7 Years Later, Remembering The Narrative Brilliance of Wolfenstein: The New Order
Back when it was first announced, expectations for Wolfenstein: The New Order were rather muted. The franchise had been rebooted with little success before, and a fledgling studio like MachineGames weren’t guaranteed to step up to the plate and deliver a homerun that would leave us speechless. Despite this, that’s exactly what the studio did. Wolfenstein: The New Order proved to be one the most immersive shooter experiences in years, taking the most generic premise in genre history and morphing it into a nuanced, introspective narrative that wasn’t afraid to pull any punches, especially if said punches were being hurled into a Nazi’s face.
I think part of The New Order’s success was a willingness to subvert expectations, taking the original generic protagonist and transforming him into a sympathetic hero with trauma, history, and motivations that all felt genuine. B.J. Blazkowicz is still all about murdering fascists and saving America, but he performs such acts with a surprising element of grace. Fighting for his country in World War Two and waking up to a world where the enemy had won and enslaved the human race awakened something in him – a flame of resistance that never truly died. Now, he was ready to pass this torch onto a growing resistance movement and take his country, and soon, the world back from fascist control.
Wolfenstein’s relevance in our own cultural zeitgeist would grow in relevance with the election of Donald Trump and the resurgence of far-right voices from across the globe, with Bethesda leaning into the demonisation of such bigots in the game’s marketing. As it should, such individuals have no place in our society and must be snuffed out, and it’s fun to watch them grow angry about a game which literally involves the attempted assasination of Adolf Hitler. Maybe such people should take a step back and make sure they’re on the right side of things.
But I’m not here to talk about that today, I instead want to touch on the beauty of storytelling in Wolfenstein: The New Order and how it tackled such things in a way that shooters never really had before. It begins beautifully, detailing our hero’s final stand against the Nazi menace before being plunged into a coma for decades. Through his own haunting narration, we catch a glimpse of time passing by, watching as the world falls into fascist control as soldiers march into the hospital he calls home, eager to take patients away for twisted experiments and push staff away like they’re nothing. It’s a bleak sequence, and things quickly take a turn for the worse as fascists do what fascists do best – they start killing people.
The Nazis picked a bad time to start shooting, since within seconds Blazkowicz awakens, ready to blast away any and all Aryan fools who dare stand against him. Ignoring the realities of muscle atrophy that would come with decades in a coma, this is a striking introduction of Wolfenstein’s vision of alternate history. For Blazkowicz, the flame never went out, and now its embers are emboldened by the fuel of vengeance. Upon escaping the hospital, one of my favourite cutscenes in the entire franchise plays out.
Blazkowicz and Anya are driving away from the bloody hospital, a fierce acoustic guitar strumming away in the background that echoes the anger and frustration of our growing ensemble cast. Society has been thrown into disarray, but in its wake has risen a thirst for revenge, a hunger for taking back what was so unfairly stolen from this world and replaced with nothing but hate. It’s a brief exchange, but one that bonds two souls together in a fight against insurmountable odds. The future doesn’t hold much hope, but it’s still something to fight for.
Wolfenstein is a master at building up hype, making you cheer for its characters as they seek to overthrow fascist overlords in service of something better. They are fighting against an evil any reasonable person can root against, and MachineGames’ expresses this passion for righteous revolution in a way that has me punching the air, grinning with satisfaction as I reload my virtual shotgun before blasting it into a Nazi’s gut. The writing remains tonally inconsistent, not knowing when to put aside jokes in favour of dramatic poignancy, but it’s still worth writing home about, and I hope the trilogy closes off with a sufficient bang.
Sequels would provide further glimpses at decades warped by the Nazi Empire, iconic music, imagery, and symbols of culture changed by this twisted new world. The Civil Rights movement and similar touchstones are also brought into the spotlight, receiving new context and meaning in the midst of a world defined by fascist ideology. These circumstances only make the fight for what’s right all the more alluring, demonising the enemy until they are little more than monsters to be eradicated – a task that Blazkowicz is more than happy to take on.
I’m not sold on the narrative direction of Youngblood, which appeared to imply that Adolf Hitler has already been killed yet the Nazi’s still reign supreme, ridding the successor to New Colossus of so much dramatic weight in the process. Despite this, I still hope MachineGames is cooking up a thunderous conclusion to its Wolfenstein trilogy, ready and willing to give our hero and his lovable cast of ensemble cast the conclusion they truly deserve.
This unexpected reboot showed that shooters are capable of more when it comes to story and characters, and they can carry a message that resonates with modern audiences in a way many never would have expected. If we’re lucky, the writing team will work on their tonal issues and Mick Gordon will return for one more glorious soundtrack, since I doubt the stakes would feel as high without his oppressive acoustic sounds underpinning the action. If you’ve yet to jump into this new iteration of Wolfenstein I can’t recommend it enough, and its seventh birthday is the perfect time to do so. Let’s celebrate together and kill some Nazis!
Next: I Can’t Believe The Original Drakengard Got Away With So Much
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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously Gaming Editor over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.
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