Experienced Points: Wolfenstein is Better Than it Needs to Be

By Shamus
on Jun 10, 2014
Filed under:
Column

My column this week can be neatly summarized by the title. I suppose we can haggle over how good it “needed” to be. In which case you can mentally rename the column to “better than I expected”. I won’t mind.

The more I think about it, the more Wolfenstein is reminding me of the recent Tomb Raider reboot: Solid mechanics, solid premise, wonderful environments, uncertain message and completely muddled tone. Both games try to simultaneously decry and celebrate their violent nature. I guess I’ll give Wolfenstein credit for not having Sam in it.

One final note is the ending, which I can’t discuss without spoilers. Stop reading now if you’re worried about that sort of thing.

So BJ dies. Probably. The game is kind of gutless about it, but it’s pretty clear he’s face-down when he orders the nuke strike. That should be certain death, but then again he just took a grenade to the face, so it’s already cheating to have him alive at all. I’m sure the fade-out is so the devs can concoct some nonsense escape if the opportunity for a sequel presents itself. Like I said: Gutless.

As a matter of taste, I’m not huge on sad endings. I avoid sad or tragic movies. They tend to stick with me and kill my enthusiasm and creativity for a couple of days, which is never a good thing. Once in a while a tragic game slips through and I try to judge it on its own merits. The Walking Dead ended exactly the way it needed to. So did Spec Ops: The Line.

I don’t think it works here, though. Yes, they telegraphed it from the start. Early on BJ was having dreams about living life in the suburbs of 1960’s America, and when he woke up he always talked about how that life was never going to be his. (In my personal head-canon, I imagine he’s dreaming of the alternate timeline – our timeline – where the Nazis lost and he got to go home and live a normal life.) It would have felt wrong for him to kill the bad guy and then go home to backyards and barbecues. At the same time, I really dislike a tragic ending in something this action-driven and pulpy. It’s like having a tragic ending to Duke Nukem, Serious Sam, or Doom. I don’t like it when my power fantasy games end on a note of hopelessness and powerlessness.

But what we have here is the worst of both worlds. It ends on a down note, but then doesn’t commit to it. I was denied my triumphant payoff for all my hard work, but the devs made sure they weren’t denied the chance to make more games. If they had at least committed to it I might respect it as an artistic decision, but as it stands it’s just shallow and cynical.

It doesn’t ruin the game or anything. I still started a second play-through and I still had a great time. But as far as I’m concerned the game did not earn that ending.

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From the Archives:

  1. Tizzy says:

    I think brief cutscenes can be OK. Being in first person all the time can get boring, so a well-directed outside view can do wonders for the pacing. I never bought into the HL2 strictly no cutscenes stance, that had me miss important exposition at times.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Technically,half life(all of them)has cutscenes aplenty.Its just that you dont lose control during any of them,but are free to dick around and look wherever.

      • Tizzy says:

        My point exactly. I don’t know that because I am never looking at the right thing, so my cutscenes are sound-only. (“Oh shit, something is happening somewhere.”)

        So that’s why I wanted to insist on the term “directed”, preferably well. Have a movie director type who wants to show me something very specific. Just, you know, brief. Preferably without dialogue, too.

      • chiefnewo says:

        It also means you can’t skip the damn things! That’s one thing pre-rendered cutscenes have over in-engine cutscenes, developers are more likely to allow you to skip them.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Hahahahaha.If only it were so,this thing wouldnt be on my list here.

          But yes,both of those have their advantages/disadvantages.Prerendered ones can be skipped and paused(seriously,more developers need to implement both of those features,because they are damn useful),but in game ones can be sometimes skipped altogether(which can be also a flaw if you do it by accident).Ultimately,it depends on how you implement them and what you use them for.A good cutscene will be good regardless of whether it was prerendered or not.

    • kdansky says:

      It’s not cutscenes per se, it’s what happens in them I believe:

      Timing: Cutscene early when starting a new game: Annoying, because I want to start playing the game*. Cutscene at the end, or after a few hours? Yeah, sure, I’m ready for a break.

      Length: Twenty seconds? Sure. Two minutes? Fine. Ten minutes: I’d rather not. Metal Gear Solid two hours: Nope.

