Goodnight Third Reich | Killin’ Nazis in Wolfenstein II
“I got kids on the way and I’ll be damned if I’m going to raise them in a world run by Nazi assholes!”
Shooting fascists is one of gaming’s most popular pastimes. Whether it’s Wolfenstein 3D or Medal of Honour: Allied Assault murdering thugs in Swastika armbands has become a staple of video games in the last quarter century. As music, film and TV have become even more overtly political in the last two years so too have games. This October with the release of Nazi killing simulator Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus anti-Nazi sentiment peaked in one of the most glorious and gory political statements of the new millennium.
Wolfenstein II sees you take control of Captain William Joseph ‘B.J.’ Blaskowicz an all-American man with a bottomless well of hatred for goose-stepping brutes. Carrying on from Wolfenstein: The New Order in an alternate 1961 we find B.J. gravely wounded but kept alive by a suit of ancient Jewish power armour. Despite his crippling injuries B.J. cleaves his way through hordes of Nazis with relative ease and the gusto of a man who hasn’t eaten for a week. Having killed his nemesis General Deathshead in The New Order B.J. sets his sights on liberating America and sending the Nazi war machine back from whence it came.
Wolfenstein II is a very violent game. Nazis of all shapes and sizes fall to B. J’s oversized and overpowered weapons. Whether they’re soldiers, scientists or Hitler himself B.J. shows no mercy and gives no quarter. At least that’s what happens when you play the game on easy difficulty. Wolfenstein II is a hard game and it has no qualms nor offers any apologies for this but it’s fast-paced bloody hack ‘n’ shoot gameplay is at odds with how easy it is for B. J to die.
Whether it’s some moron dressed as a discount Darth Vader or one of the enormous robots that belches flame and fires lasers B.J. can barely stand against them even on the middle difficulties. There may be some thematic reasoning to this as B.J. is essentially dying for the first half of the game but even then, he’s wearing the equivalent of an Iron Man suit if it was made by an ancient mystical Jewish society. So play Wolfenstein II on easy so you can feel like you’re waging a one-man war on Nazism with the assistant of some truly radical revolutionaries.
Rescued from a forced labour camp in The New Order is Set Roth, a Jewish scientist with the genius of Einstein and the stylistic sensibilities of Spielberg. There is B. J’s girlfriend Anya who, though pregnant with twins, is more than capable of mangling her fair share of Nazis. Discovered in the atomic ruins of New York is Grace Walker, the leader of a Black Panther-type group, and Super Spesh a lawyer turned conspiracy theorist. Along for the ride are Scottish airman Fergus Reid, reformed Nazi Sigrun Engel (daughter of B. J’s arch nemesis Frau Engel) and mentally disabled savant Max Hoss. Together they are the Kreisau Circle, Earth’s last hope in the face of the Nazi threat.
Despite its aggressive anti-fascist stance and bloody combat Wolfenstein II is a hilarious game. Some of the game’s greatest moments are revealed by watching and waiting. At one point in the Nazi High Command players can overhear a conversation between two Nazi soldiers on terrorism. It begins: “I have no sympathy for terrorists. How can they promote violence towards us, just because we hold a different point of view?” The conversation then ends with one Nazi excitedly wondering “Maybe we’ll be in the same death squad?” Wolfenstein II dances on a razor’s edge between satire and solemnity. One conversation about a football match in the Baltimore labour camp ends with a guard saying he was reassigned because there were no prisoners left. Comedy and violence is all well and good but where’s the heart? It rests under the chiselled pecs of B.J. Blaskowicz.
For much of the game B.J. believes he is dying. He grows distant from Anya who he deeply treasures. The death of Caroline Becker, a major character in the 2009 remake of Wolfenstein and The New Order, leaves him depressed. Anxiety about fatherhood triggers memories of his racist, abusive father Rip although B.J. later axes the anxiety and the father. Wolfenstein II never shirks from showing the destructive and genocidal side to the Nazis as well as those who sympathise with and enable them from the KKK to opportunists such as Rip. No matter how futuristic and fantastical the game gets it always grounds itself in the real-world horrors and atrocities committed by these scarily human monsters.
Speaking of monsters it’s time we address the moustachioed elephant in the room. Adolf Hitler was always quite a ludicrous figure in the older Wolfenstein games. Usually encased in an enormous mech suit and almost always the game’s final boss the little man with the moustache was hard to take seriously in these situations. However in Wolfenstein II developer Machine Games choose to depict him as he would have appeared in 1961. A syphilis-ridden, psychotic and delusional figure gripped by paranoia and bladder problems Hitler is terrifying because he is realistic. The pot has long boiled over leaving only over-heating metal and empty space. Brilliantly the game also gives players the option to kick him in the face as much as they want though his inevitable, gratuitous death will likely be reserved for the possible, equally gratuitous sequel.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus delights in shedding Nazi blood. It depicts them as goons, thugs and idiots. Sadistic children in adult bodies given total power they scream and wail when it is taken from them. Machine Games emphasise that in blowing away these despicable despots we are doing right by ourselves and by history. It teaches us that Nazis should only be taught with boots and bullets. It teaches us that Nazis do not deserve our respect, our time or indeed our mercy.