BJ Blakzowicz has to infiltrate the Nazi complex of caves and generic industrial warehouses so he can plant a nuclear device to blow up Area 52. For a game with such far-out scenarios, it’s amazing how mundane the scenery can be.
At various points throughout the game, you get the opportunity to go for a stealthy approach. Sort of. It doesn’t really work, but it’s there. So let’s talk about…
I guess they included the stealth sections as a nod to the stealth based gameplay of the original 2D Wolfenstein games? Or maybe they just included them for variety. Whatever. My problem is that while they included stealth sections, they have never bothered to include any stealth mechanics.
You can’t see foes through walls. You can’t see patrol routes. You can’t see vision cones. You can’t tell how visible you are at any given moment. You don’t get any special movement mechanics for moving above foes or doing drop attacks. You don’t get a cloaking power. You can’t create distraction noises to manipulate foes into more favorable positions. You can’t extinguish lights. You can’t steal the uniforms of your victims and put them on to avoid detection. When you ambush a guy, he falls where he was standing and BJ doesn’t pull him into his hiding spot. You can’t tell how loud you’re being and you can’t rely on in-game sounds, since some of the melee takedowns are quite loud to you but inaudible to the Nazis, while your walking footsteps are quietQuieter than sticking an axe in some dude’s face, anyway. to the player but noticeable to your foes.
New Colossus has added a feature to the AI so now they will recognize the bodies of fallen comrades, but since BJ can’t move or hide bodies this doesn’t really add much. It’s just another way to get caught by guys you never saw.
Are the stealth powers of Thief, Dishonored, and Deus Ex “unrealistic”? Yes. These mechanics would offer the player unrealistic powers. But then, sneaking around a room and silently killing 30 heavily armored and armed men is unrealistic, so if you want stealth then you’re not going for realism. I’m not saying that the developer should turn BJ into Adam Jensen or Agent 47. I’m saying this game is not equipped to support proper stealth gameplay.
The thing that really kills the stealth is that it’s all or nothing. If you get outed then you can’t run off, hide, wait for them to give up the search, and try to ambush them from another angle. They’ll never go off high alert, and they will magically know where you are at all times. Once stealth is over, you have to finish the entire section in Loud Mode.
They’ve had three games to refine this, and yet the stealth is still a pointless and rudimentary afterthought. It’s never been the strong suit of the series, but it’s actually somehow gotten worse here in New Colossus.
In this section of the game, it honestly feels like the bad guys are better at stealth than BJ. You’re hunting for guys in black armor in a dark room. If you set the brightness to where the designers suggest, you’ll have a very hard time seeing your foes in these caves.
One final gripe is with how the commanders are handled. When you enter a new area, the game will detect the presence of the Nazi commanders in the area and give you a magic compass pointing to them. However, if you break stealth you lose this compass and you just have to find them with your eyeballs. While you’re looking for them, they’re shouting to the the radio and calling for reinforcements.
So you can detect the exact location to a Nazi commander when he’s standing there doing nothing, but the moment he begins shouting into a radio he’s no longer detectable.
Stealth is usually a tradeoff between fun and realism, but here they’ve managed to make something that fails at both. None of it makes a lick of sense, but none of the nonsense is in service of gameplay.
BJ “sneaks” into the Nazi caves, plants his explosives, and leaves. This nukes the Roswell base, blowing up all the Nazi super-science toys they stole from the good guys at the start of the war. From here he gets a motorcycle and rides to his home in Texas.
He’s here to pick up a ring his mother gave him as a child, which was shown in a flashback during the overlong introduction to the game. While you’re here, you can watch a few more childhood flashbacks, or you can move on to the house to get the ring. Inside, he’s confronted by his father.
The flashbacks make it clear that BJ’s father Rip Blazkowicz was a cruel, hateful, violent, narrow-minded man. He beat his wife. He beat his son. He killed his son’s dog as a punishment for BJ playing with a black girl. When the two meet again here in 1961, we learn that Rip gave up his Jewish wife to the Nazis. And now he’s planning to execute his son. Also: BJ doesn’t notice until the end of the scene, but Rip called the Nazis to the house, so if he doesn’t finish his son then they will.
I think that’s about as evil as you can possibly make this guy. He’s a complete cartoon. Even when faced with a legendary and world-famous Nazi killer who’s wearing a suit of armor and is bristling with guns, Rip is such a thick-headed moron that he thinks he can continue to bully his son.
I get it. He’s a strawman. He’s an exaggerated vessel of the worst aspects of human beings. He’s here so we can kill this embodiment of evil without guilt. My problem is that this story already has lots of characters that serve this exact purpose. We have the Nazi footsoldiers in general, and Frau Engel specifically. We get to do a lot of cathartic Nazi killing in this game. That’s arguably the reason the game exists. So why are we spending this entire character to simply repeat that same theme? Is this really the most interesting thing the writer could think to do with BJ’s father?