      Content: Minus points:
      – Having my character act.
      – Having my character act in a way that I could have played instead.
      – Having my character act stupidly.
      – Having my character act in a way that I would like to be able to during actual game play, but can’t.
      – Switching perspectives.

      Plus points:
      – Showing stuff that’s not visible to my character.
      – Showing stuff that my character could see, but I would miss due to game limitations (e.g. looking through a microscope or a close-up of the rocket launch outside).

      • Halceon says:

        There’s a good thing I actually noticed in Wolfenstein. Its cutscenes end earlier than most games. I.e., you swoop in with a helicopter, get a look of the area, but you’re still in the heli when the cutscene ends. You can use its guns and decide to jump out whenever is convenient for you.

  2. somePunk says:

    It’s obvious they did this to keep his ending open for a sequel.

    Sure, It’s the Lone Ranger ending but it also leaves room for a comeback.

    I just wish they did a stronger story ending like Singularity.

  3. Eathanu says:

    The nice thing about Spec Ops is that it had like five good endings. All of them worked (that I remember).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      All of them just as sad and depressing.Especially the ones where you live(and it was 4 of them).

      • Decius says:

        Four? There’s where you die (one by your own pistol, one if you attack the rescue group and lose), and three where you live that I know of (Drop your weapon, have it taken without fighting, and fight the rescue group and win).

        What’s the fourth?

        (Oh and there’s also the ending you get if you stop playing.)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          If you shoot yourself you get one narration,if you get killed in the fight thats another,if you win the fight thats the third,and if you get taken away thats fourth.

  4. rofltehcat says:

    Well, it also seems that Frau Engel also escapes at the end. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some DLC later on in which the resistance fighters realise that their nukes didn’t go off because that character prevents it somehow and BJ has to scrape himself up again.

  5. Ilseroth says:

    I haven’t played TNO, though I plan to when I get the cash or it goes on sale on steam. That being said, not to upset about reading a spoiler but then end is… Like the rest of the game, an issue of Ludo-narrative Dissonance. *pays 5 dollars to Chris*

    Personally,I really don’t think any game should do this unless it is core to the message of their storyline and gameplay combined. As you said, Walking Dead ended as it did because both the storyline and gameplay focus on transitioning power to Clem and the eventuality of, and dealing with, death.

    But while Wolfenstein does explore a more gritty storyline, based on what you have said about it; the story doesn’t really cover this issue and the gameplay speaks directly to the contrary of it. The fact that it fades to black to avoid even showing it is even worse. Not just because it is a cheap method to allow for sequels; but because it shows that they honestly knew it was the wrong ending, they just couldn’t do a better one at the time.

    They are delaying the actual having to think and plan a better ending and resolution for a later date, if at all; and that is just plan lazy.

    • Unless a sequel is already planned (but not announced), basically the sales of this game is financing the sequel. It sucks for the gamers (cliffhanger or ambiguous endings) but is safer for the developer.

      My guestimate is there will be a direct sequel picking up at a short time after. If you got the money to burn, get the game. If you are in a pinch, save the purchase for when the sequel comes out and get them both (with the former at a discount I assume).

      The game is good, it’s not great, but it’s good. (I think I’m echoing Chris from the recent Diecast there.) which means you should get your moneys worth, which is more than you get with some other AAA games these days.

      • Ilseroth says:

        While I am certain I would get my moneys worth if I bought it at full price. I have no income. I am a college student and my budget for gaming is extremely minimal. The reasoning behind delaying purchase was purely my financial hardship rather then belief in the games value.

        I actually just found out that I got a free copy of Windwaker HD for buying Mario Kart 8… I didn’t even realize that I had gotten value but certainly not complaining.

      • Zombie says:

        I don’t really mind the way the ending is done. On the one hand, if TNO had failed and no one wanted it, people hated it, the story ends with B.J. Blazkowicz dead, and Wolfenstein as a series is dead. However, if TNO did well, which I’m pretty sure it did, they leave the door open a little for sequels/DLC a la Burial at Sea (I hope). If they want B.J. to be dead, hes dead. They want him to live, he lives.

