This game should not exist.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a huge triple-A game published by an even bigger company. It is the latest entry in a franchise that, in a lot of ways, was the original franchise of the industry and, as a consequence, had long been relegated to the part of the brain reserved for things waiting to be forgotten. And it is audacious, unapologetic, thoughtful, and fucking insane.
It hedges nothing. And it shouldn’t. It takes the very basic, universally accepted truth that Nazis are bad and should be eradicated and builds upon it, which is a strangely bold decision given our current global political climate where two of the largest nations in the world are working together to tear it asunder with an orange homunculus and an actual Eastern Bloc villain leading the racist, sexist, truth-denying charge.
And as if that wasn’t enough, this game wants to do the impossible. Chief among those accomplishments include turning a character that started out as a little square in MS-DOS into a three dimensional and wholly tragic entity, showing a genuine and unabashed love for its characters in a way few stories—let alone games—even hint at, and several completely jaw-dropping moments forced me to walk away and lay on the floor as I pondered my existence.
Though some of those moments are crafted largely for cratering your lower mandible into the goddamn floor, there are others that serve a greater, tremendous purpose. The introduction to Grace Walker, for instance, is powerful in its own right. The scene brings a black woman to the screen breastfeeding her child while at the same time leading a resistance and taking immediate charge over the conversation with a white, square-jawed freight train of blood and violence—the evergreen image of uninspired heroism. And as the story goes on, she is given depth and pain and, most memorably, a subtly impactful opportunity to show her definition of sacrifice—of duty.
In fact, it’s so rare that B.J. Blazkowicz is the highlight of the story; it’s more that he is the conduit through which the story happens, and that is a beautiful thing. (Wyatt’s exploration, for example, of his continued existence is heartbreaking.) But when it does revolve around him, it does so with aplomb. The entire sequence where he returns home to Mesquite, Texas, is wholly forlorn with peaks of a warm, encouraging embrace before culminating in a perfect encapsulation of just how little it takes to break the truly vile from whatever vestiges of compassion they may hold.
And then it puts you in a firefight with robot assassins in a tumbling house a mile high in the air.
This is not just a game of capital-M Moments. It uses them to say something—something bigger than itself or its own singular story. It uses Hitler himself—an inevitability, really—to comment on how fragile power can make a person, sure, but also how everyone allied with that person is complicit in both the good and absolutely heinous evil done with the throne. Fear, paranoia, apathy. All of those and more are what allow something so objectively despicable to rise.
Power, after all, is not the ability to destroy. It’s when no one dares speak up to someone that pisses in a fucking bucket right in front of you just because he can. This is a relentless, pitiless explosion of ideas matched only by its ability to follow through on every single one of them. The throwaway bits, the misdirection, the grand pedestal display moments. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a rare game that aims for the moon and sticks the landing, and that’s why it’s our number five game of the year.