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.
The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.
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