he rules supreme. Even then, he should be the ultimate incarnation of evil: a monster whose whims should be feared like the plague, as he makes them come true with the power of a malignant deity.

        • Redrock says:

          Not really, no. Terrible dictators are often than not quite small and dissapointing in person. Fearful, isolated, with very little understanding of the outside world. The regimes they create take on a life of their own sooner than most would believe, especially in times of relative peace. In that respect, this portrayal of Hitler actually makes sense. The victorious Nazi empire portrayed in the game is much bigger than even Hitler. I wasn’t surprised, honestly. I was expecting something like that. Equilibrium did that, along with a great many dystopian works. The great dictator is a fake and/or a figurehead. Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an article on TVTropes for that.

          • Galacticplumber says:

            It’s also true to life in that most dictators aren’t actually powerful in their own sake. They have less people to please, read the military in most cases, and thus do less well by the public. This doesn’t mean they hold actual power. They’re beholden to people behind the scenes with more direct command of necessary resources. This is why you’ll sometimes see a dictatorship “toppled” only to have a worse successor. The supposed resistance was simply allowed to kill off a puppet that displeased its masters in some way until they found a more obedient “leader.”

  6. Tom A. Vibeto says:

    I would disagree with you about stealth. Played most of the game with silenced pistols (even when stuff got loud), so had a lot of fun with stealth.

    They do not know where you are at all times but they run around a lot around the location where you and a body were last seen. The bases aren’t that complicated and there are relatively few places to properly hide properly if the area doesn’t have vents.

    They do relax a bit after you’ve hid if you manage to take away the commanders. If things go south, the commanders are easy to find due to their constant yelling into radios and that they always prefer to run away from the action. So they are usually found at dead-ends of the level.

    You can’t hide in darkness in this game. And enemies can see anything in front of them. As with most sneaking games they never look up if not high-alert, but unlike other sneaking games they do look down. If you are spotted, you can still maintain stealth if you kill fast enough. But if they manage to utter a single vocal before dying, the others in the same encounter zone is alerted. And the size of an encounter zone isn’t always clear (particularly in outdoor ruins).

    Sneaking around a room and silently killing 30 heavily armored and armed men is fully possible in this game, if a bit harder than other games due to the lack of conventional stealth cheating tools and lack of good places to hide. Seems the idea of the game is to give the player an optional challenge to stealth up to both of the commanders. There is usually a stealth path to where they are but the paths are sometimes one way and often not possible to hide in when stuff goes loud. Then do the rest of the encounter in loud mode.

    • Rack says:

      I really dig the stealth in Wolfenstein too. It’s something that lets you turn situations to your favour even if you don’t manage to wipe out every single enemy. Most pure stealth games are awful forever when you’re spotted but here you just revert to a full on high octane shooter. It adds variety to the gameplay and a pleasing rhythm to combat encounters.

      If you added stealth focussed mechanics it would create a shift in player expectations from “Stealth is something you can do to gain an edge in combat” to “Getting spotted is A Very Bad Thing”.

      I do agree that letting enemies spot corpses was a poor addition though.

    • Redrock says:

      I think it’s the commander mechanic that’s the problem. It sort of implies that you’re supposed to reach the commanders unseen. If stealth was presented as a way to thin out the herd a bit before going all out, that would have worked well. Another problem is that there is a disconnect between player expectations derived from BJ’s looks and the series history and how the developers expect you to play the game. While he doesn’t look it, BJ is a guerilla fighter, a scrapper, a glass cannon, not the Doom Marine. But the game doesn’t really convey that too well.

      • Galacticplumber says:

        Technically playing on the higher difficulties the Doom guy isn’t actually that durable especially if he isn’t roided up on secrets. His primary defense is literally dodging attacks.

  7. Joshua says:

    I guess the summarized version of this is that the designers would really prefer to be making a movie than a game? 25 minutes of non-stop cutscenes? I’d get a little restless after about 3-5.

  8. Darren says:

    “For story purposes, he should probably be representative of what has happened to this country. Maybe he started off as basically a sane man with some mild racist tendencies, but once the Nazis took over the fear and desperation overcame him.”

    That’s not really how racists behave. They don’t become more obviously racist because they are afraid of some power, they become more obviously racist because they are finally free to indulge the full extent of their beliefs. A better solution to the issue you raise would have been for BJ’s father to seem fine in flashbacks only for BJ to discover that, fundamentally, he has always been like this and that the horrors he’s witnessing have roots that won’t be pulled out merely by toppling the regime.

    • Decius says:

      That would be a different take on it. I would like there to be somebody somewhere who is ‘just’ a not-reluctant-enough collaborator developed in enough depth to be an almost sympathetic character.

