Okay, prepare yourself; I’m going to say something controversial. Or write something controversial, anyway. I don’t want to earn a reputation as one of those people who purposefully spout unpopular opinions just to get attention, but I like to be honest. Ready? Right, here we go.
Nazis are bad.
I know, I know, it’s a little out there; I’ve set the cat of controversy amongst the pigeons of consensus. Check the social media platform (or internet comment section) of your choice, and it shan’t be long before you discover that the idea there are “many fine people” amongst Nazis is a popular one. Me? I think they’re all cowardly, worthless, unthinking, monstrous, despicable, utterly-devoid-of-all-value human beings. And it seems that the guys and girls at Machine Games agree with me.
Wolfenstein’s always been about slaughtering Nazis. It has, to be honest, never been about very much else. This latest adventure steps things up a notch by also being about humiliating Nazis. This is apparent from the very beginning. Following on directly from the last game, our hero BJ (hee hee, etc.) has miraculously survived having a building fall on top of him. Far from being completely unscathed, however, he’s lost the use of his legs. When the sub his buddies have taken control of is stormed, he’s stuck in a wheelchair. What is intimated in a very early flashback (and confirmed multiple times later on) is that his mother was Jewish. As a result, the game begins with a crippled Jewish hero (or half-Jewish; how he identifies himself is, sadly, never made clear) easily slaughtering waves of able-bodied, heavily-armoured, heavily-armed Nazis. Interactive humiliation of a most satisfying sort.
Your fascist enemies score a major and gruesome victory early on, but the ridicule is far from over. Sometimes it comes from NPC dialogue, making it worth waiting an extra minute or two before you dispense some more bloody justice. Nazi grunts will often laughably paint themselves as the victims or in some way superior (in pretty much exactly the same way certain morons on Twitter often will). When you’re a little over two-thirds of the way through the story, there’s a very specific, well-written, and important example of humiliating Nazi ideals and regimes… which I shan’t go in detail about. As much as I’d love to discuss it, it’s best experienced going in unaware.
Indeed, there are a few very unexpected twists and turns that the game takes, meaning that you’ll have to be careful of spoilers if you search the interwebs for information on the game. It is not, however, the constant social commentary that the marketing may have led you to believe. You’ve probably seen screenshots or video (such as ours on this here page, perhaps?) of American streets where Nazis and the KKK comfortably stand side-by-side. The “milkshake Nazi” even became a popular topic of discussion. Unfortunately however, all of this takes place within the same very small area that you only pass through on the way to somewhere else. Apart from this one stop, it’s all industrial complexes and ruined streets abandoned apart from cannon fodder.
It’s an alternative 1960s in a world where Hitler won the war, but gameplay remains mostly exactly as you’d expect. That’s not a bad thing, of course. It’s still a ‘90s shooter at heart. Generally speaking you start at the beginning of the level, you need to get to the end of the level, and there are loads of bad guys to kill in between. Graphics are smooth and slick, you can start dual-wielding weapons within minutes of the first cutscene ending, and melee kills are satisfyingly brutal. You’re often given the option of sneaking around and stealthily taking out bad guys one by one, but there’s no shortage of forced firefights. With the occasional huge robot to take on, this isn’t a subtle game. Nor should it be.
There are multiple difficulties to choose from, and the highest ones are completely unforgiving. This really isn’t helped by the fact that the autosave system is, basically, a bit broken. You can manually save at any time, which is great; but you better make sure you remember to take advantage of that. Each autosave is triggered when you reach a certain point no matter what’s going on during play, and there’s no indication that you’re about to walk into one of these hidden tripwires. The game state is autosaved exactly as it is at that moment. This means – as I found out the hard way, multiple times – it’s possible for the game to suddenly save without warning when you’re on the brink of death. It’s no fun to die, reload, and then immediately die again.
Here’s the thing, though. For the first 3-4 hours, I was playing on one of the higher difficulties (as I did all the way through the last two games). Having hit a particularly frustrating section, I kicked it down to the easiest babysitting difficulty, planning to ramp it back up. But I never did. See, so far as the plot is concerned, BJ is an unstoppable Nazi killing machine. It’s only possible to actually play like this if you neuter the opposition. My actions were consistently(ish) tying in with what everybody was saying about BJ, and it was great fun to sweep through hordes of evil gits like a righteous angel of death. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone for the easy option in an FPS and, in this specific instance, I’d highly recommend it.
It’s not the anti-Trump rallying call that you might think it is (and that there are signs the devs may believe it is), and the end is a little anticlimactic. It’s no Orwellian parable. However, it certainly is an expertly made shooter that allows you to kill Nazis to your heart’s content. That’s something we can all get behind.
What’s the bottom line? Story and satire are a little more important this time round, but the bulk of your enjoyment still comes from good ol’ fashioned gunplay.
By Luke Kemp, and thanks to Xbox for the review code!