Review: Wolfenstein 2
Developed by Machine Games
Published by Bethesda
Set in an alternative timeline where Nazi Germany won the second World War, Wolfenstein 2: The New Order is a deliberately over the top, yet timely experience.
When working on Wolfenstein 2, Machine Games apparently had the rule that no idea was too ridiculous to be off limits. This becomes clear at several points. From Roswell, New Mexico to a space station near Venus, the storyline doesn’t so much as jump the shark as put a saddle on it and ride it while shooting Nazis in the face.
Mentioning Wolfenstein’s violence seems redundant, but it should be noted that this is not a game for the squeamish. The designers were apparently intent on coming up with creative deaths for the in-game enemies. This is very much an anti-Nazi revenge fantasy, similar in to Inglorious Basterds’ scalp collecting. And yet, for all of its ridiculousness and gratuitous violence, Wolfenstein 2 manages to get a lot right.
While the game’s creators insist that they were not influenced by the 2016 US election results, the political import is undeniable. With Trump’s presidency now in its second year, and the debate swirling surrounding the ethics of punching a Nazi, the site of Klansmen openly walking down a US street in full garb is all the more confronting. The game’s satire is evident, albeit under the surface of things and in the background. For instance, one Easter egg mocks Mother Jones’ profile of white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Wolfenstein 2’s heroes are perhaps the best feature, as the story goes to additional lengths to get across that they are up against dire odds. As Heather Alexandra writes about the game in Kotaku, “Resistance and war has visible costs, and the core cast of characters visually references that cost through their various injuries… Heroes hardly fit into clean visual modes.”
The game’s protagonist, B.J Blazkowicz makes for an interesting deconstruction of the macho action hero. While unquestionably one of the toughest videogame characters ever, he is also portrayed as scarred, vulnerable, and full of doubt. Players first encounter Blaskowicz when he is on death’s door. From there, he spends most of the first level in a wheelchair. Several points in the game deal with his PTSD. One particularly disturbing level delves into his psyche and his experience of growing up with an abusive father.
Women play as prominent a role in Wolfenstein’s resistance. Grace, a survivor of a New York that was hit with a nuclear bomb, stands out as a fierce, capable leader. Blaskowicz’s wife, Anya, joins the fray while pregnant.
One of Wolfenstein 2’s other interesting heroes is Horton Boone, a self-appointed preacher for the resistance who joins the game’s story partway through B.J’s journey. With a socialist bent, and a penchant for homemade whiskey, his is not the usual Christian caricature, as found in recent games like Far Cry 5. However, it should be noted that the character does not say particularly anything about faith itself, which feels like a missed opportunity. Wolfenstein’s Nazi dominated America is one that looks like it could benefit from genuine spiritual leadership.
Wolfenstein 2 is rated R and is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. It will be available on Nintendo Switch later this year.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor