Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is a shooter that I enjoyed for almost every moment where I wasn’t shooting anyone. I found the action to be unfocused and most of the environments to be muddier, less interesting versions of spaces I’d already painted the walls red in The New Order. But for the minor shortcomings of The New Colossus it should be said that B.J. Blazkowicz’s internal monologue and Brian Bloom’s voice acting is among the best of 2017.
Unlike The New Order, The New Colossus succeeds in its smallest moments. Whereas I remember going to the moon or shooting through a hospital in The New Order, I hardly remember any of the set pieces from only a few weeks ago. Instead, the thing that has stuck with me is Bloom’s growly, slow mutterings to himself as he increasingly finds the odds stacked against him.
Modern shooters seem to structure themselves more and more around set pieces, massive planned moments that make you go “whoa” when they happen. Blame Call of Duty, or don’t, maybe Spielberg. The trick here is that many games string the player from “whoa” to “whoa” and for most people that works. A well-executed “whoa” moment gets people talking and a pattern of them keep people talking. It makes sense and it’s been a staple of shooters since at least Doom.
The New Colossus has set pieces too but the lasting impression is left by B.J. himself, not anything you blow up or the manner in which it is blown up, however spectacular. Unlike Doomguy or any other Sgt. Protagonist, few leading shooters have the same heart or vulnerability as B.J. He’s constantly grunting and muttering to himself, beseeching the spirit of his dead friend for the spiritual strength to continue the fight. Sometimes he wonders how he will let his pregnant wife know that he feels his lifeforce slipping away, his broken body barely held together by a metallic suit of armor.
While most shooters trade on “certainty” The New Colossus gives us a hero who is uncertain. B.J. hardly knows how to be himself, preferring to wear the mask of a singularly motivated killer of Nazis. He’s a man who enters a destroyed city and spends a moment eulogizing the innocent dead before embarking on a quest to kill those who are not so innocent.
Alone in a mineshaft B.J. reaches out to his dead friend, perhaps beneath his breath, perhaps only in his mind. “You still copy? You think they can see I’m fading? Without your wings I would fall.” The only ears to hear B.J. are his and ours. The only people acutely aware of how fragile B.J. is are himself and us. He wants to be strong for the others, but we know better, for we’re right behind his eyes.
Of course, B.J. marches on from moment to moment, soldiering forward through every firefight and shootout. For so many years the “silent protagonist” was the norm, a blank slate upon which we might cast our own ambitions or fears. Wonderfully, Bloom never lets us forget who B.J. Blazkowicz is. He’s a man not only driven by his firmly held beliefs and a desire to see the world set right again but he’s a man driven by fear. He’s afraid he’ll fail his wife, his cause, his friends, and he’s afraid that he’s not worthy of all three.