        I hope he lives. Frau Engel is a MUCH worse villain then Deathshead, and there was way more buildup to fight her. I mean you freaking kill he boyfriend right in front of her when it was suppost to be his moment of ultimate triumph, plus the whole train and concentration camp scenes; the whole game built up to killing her, and instead you fight Deathshead. So I really want to come back as B.J., or heck, even Anya, beat her, and then get my final tragic/happy ending.

    • Halceon says:

      I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      The way I see it, the ludic story isn’t just “Shoot dudes, feel power”. It’s about obstacles trying to take power away from you. The times when you (are forced to) do something dumb, because “things can be solved with shooting dudes”, and get captured, incapacitated, stabbed and/or poisoned become ever more frequent. Building to an idea that there will eventually be something big enough to stop the power fantasy.
      So the fadeout keeps the fantasy intact, while emphasizing the “eventually” part.

      I’m still 70% sure it’s a setup for a sequel. But, you know, one can dream.

  6. The ending is surely sequel bait.
    My guess, his girlfriend the nurse saves him somehow.

    Also, BJ did kind of get blow up/drowned/stabbed several times in the past,. I don’t see how a close proximity nuke is going to be a long term issue, BJ is like Captain America and Wolverine in one at times.
    It would be fitting if he said “And that was the 4th time I died…” even. (a lil’ “Unskippable” nod there)
    It is a shame your early “who should live?” choice did not come back to haunt you here.
    There is no shame in having a canon ending (for a sequel) and a non-canon ending (just for the player), old KoTOR did this (I know I always bring that up).
    Maybe not shooting the big bad could have been a choice that affected the end cutscene etc. *shrug*

    As far as I’m concerned the game ended not as much on a downer as it did on a cliffhanger.
    I never liked cliffhangers. If a TV series then I prefer the season arc ends with the season finale (if it’s a series arc it carried over to multiple seasons like the Supernatural series does sometimes).
    A few TV series do this and avoid leaving the viewer wondering what the hell happened next; and then the series is canceled. or in the case of a game the sequel is never made (I’m looking at you Valve).
    People like closure, one can only hope that the lack of a explicit closure for BJ (though one is implied) means that a sequel is actually in the works, after all the Nazi/Facists (for you Germans gamers) regime is still not fully destroyed, it is heavily wounded but not yet fallen, this could even be a potential trilogy.

    Also, I noticed on The Escapist article that somebody mentioned QTE was in the game. This is not true.
    A QWE is fucking annoying, this is a QTE:

    Quickly press the letter/symbol that we just flashed you in a awkward place in the screen and no you can’t focus on the action itself at the same time.
    Quickly press this symbol/key, nope that’s wrong, we changed it to a different key now, it does the same thing though.
    Quickly press the symbol/key, haha we changed it again, you pressed the wrong key.

    As I said, fucking annoying, some even involve sequences of presses and the order is of keys/symbols are changed up each time. There is only one way to pull the trigger in real life, you never play a simon says game run by an asshole to do so do you?

    In Wolfenstein (2014, I’m gonna keep calling it that as it’s sort of a reboot) the few user action events for a lack of better term, is not QTE.
    They are more like choices. Do you act now or do you wait? Do you kill this en enemy or not? How long do you wish to risk waiting? Which of these two do you wish to sacrifice?

    They make sense in the context and are not annoying, could a few of them have been done a little differently? Maybe, but I can’t really remember them as annoying so for me it’s ok. I do remember that trying to shake off those damn robotcyberdogs was damn annoying though.

    If I can hit the key/button used for attack to attack, or the move button to move, then that is not a QTE. QTE is Simon says made by a sadist.

    PS! Shamus, “uncertain message and and completely” got a double and there at the start of this bog post.

  7. TouToTheHouYo says:

    Doom ended with the utter destruction of the UAC forces on Phobos, Earth invaded by demons, cities on fire and your pet rabbit decapitated on a stick…

    Doom 2 ended with the demon invasion abated but civilization otherwise devastated. …and the decapitated head of John Romero on a stick.

    Doom 3 ended with everyone but the player dead, the impending demonic invasion momentarily postponed, and the UAC having learned nothing from the experience, only to muck everything up again in the expansion. And the decapitated head of the Evil Scientist Guy on a stick/as the tongue of some creepy demon-wyvern-thing.