    • Methermeneus says:

      I don’t think his idea was to have the Nazis stoke Rip’s racism through fear, but to have his mild racism and fear work together to cause him to do things even he thinks are reprehensible, such as turning in his own wife. Like “Well, Jews do try to control all the money… But this isn’t done wealthy banker, this is my wife… But if I don’t turn her in and they find out she’s a Jew, they’ll just kill both of us, and rule of law can’t allow for exceptions…” Not fear of one group increasing hated of another, but both fear and disdain for the “other” supporting each other to justify actions that are increasingly unjustifiable, even to himself. Basically, less how Hitler stirred his base to action and more how the Nazi party got noncommittal average citizens to turn in their neighbors.

      Also, welcome back, not-a-robot checkbox!

      • That was actually one of the problems the Nazi party struggled with. They could convince people that “Jews are evil” but that tended to break down when you started thinking about Mr. Jacobson the baker who always gave your son an extra roll or Mrs. Yankels who came over every day after your child was born to help you for no other reason than she was a good person and knew you were having trouble.

        I believe I came across this in a book about a Jewish woman who ended up marrying a Nazi and thought it was fascinating. People who knew her tended to help her (she was able to take the identity of a friend who wasn’t Jewish and thus made it through the war).

    • BlueHorus says:

      How about Rip was racist, and did embrace the nazis, but then they went too far, even for him?
      Put it in a second series of flashbacks while BJ’s searching his old home.

      Rip was fine shipping off the blacks and latinos to die, because it happened out of sight and he hated them anyway.
      But he felt a pang of something when he saw the stormtroopers outside Gibson’s door, because he knew Gibson’s son was a good kid, if a bit slow.
      Then there was the girl who was dragged screaming out the supermarket in front of everyone; no one said anything or even asked why.
      And so on and so on, until eventually he opens up the door and the stormtroopers have come for his wife. He’s both too proud and too ashamed to admit how easy it was to meekly give her up…

      His eventual confrontation with BJ has a brittle, desperate quality to it; if Rip admits fault, he might fall apart. So his defense of his actions – and attempts to blame BJ for it all – are hysterical and contradictory.
      Eventually the player decides what to do; whether it would actually be kinder/crueler to leave him alive.

      That, I’d give a damn about.

    • Redrock says:

      The interesting thing is that there actually is a moment where BJ’s dad gets a shade of complexity – the flashback where he gives BJ the BB gun and they go hunting for imaginary monsters all together. He is still portrayed as an exceedingly hard man, but at least he seems to have a caring side in that scene. It doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t mesh with the rest of his portrayal, but it is there, nonetheless.

    • Cubic says:

      I haven’t played the game but this sentence … “we learn that Rip gave up his Jewish wife to the Nazis.” … means BJ is Jewish too. So a game with a Nazi dad could have done something with that, I guess?

  9. N/A says:

    As far as BJ’s father goes, I can see why they wrote him the way they did, and I think there’s even some pretty solid value in writing him as the racist old fuckstick Nazi collaborator, especially in the current political climate. It’s cathartic to take an axe to that representation of bigotry in ‘real’ America, the regular old normal American rather than the occupying army or the overt collaborators like the KKK. But the point that he’s the only interaction BJ gets with a regular American civilian is a good one.

    It creates this dichotomy where other people are either Nazis, Nazi collaborators, or resistance fighters – who are ‘good’, but also, as you pointed out in previous articles, fundamentally not DOING anything. So people are either evil, helping evil, or irrelevant. Those are some options, huh?

  10. Decius says:

    The gun barrel in the mouth is a very transparent rape metaphor. The purpose is to trigger people who are triggered by it, cause them to vocally object, and then reap the PR as the backlash against the people who object blows up around the intersphere. The same thing happened in Tomb Raider, and was mildly successful because TR had a female main (attracting more women to ever play it), and the scene happened earlier in the game (so that it was noticed while it was still pretty new and relevant, and while the targeted audience hadn’t already said “screw this garbage”).

    #include commentary about how violence, even sexualized violence, gets past the censors but nipples don’t.

    • Viktor says:

      In Tomb Raider, IIRC the attempted rape was actually shown in an interview before the game came out. The game itself was also much better written than this one, and the devs actually knew how to handle PR, which both helped.

      On-topic, I haven’t tracked down this scene on YT to watch, which I wanted to do before I commented, but: It’s not just that the gun is her penis. Weapons=Power. BJ has been removed from his suit and disarmed, metaphorically castrating him, and then he’s ‘raped’ by a german woman whose guncock is bigger than his. Normally BJ would be a big tough dude, but without his weapons, he’s nothing. It’s the entry level violence=power=manly bs you expect from a bad 80’s film, which isn’t out of line for Wolfenstein, except that this is 2018 and we expect at least a bit better from creators.

