So the gist of this mission is that Frau Engle flew the Ausmerzer to Hollywood California so she could appear on the Jimmy Carver show, which is obviously based on The Tonight Show with Johnny CarsonCarson took over the Tonight Show in 1962, which means this is about the right point in the timeline.. He’s going to interview her on the show and talk about the time she executed Terror Billy.
Based on this setup, you’d think she’s going down to the surface, right? Like, Carver must have a studio in Hollywood and that’s where she’s going. But when you get to the control room of the Ausmerzer you find out it has a copy of the Carver set. Or maybe Carver runs his show from the Ausmerzer? But then why did the ship need to go to Hollywood?
Revenge. Sort of.
This is one of the reasons the ending feels so abrupt. The “final fight” wasn’t telegraphed at all. Two nameless robo-Nazis drop in and we kill them with no ceremony or buildup. After that we sort of blunder into a TV studio and the end of the game without realizing how close we were to Engel.
BJ’s allies all show up. He’s taken control of the Ausmerzer and shut down the automated defensesApparently you can’t shut off the anti-air systems without an access code only kept on Venus. This seems like a TERRIBLE security system, but whatever., so the rest of the rebels can land their chopper on the roof. They all meet up in the TV studio and his allies point guns at the TV crew to make sure they keep broadcasting.
BJ slips into the theater. Carver and Engel are doing the show to an empty room. It’s just the band and some camera guys. The audience is all cardboard cutouts. BJ slips in and executes Engel with an axe to the face on live television. The good guys win. Game over.
This is incredibly disorienting and unsatisfying. Apparently BJ killed a couple of hundred dudes and took control of the entire airship and nobody thought to get word of this to Engel? Nobody thought they should evacuate their prized war hero propaganda master celebrity general? She doesn’t see this coming at all? Hundreds of people died on the ship and nobody in the TV studio heard about it?
For all of the evil shit Engel did in the course of the game, her death is pretty underwhelming. BJ doesn’t have anything profound to say. He doesn’t throw any of her rhetoric back in her face. And call me crazy, but since cutting off people’s heads was such a big part of her schtick, doesn’t it seem like doing the same to her would be a more fitting end? She beheaded Caroline. Disfigured Wyatt in the process of trying to cut off his head. Executed Super Spesh. Finally she beheaded BJ on live TV, so it seems reasonable to expect that this whole TV studio situation exists so that he could return the favor. Shouldn’t these two exchange some words to acknowledge the weight of the grudge between them? Shouldn’t he say something to support or highlight some theme or idea? If nothing else, shouldn’t the writer humiliate her before her death? Shouldn’t she show weakness, fear, or otherwise be brought low, since that was what she did to BJ?
I assumed all those scenes showing Engel leering over the camera, torturing, humiliating, and ultimately beheading the player in first-person were leading up to some sort of karmic payoff. If you’re going to make the player sit through all of that, then it’s pretty reasonable for them to assume this is building up to some sort of horrific retribution.
But no. It’s over in less than five seconds. I mean, remember this moment?
In the context of a power fantasy, doesn’t that sort of graphic cruelty demand some sort of commensurate retribution? Some sort of poetic end? This milquetoast (by the standards of this setting) death actually reminds me of my series on Fable 2, where the bad guy spends the whole game murdering your family, your pet, your friends, and torturing you for months while inflicting untold death and cruelty on the world, and then at the end you shoot him once and he falls and dies off-screen.
You might argue that this is supposed to show how much more noble the good guys are. Sure, Nazis stoop to public beheadings, but WE wouldn’t ever engage in such barbarism! Except, BJ kills her with an axe to THE FACE on live television, so that excuse rings kind of hollow. This death is too gentle to be payback but too barbaric to let our hero claim the moral high ground in terms of methodology. It’s like this ending was written by someone who didn’t know what came before.
The rebels give a speech to the massesNevermind that broadcast television in the 60s wasn’t this centralized and all of the Nazi-owned affiliates would have switched over to “Technical difficulties!” the moment Terror Billy put the axe to Engel’s face. I don’t expect this universe to worry about things like that.. If Wyatt is alive, he gives the speech. If Fergus is alive, then he’s not really fit for the job. Impassioned public oration is not in his skill set, and besides it would be weird for a Scotsman to make this particular appeal to the American people. So if Fergus is alive, then Grace does it. Either way, the heroes tell the American people to rise up and fight their Nazi oppressors.
BJ also recovers his mother’s ring (Engel took it when she captured him back in Texas) and proposes to Anya on television. That’s sweet.
It’s a shame we came all this way to find the ending is so abrupt, unsatisfying, and poorly executed. With some tweaks this could have had a lot more impact.
And Another Thing…
I realize this last one is really petty, but it really got under my skin. I think the end credits music was the most poorly chosen music I’ve ever heard at the end of a game.
They play We’re not Gonna Take it by Twisted Sister, a hair metal band. The song was released in 1984, which puts it almost a quarter century out of place here in 1961. Worse, it isn’t even the original version of the song. This is a screamo cover, which puts it more like a half-century out of place.
But fine, you can pick an anachronistic song as long as the message is right. Except, this song isn’t about rebellion against autocracy, it’s an adolescent song about rebellion against parental authority. America isn’t mad because they don’t want to eat their vegetables. They’re not fighting for the right to stay up late on a school night. They’re supposedly fighting back against the most murderous regime in the history of our species and it’s obnoxious to infantilize the struggle like this.