    You’re not exactly much of a hero in those games…

    • Eathanu says:

      Your name is definitely a Touhou reference and probably a raocow reference and that makes me happy.

    • Bryan says:

      And the Doom 3 RoE expansion ended with the main ally almost-assuredly-dead, the player almost-assuredly-dead (I’m still thinking that voiceover right at the end was some sort of vague afterlife), the UAC not learning anything, and the decapitated head of the Evil Scientist Guy having just eaten some ancient powerful artifact that *probably* killed him too.

      So, looking ever so slightly up? Maybe? Except for the player, of course…

  8. The Illusive Man can just bring him back to fight for Cerberus.

  9. Paul Spooner says:

    This sounds like it’s worthwhile! I wish I was interested at all in point-and-click gunplay games… Any chance seeing the next season of Spoiler Warning heading in this direction?

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Im not sure about all of your points,but wasnt the previous wolfenstein fulfilling them all,and yet that was an extremely dull and forgettable game.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    ” but then again he just took a grenade to the face, so it’s already cheating to have him alive at all. ”

    Considering that thats how it works during gameplay,its actually the opposite of cheating.

  12. krellen says:

    I really liked that line about the hat business, Shamus.

  13. kdansky says:

    I didn’t understand it ten years ago, and I don’t get it now: Why do you need to have the main character survive for a sequel? If anything, switching protagonist makes for a better experience anyway! You get a free pass on switching stuff up, you get extra background info (all that happened in the first game), and you don’t annoy new players who can’t follow the plot.

  14. AJax says:

    I’ll say that I was surprised by how much I dug Wolfenstein. Easily one of my favorite shooters in the last few years. Really fantastic feeling weapons and combat.

    Also, I appreciate that it didn’t do the Half-Life thing where people would dump exposition on you inside a locked room. I like those characters but if I’m in the 12th playthrough of the game I kinda just want to skip the story stuff I already know about. I liked how Wolfenstein put the important exposition in skippable cutscenes. Makes the pacing much better.

  15. Rax says:

    Interestingly one of my main gripes with the game was their treatment of geography. Characters (read: known criminals, prison escapees and other such people) seem to regularly stroll happily from Berlin to London. You know, through 4 Nazi occupied countries and across the freaking channel.

    This gets really bad later in the game after defeating the London Monitor. So Klaus loads you in his car and you learn about the resistance HQ in Berlin being attacked, fade to loadscreen and suddenly you’re crashing into some Nazis in Berlin in the same car, the attack still going on.

    Even assuming our modern road network, the Eurotunnel existing and our heroes not being stopped by Nazis at any point Google maps tells me that’s an 11 hour drive.
    So the surviving resistance fighters have been hiding in the hangar for 11 hours? Mecha dogs and Nazis unable to find them? What about J or the “beautiful mind”-girl whose name I’ve forgotten, the Nazis waited 11 hours for you to arrive before breaking down their door?

    • Halceon says:

      I’m pretty sure Klaus was supposed to pick you up in one of those snazzy helicopters. So I justified is as you learning of the attack in-flight. That’s why you couldn’t just land in the area and instead had to grab a car from elsewhere in Berlin.

      Thinking back, I’m not sure if the later scene in the hangar confirms or denies this – didn’t pay much attention.

  16. Mersadeon says:

    The biggest plot hole that annoyed me is: THE NAZIS CONQUERED THE WORLD. Killing Deathshead isn’t going to change that. They are a resistance movement, but they are implied to be a tiny minority. There is a lot of inertia – even if they somehow killed the entire cadre of leaders in the regime the Nazis wouldn’t just disappear. This would be a tiny victory. The Nazis don’t just FORGET how to build superweapons just because you killed the scientist that invented (or adapted) them.

  17. Phantos says:

    As a matter of taste, I’m not huge on sad endings. I avoid sad or tragic movies. They tend to stick with me and kill my enthusiasm and creativity for a couple of days, which is never a good thing. Once in a while a tragic game slips through and I try to judge it on its own merits. The Walking Dead ended exactly the way it needed to. So did Spec Ops: The Line.

    Going through life wanting only happy endings is the saddest thing I can think of. I’d rather a story have a gut-punch than to be gutless.