In a game about igniting an American revolution, this is the only American civilian we talk to. For story purposes, he should probably be representative of what has happened to this country. Maybe he started off as basically a sane man with some mild racist tendencies, but once the Nazis took over the fear and desperation overcame him. So then he gave up his wife, informed on his neighbors, disavowed his son, and accepted the rewards for doing so. Each time he thought this would be the last time. And now, he confesses, he’s given you up as well. Then the player can decide to kill him or walk away. (With him dying in the subsequent attack anyway.)
That would give us a new perspective, and would re-focus our anger on the Nazis for the soul-devouring police state they created. This would be a contrast to the Nazis.
As written, this scene feels pointless and self-indulgent. When presented with the opportunity to show what kind of man raised BJ, the writer built up this twisted strawman and let the player kill him with an axe. We get to kill a lot of dudes with axes in this game. BJ’s father should be something more than a lame mook.
Frau Engel shows up with her airship. There’s a brief but hopeless fight and BJ is captured. His armor comes off, and he’s powerless. (He still can’t use his legs.) Engel shows up and leers over him. She also takes his ring, which he was obviously planning on giving to Anya to propose to her.
Thus begins twenty five minutes of cutscenes. Self-indulgent doesn’t begin to describe this. No decision-making. No new character development or revelations. Aside from a deeply flawed shooting section I’ll talk about next week, there’s not even any interactivity. The plot feels like it moves forward at a couple of points, but they turn out to be fake-outs. The writer actually burns up a few minutes of screen time with a doomed rescue plot where you stand there and watch the attempt fail, with nothing to do but slightly move your camera around. And this sequence follows the visit home, which was itself about 20 minutes of cutscenes with little bits of wandering around in between. This is terrible pacing.
BJ is thrown in Nazi prison. The plan is to give him a show trial, drag him around the country for a PR tour, and then give him a televised public execution.
Our buddy Super Spesh shows up, posing as BJ’s lawyer. He tries to hatch an escape attempt, but ends up shot in the head by Engel for his trouble. Engel also announces that your friends have all come here for this rescue attempt. Engel knows all about it and plans to kill them all.
The game never follows up on this or explains how your friends escaped. The game even remembers to have BJ specifically ask about it later, and then someone deflects the question. It’s like this entire sequence was designed to be as pointless as possible, with scenes that go nowhere and things that never lead to a payoff. Again, we could forgive this sort of thing if these were short cutscenes used to string missions together, but if you’re going to burn half an hour of the player’s time then there is absolutely no excuse for these kind of oversights.
After taunting BJ a bit, Engel makes him suck on the gun that just killed Super Spesh while she asks him how it tastes. This is all done in first person. (The sound design is pretty amazing. Never had a gun in my mouth before, but the sound really sold it for me.) You could argue that this is all to build her up as the villain, except we already did that at the start of the game when she beheaded Caroline, and we’ll do it again in a few minutes when she beheads BJ. We’re spending a lot of screen time (and holding up the gameplay) to sell something the player has already bought into.
Worse, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that BJ would let her do this. She points a gun at him and tells him to open his mouth, which he does. Except:
- BJ is clearly depicted as a man who isn’t afraid of death threats. Heck, that was the big “gotcha” moment of his confrontation with Rip. His dad pointed a shotgun at his head and he wasn’t afraid. So how is she using a gun to control him?
- The story has established that BJ believes he’s dying from his injuries, so he has nothing left to lose. He’s not looking for escape. He’s already accepted his fate.
- He knows he’s going to be executed in public and that will probably be worse than a quick shot to the head right now.
- Over the next few weeks, he knows the Nazis will drag him around the country and show him off as part of a PR / propaganda tour, and he knows it would be great if he could prevent that.
It’s true that his restraints prevent him from acting, but the player can’t see that at this point, so from the player’s perspective there’s zero excuse for him not trying. Even if we ignore that, this man has nothing to lose and everything to gain by refusing to suck the gun. If she shoots him, he wins.
The writer is breaking the established attributes of our main character to reinforce something even the dullest viewer should fully understand by this point: Engel is the bad guy and needs to die.
Yes, you can find scenes like this in a Tarantino movie, but those movies aren’t just a showcase of gore and shocking violence. While people are getting set on fire and having their eyeballs plucked out you also get witty banter, exposition, setups, callbacks, or character beats. But The New Colosssus seems to be imitating the style without the substance. The story gives us no new information here. No further character development. BJ doesn’t speak so we don’t even get any banter. The writer just had this idea for a “cool” scene and they decided we should all sit through it, even if it’s superfluous to the story. Heck, we don’t even have any real tension. We know she’s not going to shoot him and he’s not going to take any action, which means nothing can come of this. There’s nothing for the player to be afraid of in the short term and we already know what’s going to happen in the long term. This block of cutscenes is already really long and this sequence doesn’t earn its keep in terms of screen time.
At the very least the writer could use this scene to setup her death at the end. Maybe she could throw out a line that BJ could echo back to her at the moment of triumph. Or maybe their final fight could be a callback to this moment in some way.
But no. The writer is playing with their Nazi action figures, and you have to stop playing your videogame and watch.
 Quieter than sticking an axe in some dude’s face, anyway.
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