      • Methermeneus says:

        Still not quite as bad as Duke Nukem Forever, though. Man, I miss the actual self-aware parody of Duke Nukem II. (If you’ve only played 3D or Forever, it starts with Duke getting abducted off the set of Oprah, where he’s promoting his new book entitled Why I’m So Great.)

    • Dreadjaws says:

      I mean, the guy is called “BJ”.

  11. Nick Powell says:

    I replayed The New Order over the last few days after reading these posts and it really just drove home how sinister Engel is in that game. From the dickhead trophy boyfriend to casually threatening BJ’s life for entertainment in the train scene before she even knows who he is

    It sounds like she’s much less interesting in this game

    • Hector says:

      I’m not sure if “Sinister” is exactly the right word. It implies there’s something shadowy or uncertain about it. Frau Engel is the Michael Bay of villains (also, basically, are all this series’s enemies): bombastic and thoroughly in-your-face about how nasty they are. That was true even in the previous game.

      If this were Game of Thrones, she’s very clearly Clegane, not Littlefinger.

  12. Rosseloh says:

    Maybe BJ lets her stick the gun in his mouth because he sees her wrist bent at that terrible angle while holding the thing. I mean, sure, he might die, but she is NOT going to enjoy it!

  13. BlueHorus says:

    The writer is playing with their Nazi action figures, and you have to stop playing your videogame and watch.

    And worse, they’re doing it so badly!
    Looking at the cutscenes on Youtube, the word that immediately comes to mind really is ‘amateur’. Almost every time, you can see what the writer was going for, but it’s just delivered so badly.

    Engel capers around in front of her troops like a jackass, badmouthing her daughter in front of them, doing edgy* things and laughing – but it’s just not believable. She’s not scary, she’s not clever, she’s not mad like the Joker; she’s just…poorly written. Anything that would give her actions weight or meaning is missing.

    Meanwhile BJ’s dad is a dull monologuist who runs through all the cliches of ‘bad father’ and then dies almost instantly, somewhat anticlimatically, once he’s finished his list.
    Just why, why did you bother putting BJ’s dad in the game if that’s what you were going to do with him.

    *Can that be a character trait in and of itself?

  14. Scramble says:

    I’m not gonna beat around the bush: this sounds disastrously stupid and shameful. Basically, if you’re making a game where the Nazis conquer America, and you end up portraying the Americans as worse than the Nazis, you’ve failed on every conceivable level.

    Though I’m sad that the people who made New Order and Old Blood, which were both great, deliberately drove the series into a ditch in the service of lamebrain political posturing that will age like a carton of milk left out on the counter, I’m kind of happy Wolf II sold so badly as a demonstration of what that sort of posturing gets you in the marketplace. …Not that anyone will draw a useful lesson from that, of course.

    • Methermeneus says:

      Mm… I wouldn’t say that automatically fails on every level, depending on what you’re trying to say with such a depiction. A slippery-slope-fixated alarmist depicting an America that invited Nazi conquest would probably not have a hard time justifying their American characters behaving deplorably. That said, that’s obviously not what the game is going for (even if that’s kind of where it wound up). Also, NOT MY ACTUAL OPINION ALERT, I happen to know someone who stops just short of publicly calling for Antifa to become an actual armed militia, and even he only says that some Americans are aboutas bad as Nazis, as opposed to most being worse. When your sincere attempt to depict nuance becomes too extreme for someone whose honest opinion could easily be mistaken for a strawman, that’s when you’ve failed on every level.

      • Scramble says:

        A fair point. It’s the “what the game is going for” part which is where it falls down, IMHO.

        Based on TNO and TOB, the game should be going for “BJ kills Nazis in all kinds of cool places, and also there’s what is, for a meathead first person shooter, some surprisingly daring storytelling as well as an exploration of what fighting evil means when good just wants to give up.” So far, though, I get the impression that the story is “America just couldn’t wait for the chance to surrender to the Nazis and really go to town mistreating minorities.” As Shamus pointed out, a different treatment of BJ’s father, as symbolizing the American population beaten down and surrendering to an implacable foe, could have made all the difference between the two stories.

        And if they genuinely meant to tell that second story… well, that’s their right, of course, but it shouldn’t be shocking that it goes over poorly with the folks being compared, negatively, to Nazis.

