Wolfenstein: The New Colossus improves on everything you liked in the franchise's soft reboot, 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order. The action, set pieces, characters and writing are all sharper this time around. So is the thoughtful terror in the alternate universe's setting. After striking a blow in Europe against the global Nazi regime in the first game, The New Colossus brings protagonist BJ Blazkowicz and his anti-Nazi crew back to the US — where they find many Americans have gleefully accepted Nazi rule.
The nominal antagonist, the maniacal Frau Engel, returns from the first game to hound and torture BJ and the resistance, reaching new heights in brutality that'll inspire some serious Nazi-killing vengeance in players. But it's a Reich-compliant America that looms larger as a haunting vision of what-if horror. In one sequence, BJ tours a sparkling American town strewn with happy citizens cheering a parade of Nazis. Players walk past a pair of hooded KKK acolytes sucking up to Nazi soldier, but they can also stroll around to watch an American woman flirt with an officer by praising Nazi bigotry. The deeply twisted Nazi doctrine has saturated — and been embraced by — the people in town, from the aunt who tells her niece she'll have slaves up for auction, to cinemagoers who say they're glad for the pro-Nazi movies playing instead of the Hollywood 'filth.'
Which all seems timely in the wake of Nazis marching in America's real-world streets, but the timing was coincidental: "The game and its content were well along the path to completion, and no one from MachineGames or Bethesda could have predicted Nazis marching down American streets in 2017. Even talking about it now seems ludicrous," Bethesda Softworks' VP of Marketing Pete Hines toldGlixel. Of course, Bethesda leaned into the unfortunate resurrection of Nazis on American streets with an anti-Nazi marketing campaign leading up to The New Colossus' release, and MachineGames even slipped in a few suspiciously timely easter eggs into the game, but the game's plot was finalized years ago. Nevertheless, players have criticized Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, the game in a 25-year-old franchise about Nazi killing, for cashing in on topical events and brought down the game's Metacritic score.
Nazi soldiers are cartoonish antagonists from a bygone era that the free world defeated seventy years ago. But an America complying with — and embracing — life under Nazism is hits a little too close to home.
This isn't just a reference how much the Nazi party and Hitler himself were inspired by the American eugenics movement. Or that Nazism took root in America thereafter, culminating in a 25,000-strong crowd at a Nazi rally in New York City's Madison Square Garden. Or that revivalist Nazis walk arm-in-arm with white supremacist groups today, in 2017. Instead the America of The New Colossus is an extreme (and hopefully absurd) example of what Americans might sacrifice to protect their positions -- namely, each other.
Like its predecessor, The New Colossus tucks world lore into letters and postcards strewn throughout the game. In one, the Nazis seem just as baffled that many Americans have about-faced to embrace the regime. Sometimes the Americans dress up their complicity as pragmatism, like the mother who teaches her young child German because he'll 'need it in the future.' But others, like the Klansmen, enjoy the Nazi overlordship because it sanctions their bigotry and feelings of supremacy. Some will sell out their country for safety, and others to secure a position of superiority, oblivious to the irony of living under an occupying force.
Today, there are Americans openly marching in streets under Nazi flags. The loose coalition of like-minded white supremacists groups might be plagued with infighting, but The New Colossus argues that you don't need powerful traitors to destroy the country. In the game, after America surrendered to the unstoppable Nazi onslaught, resistance was crippled once the already-privileged secured their comfort by consenting to Nazi rule. It doesn't take fifth columnists to destroy the American way -- just people who will sacrifice others to carve out some compromised luxury.
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- This article originally appeared on Engadget.