‘Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ Reminded Me Why I Love America
Small human moments breathe life into a game about brutalizing Nazis
This post contains extensive spoilers for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
Somewhere between blowing up Area 52 and burying a hatchet in the face of a Nazi Obergruppenführer, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus reminded me why I love the United States of America. That’s how good it is.
Wolfenstein II is the newest entry in the long-running video-game franchise about murdering Nazis. It’s a first-person shooter where the player takes control of B.J. Blazkowicz on his endless quest to rid the world of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.
The newest game is direct sequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, which imagines an alternate reality where Germany won World War II and conquered the world. It’s Man in the High Castle with cathartic, skull-shattering violence.
The first game was an entirely European affair. The sequel follows Blazkowicz as he brutalizes Nazis across the United States while building a resistance movement of like-minded Americans. The game’s a lot of fun and chopping Nazis in the crotch doesn’t get old, but it’s the moments between the violence that make it memorable … and filled me with the warm fuzzies for my country.
I love America, even when it disappoints me — and it’s disappointed me a lot this past year. The American experiment contains the extremes of the human experience—we’re the best and worst of everything.
Our bellies are full of cheap food, revolution rests on our lips and big bold dreams inflame our brains. We mastered empire, filled televisions with high drama and reality T.V. schlock and proved—repeatedly—that anyone with a dream and work ethic, or Daddy’s money, can rise to the top.
I still believe those things. I believe that America is a place where a person who doesn’t speak the language can immigrate and build a better life. I believe that our democracy and its principals are beautiful, absurd and just the right amount of dangerous. The relentless horror of the past year’s new cycle has made it hard, but I still believe.
What makes Wolfenstein II so special is that it shows what Americans can do and be when they’re at their best. Its cast of characters are a motley cross-section of the American experience banding together to destroy fascism. It’s beautiful, grotesque, absurd and complicated. Just like America. I love it dearly.
The United States of Wolfenstein II is one that’s beaten and bruised. It’s 1961, more than a decade into German occupation, and the Nazis have teased out all the worst parts of the American spirit. Slavery is back, the KKK controls the South and Americans fill their days with bad television meant to teach them the German language. It’s a sad state Blazkowicz finds his country in when he returns home.
But there are pockets of resistance and the hero spends the first half of the game rallying those people to his cause. There’s Grace Walker—the bad-ass black nationalist hiding her team of hackers and revolutionaries in the bombed out husk of Manhattan, Super Spesh—a crazed lawyer turned conspiracy theorist who thinks the Nazis are in cahoots with Aliens, and Horton Boone—a priest of dubious ordination who channels Eugene V. Debs and champions the working man.
Between missions, players can spend time getting to know these side characters and their stories. That’s where Wolfenstein shines. One of Grace’s radicals relates the Nazi nuking of New York in a poignant, staccato monologue that sounds as good as anything produced during the Harlem Renaissance.
The crew’s Parisian bartender will relate the story of her time in a Nazi-run asylum if the player has the patience to stick and and hear her story. The game is full of small moments like this, moments of world-building and character that are too easy to miss.
But it’s how these people of different backgrounds and philosophies come together, mix, disagree and still get the job done that’s really inspiring. The scene late in the game where Blazkowicz meets Boone for the first time is a great example. Boone is a hardcore socialist with anarchist friends and Blazkowicz is a Texan, patriot and war hero. They decide to settle their differences over whisky.
The pair sit down, listening to jazz as Nazis fire on their hiding space, while they hash out their differences.
“I respect your ambition … but there’s nothing can be done no more,” Boone tells Blazkowicz. “The world is sank into the crapper and all we can do now is drink this whiskey and watch the vortex suck it all down … we’ve been fighting for a revolution since long before the Nazis came here. We were the first to start building a civil rights movement and to advocate equality for everyone. You know the concept of civil rights? No you don’t. Yer just a jar-head, ain’t ya?”
“Buddy, I laid my life on the line for freedom, justice and the American way while you are your bohemian friends were passing out Bolshevik propaganda and opposing the draft on every street corner,” Blazkowicz responds. “What good is your fucking equality, you can’t muster the backbone to stick up for your people while the coyote is scratching at your front door?”
The pair go back and forth, obviously disagreeing, but united by their love of whiskey and their hatred of fascism. In one five-minute scene the player watches as a socialist and a conservative find common ground, get shit-house drunk and become friends. It’s so damn American it made me want to go to McDonald’s, buy a gun and vote in a local election.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is full of these moments, big and small. It takes players from the streets of Louisiana, to the irradiated wasteland that was once New York City and a small farmhouse in Mesquite, Texas where a man faces his fears. It’s an American story and one that reminded me what that means, why it’s good and why it’s worth fighting for.
I needed that in 2017. I needed to brutalize Nazis and remember why I love this dumb, wonderful country.