  15. Daath says:

    NC is very political, but unfortunately, not in a particularly interesting or accurate way. BJ’s father, a stupid, violent and just overall pathetic man, is a walking lecture: Racism is bad, because racists are bad people. Institutionalized racism was bad, because the people in Old South were bad. Something like 12 Years as a Slave took a different route. Sure, there were bad people, and the slavery was bad partly because it give them free reign. On the other hand, I recall Northup stating in his memoir how his other owner was the most perfect Christian gentleman he had ever known, yet utterly blind to the injustice of the system he was part of. Bad folks are just bad, but good people perverted is actually scary and thought-provoking. That actually could be you, and quite likely you’d be blind to it too.

    It’s really not a good sign of the game if you start thinking “how would I do this differently?” during the first playthrough. What came to my mind was a man who doesn’t really have a problem with his son playing with a black girl. When BJ gets into fight with some other kid who tries (and predictably fails) to bully him over that, and he explains to his parents how Bobby provoked the scuffle, his father even corrects his language: “It’s Negroes, son. We don’t use trashy language like that in this household.” But then he’s 14 and finds out he likes the girl. Someone rats them out, and his father, while explaining how he never liked doing that, gives him a brutal thrashing with a belt. BJ goes to see the girl a bit later anyway, and finds her house empty, vacated in a rush. When confronted, his father explains “they were encouraged to move on”. He’s ready to forgive BJ, however, since young people do stupid things. Soon afterwards BJ, too mule-headed to ask forgiveness for something he knows wasn’t wrong, runs away.

    1961 BJ finds out his father was labeled as soft on blacks after the episode anyway, grew increasingly bitter and harsh even before the occupation , and when you confront him, he’s become that full-on degenerate Nazi collaborator. That’s not high art or anything, but at least it’s a tragedy. Yet the writers preferred to go with the “white America differs from Nazis only by degree, not in kind” angle. That’s just pandering to one type of low political tribalism. And they couldn’t even stick to it, as Grace was won over from her position of white America being beyond saving by some empty platitudes.

  16. Redrock says:

    The game never follows up on this or explains how your friends escaped. The game even remembers to have BJ specifically ask about it later, and then someone deflects the question.

    Said it before, but it’s worth mentioning again. The way BJ is very explicitly puzzled by Anya’s weird deflection when he asks about their escape, along with the repeated use of particular phrases, seemed to very heavily imply that everything we see after the execution is some sort of dream/limbo/afterlife … thing. All of the weirder things – like riding a robo-dog, Anya needlessly getting in fights, etc., all of that happens after that, which kinda reinforces that idea. The fact that this twist fails to materialise baffles me still. It all just falls apart once you realize that the writer is playing it completely straight. I still can’t fathom why that piece of dialogue with Anya and her deflection is even there. Makes exactly zero sense.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Indoctrination theory strikes once again.So many parallels between these two series.

      • Redrock says:

        Yeah, well, it’s always hard to believe that something can be so amateurishly bad, isn’t it? That’s how we wind up with “stormtroopers deliberately shot to miss Luke and Leia so they could follow them later” theories. But no. Stormtroopers are just stormtroopers and hacks are just hacks.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          hacks are just hacks.

          To be fair,even good artists can produce shit if they dont care about the work,or are under immense time pressure,or are attached to someone elses bad work,….I mean Patrick Stewart was in the emoji movie.You cant say that he is a hack because he was a piece of shit in that piece of shit.

          • Redrock says:

            Fair enough. I usually try to be kind to creators, but in this particular case the writer came up with a poorly conceived story and proceeded to poorly execute it. That just speaks to a lack of skill, talent and, above all, effort. The first two can be forgiven, since, hey, no one is perfect. But you have to put in the effort, which clearly isn’t the case here.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Why are you discounting that the stormtroopers shot badly on purpose in that instance? In Empire, their defense is firm enough that the Rebels barely get away, even with the city’s admin running interference for them and in Jedi they defeat the Rebels in the first shooting engagement and shoot Leia (nonfatally, but still).

    • BlueHorus says:

      Well it seems pretty reasonable to assume that the writers of TNC’s cutscenes have seen a Tarantino film before and wanted to ape the style – but weren’t good enough writers to pull it off.

      Presumably they’ve also seen Total Recall as well…

  17. Mr. Wolf says:

    If you set the brightness to where the designers suggest, you’ll have a very hard time seeing your foes in these caves.

    On a largely unrelated tangent, that reminds me of how annoyingly vague the instructions on brightness or gamma sliders always are. “Adjust brightness until you can barely see he icon”. Well my eyesight is pretty good so I can see that icon one step from full darkness, so I guess the game is supposed to be played as an entirely black screen.

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