Rock doesn’t fit with the style of the game anyway. Wolfenstein has always been pretty heavily focused on the orchestral stuff.
I admit it’s hard to find fitting music from this time period, because the 50s music was a little too timid and the 60s stuff was too anti-war. But the song we have here is stylistically wrong, it’s lyrically wrong, it’s tonally wrong, and it’s temporally wong. And this is on top of the fact that it sucks. Silence would be better than this.
So that’s The New Colossus. It’s not a terrible game, but it’s not as good as what came before and it’s far short of the game it could have been. Which means it’s time to talk about…
So here we have the weakest entry in this series so far, which somehow landed the best review scores. So how did this happen?
I guess it’s time we finally talked about the Nazi elephant in the room: Nazis were in the news last year. A lot of people were worried / pissed off about Nazis. This entire franchise was built around the idea of using the Nazis as punching bags as part of a cathartic power fantasy, so this early-90s nostalgia title suddenly found itself in tune with the national zeitgeist. To me this was no more or less valid than all the anti-Soviet action movies of the 80s or the “terrorist” videogame bad guys of the aughts. "Here is some external force that you find scary / enraging, go to town on them". This might not be the most mature or nuanced way of thinking about these concepts, but that’s not what power fantasy entertainment is for.
The point is, I can understand why reviewers might really enjoy a Nazi-blasting videogame in 2017. I think think this won New Colossus a lot of slack it doesn’t really deserve.
This situation is really insidious because it mixes lazy “Rah rah Nazis bad!” type cheerleading with crass, clumsy storytelling. It’s like an embarrassing shitty poem praising Martin Luther King Jr. We love MLK, so it’s terrifying to critique the poem because this is the internet and there will always be that one person who accuses you of hating the poem because you’re "a racist". Criticizing this game puts reviewers into a situation where they need to say, “I’m not a Nazi, BUUUUT…” and that’s never a fun spot to be in when you’re reviewing something for the eternally aggrieved randos of the internet.
These novelty scenes could all work. Gross Hitler with dementia? Badass pregnant woman? The last hope for freedom in America is a black woman breastfeeding her infant? These are all good ideas. Somewhere out there are a handful of people who have always DREAMED of getting that kind of gratification in a game, and this could make them very happy. I actually appreciate the break from traditions and stock characters.
But you can’t just jam random cheap gratification into a story and call it a day. You still need to maintain tension, establish characters, set things up, pay them off, maintain cause and effect, and obey the established rules of the world. It’s not just that you’ll make a shitty story, it’s that even the cheap gratification itself will fall flat if it’s not part of a world we can buy into.
To be clear, I’m not saying the journalists were corrupt or stupid. I’m saying I think our current system of reviewing games is sometimes broken in ways that makes insightful analysis difficult.
Publishers make sure game journalists don’t get a review copy until just before launch, even though games typically go gold several weeks (sometimes even months!) before that point. Technically reviewers could get their hands on the game the moment it goes gold, but publishers use these last-minute review copies to make sure there isn’t enough time for thoughtful analysis. Journalists generally only have time for a single playthrough and not a lot of time for reflection. This forces them to stick to superficial stuff like the state of the basic gameplay and the graphics. They can do analysis later, but by then the sales surge will be over and the Metacritic scores established.
Game journalists need to pay the bills, and what pays the bills is previews, hot takes, and having reviews up on day one. If you’re running a site like Kotaku, IGN, Giant Bomb, Eurogamer, Polygon, or Rock Paper Shotgun, then your choices are to put up with this horrible system or surrender the most profitable traffic to rival sites.
Short deadlines keep journalists from analyzing in depth before launch, and the threat of backlash encourages them to favor safe, conventional positions when assigning review scores.
To reiterate the points I started with:
- I think this game doesn’t really deserve to be rated so much higher than its predecessors.
- We’re now on the third entry in this series, and so many of the long-running problems should have been solved by now. Instead of refining the formula, the designers are stagnating in some areas, regressing in others, and failing to fix things that have been a problem since The New Order.
- While the story isn’t terrible, it’s also not nearly interesting enough to justify the length of these self-indulgent cutscenes. I don’t have anything against games telling stories that require long cutscenes, and I don’t have anything against simple stories that only exist to facilitate gameplay, but I stand by my rule: You can have as little or as much story as you like in your game, but cutscenes need to be worth watching regardless of length.
But the cutscenes in Wolfenstein: The New Colossus burn a lot of screen time, a lot of money was spent on them, and they’re not as economical as the cutscenes in The New Order. The original did more with less, and I wish that had been reflected in the critical reception of this game.
So that’s a novella on The New Colossus. I didn’t care for it, but I’m still interested in the series and I’m hoping the team can make some creative corrections before the next one gets too far into development. If you enjoy this kind of long-form analysis, please consider supporting my Patreon.
Thanks for reading.
 Carson took over the Tonight Show in 1962, which means this is about the right point in the timeline.
 Apparently you can’t shut off the anti-air systems without an access code only kept on Venus. This seems like a TERRIBLE security system, but whatever.
 Nevermind that broadcast television in the 60s wasn’t this centralized and all of the Nazi-owned affiliates would have switched over to “Technical difficulties!” the moment Terror Billy put the axe to Engel’s face. I don’t expect this universe to worry about things like that.
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