    Or as Jon Graham put it:

    “I don’t like sad movies.” Eat a c***. Movies that have you leaving the theater feeling like a complete piece of s*** don’t get nearly enough credit. They have you re-entering reality with a marginally uplifting mentality along the lines of ‘life sucks, but things could be worse’…

    …I need to see more sad moves. I want sad movies occupying every single box office slot. Starting tomorrow.

    • Shamus says:

      ” I’d rather a story have a gut-punch than to be gutless.”

      That’s a false dichotomy. Ending in tragedy isn’t the only way to make a story “real” or “meaningful”.

      “They have you re-entering reality with a marginally uplifting mentality along the lines of ‘life sucks, but things could be worse’…”

      I read the news, thanks. I’m all full up on heartache and anguish. I don’t need to spend my entertainment hours consuming fabricated misery to supplement the steady drip I get from living on this planet.

      Also, I didn’t say I wanted “only happy endings”. I said I don’t like sad (as in: Hopeless defeat and misery) endings. There’s a lot of room in the spectrum between the two.

      • Phantos says:

        Yes, you’re right that there doesn’t need to be GRIMDARK TRAGEDY for a story to be effective. But it sure makes it more interesting.

        Stories where the heroes get everything they want without losing anything to get it are so… dull. It makes the big evil threat seem fangless. If everyone lived, and nothing was learned, then were they in any real danger? And even if a story is tragic or gut-wrenching, I feel like that helps prepare me for the gut-wrenching tragedy of the real world.

        The way fiction is supposed to. I do believe tragedy in fiction helps us. I believe it makes us more aware of and more grateful for the world we live in, as crappy as it can be sometimes. I think if we stop looking for that in our stories, we’re condemning ourselves and our sensibilities to a very pretty cage.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “Yes, you’re right that there doesn’t need to be GRIMDARK TRAGEDY for a story to be effective. But it sure makes it more interesting.”

          Counterpoint:Serbian film.There grimdark just makes the movie stupider,not more interesting.So no,”just add grimdark” does not improve your story automatically.

          “Stories where the heroes get everything they want without losing anything to get it are so… dull.”

          Who says that they have to get everything without a loss?Plenty of stories that have a happy ending involve a low moment where a close one dies.

          “It makes the big evil threat seem fangless.”

          And who says there has to be the big evil for a story to be interesting?Another example:Frozen.

          “If everyone lived, and nothing was learned, then were they in any real danger?”

          Learning nothing=/=no one dies.One more cartoon example:Wall-e.

          “And even if a story is tragic or gut-wrenching, I feel like that helps prepare me for the gut-wrenching tragedy of the real world.”

          Ehh,thats mostly opinion.I disagree,because plenty of great gut wrenching stories(we children from bahnhof zoo,requiem for a dream,spec ops:the line)taught me absolutely nothing I didnt already know,and have not prepared me for anything that I experienced in the future.Yet they were very enjoyable.

          “The way fiction is supposed to.”

          Ummm,no.Fiction is not supposed to do a single thing.It can also be escape from reality,a way to relax,a teaching tool,something to intrigue and make you think,etc,etc.The only thing fiction has to do is be fiction.

          “I do believe tragedy in fiction helps us. I believe it makes us more aware of and more grateful for the world we live in, as crappy as it can be sometimes. I think if we stop looking for that in our stories, we’re condemning ourselves and our sensibilities to a very pretty cage.”

          Youre free to believe that,but not everyone shares your beliefs.But,even with that belief,you have to agree that just because a story is tragic does not make it automatically good.And a bad tragedy achieves nothing(unless it is so bad that it causes laughter,that is).

          • Phantos says:

            I believe fiction should have a purpose, and not just so people can shut off their brains because the news is sad.

            Storytellers shouldn’t be afraid to confront the world through their work. And audiences shouldn’t be afraid to see something that might elicit a powerful human reaction.

            No, the puppy does not have to die. And you can make a good movie with a happy ending. But I feel too many people have BS’d themselves into thinking a sad ending is a BAD ending, and that the only answer is a conclusion to a series of events where things just magically works out. To the point where easy victories in stories are all anyone can taste anymore.

