Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order

"A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me."

- Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus (excerpt)

The date is July 16, 1946. The Nazi war machine has managed to turn the tide of the war into their favor using unprecedented technology. The shattered remains of the Allied forces mount a final desperate attack on the fortress of the man widely believed to be behind the unexpected turn of the war - General Wilhelm Strauss, better known as Totenkopf.

William Blazkowicz sleeps soundly in one of the planes, dreaming of a future that he will never have.

In my dream I smell the barbecue. I hear children, a dog, and I see someone. These things - none of it for me. I move among roaring engines. Among warriors. We come from the night.

It has been a little more than two decades since Wolfenstein broke into the gaming scene and kickstarted the age of first-person shooters. Like most game genres during those days, shooters never really aspired to be more than their namesake, be it for the lack of a proper storyboard or (perhaps more importantly) due to technical limitations.

In a nod to its predecessors, Wolfenstein: The New Order puts a different play on an age-old trops for shooters: the silent protagonist. The era of silent heroes is slowly fading out. Iconic characters like Gordon Freeman (or even the Doomguy), who encouraged immersion through their lack of dialogue, have long been missing in development limbo.

They grieve for their dead. Such raw sorrow. Can't partake. Mine would flood oceans. I would drown, before I let it out.

Blazkowicz, in the twenty-plus-year span that he has spent hunting down Nazis the world over, is an interesting case. The writers of The New Order found a way to circle around the trope without completely ignoring it by using minimal dialogue and plenty of internal monologues.

Somehow, it worked. Blazkowicz has aged well and has turned from a Nazi-killing machine into an insightful, deeply introspective Nazi-killing machine.

Steel. Stone. Concrete for miles. I wonder if there's anything in this world worth saving. Desolation. Tyranny. Enemy of endless might. I wonder if I have any friends left standing. If it comes down to it, I'll find them. And I promise you this. Friends. If this is where they're keeping you, I will find you and set you free.

Lampshading is an awfully difficult thing to pull off in games. This is especially true for when one wants to depict an alternate history, where the circumstances of a certain universe has to change and has enough material to tear open gaping plotholes that would take miracles to fix. Wolfenstein is one such game, as its designers wanted to reboot the series while somehow retaining elements of its predecessors' stories.

Hence, the fourteen-year gap was called for, where Blazkowicz was rendered a vegetable after the atrocious events of the game's opening level.

Fourteen years is a lifetime, and it made the ominous world-building a lot easier to take in. They say history is written by the victors, and the Third Reich didn't pull any stops in the New Order. This was heavily reflected upon on the game's portrayal of London, which has been torn down and rebuilt in the image of its new masters. Many of us who've had even a passing interest in world history would immediately recognize the looming feeling of oppression as Blazkowicz traversed the concrete landscape, adorned by the all too familiar red, black and gray color scheme of the enemy.

Perhaps most symbolic of this was the London Nautica, a massive research facility which served as a major setpiece and was deeply symbolic of the Reich whose unchallenged might threatened to sap the hope out of a subjugated free world.

The things I've seen in this life. Strange shit that churns your stomach. Turns your hair white. I've seen a thousand battles. I've seen the sun set on five different continents. I've seen dust rise off the surface of the moon. But all I want is to see you again.

Thus, hope was implied to be a scarce commodity in The New Order's world. Amidst the gore and the explosions, it's easy to miss the fact that the resistance (called the Kreisau Circle) was not attempting to topple the Reich but rather sought to merely take out a small part of it. They were more driven by a personal vendetta against Totenkopf, rather than good intentions, with most of everything else playing second fiddle.

With that being said, MachineGames provided ample commentary on the Nazi's ideologies. We are shown characters broken by the war, as well as unfortunate victims of their regime's crimes against humanity.

Set Roth, the Jewish scholar who was a member of the Da'at Yichud, summed it up pretty well. He said that human faith and reason should be accompanied by doubt when they seek enlightenment. He added that the Reich was the product of a society founded on the notion of absolute certainty and unquestioned conviction. He kept doubts in his beliefs and posited that if their situation was a test from the heavens, then humanity was failing gloriously.

I still wonder whether he was talking to the protagonist, or to us.

It's agony to dream like this and wake up to reality. Sometimes, true, it's good to remember what you're fighting for.

With everything said, I believe Wolfenstein: The New Order is not just an excellent game, but a rather gripping story told with memorable characters. The Second World War has been the subject of countless games for a very long time, and The New Order somehow manages to stand out above the rest without trying to enter an already bloated multiplayer market.

Twenty years, and Blazkowicz is alive and well.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:24 AM

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