The Wolfenstein video game story is quite disturbing. It’s built on a fictional alternative history, where the Nazis won World War II. By 1961, they have crushed all opposition and corrupted American culture with “Nazification.” In 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, the American hero BJ Blazkowicz awakens from a coma and helps lead the opposition to the Nazis by gunning them down at every turn. The first-person shooter was one of the finest of the year.
Now the developer, Uppsala, Sweden-based Machine Games, is back with a sequel, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which actually takes place in a pacified America. At the close of 2014’s The New Order, Blazkowicz is victorious, but he is also gravely wounded. The sequel begins some months later, as Blazkowicz is still recovering from his wounds. He awakes in a hospital ward in a warship, and finds that he has to escape from Frau Irene Engel, a former SS commander and now a lieutenant general. She has been scouring the region for him, and one of Blazkowicz’s protectors warns him, “Today, she found you.” But thanks to the friends, Blazcowicz hasn’t been captured just yet, and he attempts to escape the ship crawling with SS soldiers.
As Blazkowicz, you flop out of bed into a wheelchair, and then you have to fight your way out of the hospital. Blazkowicz gets his hands on a machine gun. In the corridors, the Nazi soldiers come for you, but if you are a good shot and take cover, you can take them down. On top of that, Blazkowicz’s allies on the ship has rigged the warship with a lot of different traps. When the soldiers step into an armed trap, electrical bolts turn that soldier into red soup. It’s quite satisfying to flip a lever and then hear an enemy get friend in another corridor.
But you have to be careful moving through the corridors in your wheelchair. The Nazis are more maneuverable, and so you have to find paths — such as conveyor belts — to get around to different parts of the ship.
“It made a lot of sense for the plot because B.J. of course is horrifically injured at the end of the first game,” said Jens Matthies, creative director at MachineGames, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We wanted to acknowledge that as this game starts. But it’s also a testament to B.J.’s willpower. Regardless of his injuries, he’ll find a way to shoot Nazis. The big question was whether we could make the gameplay fun because no one has ever really done wheelchair combat in a first-person game before. But the gameplay people were super enthusiastic, and it came out great.”
The machine guns crackle and rattle when you fire them, making it a joy to shoot Nazis. Matthies said the engine has been rebuilt, and the company has moved on to id Tech 6, a whole generation beyond the id Tech 5 of the original game.
“As far as the first-person experience, we now have a full body model,” Matties said. “You can dual-wield weapons independently. In the first one, you could only dual-wield two of the same weapons. It’s all been rebuilt, basically. We’re happy with how it felt in the first one, though — the movement, the controls. We very much tried to maintain that feel, even though it’s all new tech and new animation.”
After the gameplay was over, I watched a long cinematic, where Blazkowicz emerges at the top of the ship. He finds Frau Engel and her team, who have captured one of Blazkowicz’s comrades. Blazkowicz surrenders, and Engel pulls out an ax. She gives it to her daughter, who looks shy and is the complete opposite of the cruel Engel. She orders her daughter, Sigrun, to chop off the head of Blazkowicz’s friend. The scene ends as she fails to do so.
The idea of putting America under Nazi control is the subject of other popular media, such as The Man in the High Castle, a TV show with its roots in a Philip K. Dick novel.
“In many ways this story, for Colossus, is a lot more personal for B.J. Part of that is going back to the homeland, his homeland, and seeing what the Nazis have done to it,” Matthies said. “That’s a powerful thing. It’s also super interesting because the game takes place in the early 1960s, so all that ’50s and ‘60s Americana — you see how the Nazis make that a part of their propaganda machine.”