            To actively avoid movies or games that might even hint at being “depressing” is to deny oneself some of the most powerful moments in recorded fiction. To deny yourself the chance to become someone different by witnessing art. It throws away some of the strongest emotional reactions. That’s what it sounded like Shamus was saying at first, and I’m sorry if I overreacted or assumed too much. But this kind of thing is important to me, and it feels like it’s not important to anyone else.

            This might be why so many superhero movies are out lately. “Why bother facing my problems, or the problems of society? Just let Spiderman figure it out.”

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              “I believe fiction should have a purpose, and not just so people can shut off their brains because the news is sad.”

              Sure,it doesnt have to be just escapism.But it also doesnt have to be the opposite either.It can be either of the two,or none of them,or both.Its fiction,and you can enjoy it for whatever reason you want.

              “Storytellers shouldn’t be afraid to confront the world through their work. And audiences shouldn’t be afraid to see something that might elicit a powerful human reaction.”

              Laughter and joy are powerful emotions as well.And thinking that one of them is better or more real is silly.Its also silly to think that someone is wrong just because they prefer one over the other.

              “But I feel too many people have BS’d themselves into thinking a sad ending is a BAD ending, ”

              See,thats silly.Just because someone prefers a happy ending doesnt mean they are BSing themselves.They may just have different taste than you.

              “and that the only answer is a conclusion to a series of events where things just magically works out. To the point where easy victories in stories are all anyone can taste anymore.”

              And thats what Shamoose has called you out on in the very beginning.Its a false dichotomy.Just because someone likes a happy ending does not mean they want to see everything magically sorted out the easy way.And just because you brought up superhero movies,avengers is a great example here:It has a happy ending,achieved via practically magic,and yet it was not easy or consequence free(as can be seen in later movies,tony starks PTSD,the whole cap movie,etc).

              “To actively avoid movies or games that might even hint at being “depressing” is to deny oneself some of the most powerful moments in recorded fiction. To deny yourself the chance to become someone different by witnessing art. It throws away some of the strongest emotional reactions. ”

              Same can be said for anything else.To actively avoid stories that hint at happy endings is to deny oneself some of the most powerful moments in recorded fiction.To deny yourself the chance to become someone different by witnessing art.It throws away some of the strongest emotional reactions.(and you practically prove this in your very post,which I will come to in a bit)

              “But this kind of thing is important to me, and it feels like it’s not important to anyone else.”

              Art is important.But so is taste.I may not like Picaso,but that doesnt give the right to others to call me a bullshitter that has deluded myself into not liking him.Just how I dont have the right to call others bullshitters that have deluded themselves into not liking Michelangelo which I enjoy.

              “This might be why so many superhero movies are out lately. “Why bother facing my problems, or the problems of society? Just let Spiderman figure it out.””

              See,now you are doing the same way you are accusing Shamooe of,dismissing something just because it differs from your taste.

              Also,funny how you mention spiderman as an example of a movie which ends in a happy and magical way,when the most recent spiderman practically ends with a grimdark moment that you have praised so much.Then of course,theres the dark knight,which is the height of grimdark superhero movie of the decade.

              See,just because a story has magic or fantasy in it does not automatically make it all sunshine and butterflies(best example:game of thrones).

        • Alec says:

          holy crap is this a thing really?
          If you want some anguish and bitter hopeless tragedy, Game of Thrones has your medicine every week. That’s quite enough for me. Tonight’s 4 non-minor character deaths matches the Red-Wedding for crying out loud.

          I read newspapers. I sure don’t want them in my bloody gaming…

  18. Galad says:

    I really wanna read this, but I really don’t wanna spoil myself about Wolfenstein, which I may or may not play sometimes soon – what stops me now is the fact that I only have around 100GB of drive space, at least 2/3 of which is usually occupied.

    Just thought I’d post my first world gamer problem =P

  19. SteveDJ says:

    Just read your article on Escapist… and I think you are missing a URL. The very last statement you make is about Valve going “into the hat business”. As one that has NOT been following that kind of stuff, it is clearly BEGGING for a hyperlink to some article (yours?) explaining that jab.

    Indeed, it is quite a departure from your normal writing style to have omitted such a link. :-(

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