With its Nazis-winning-WWII premise, 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order manages to be both pulpy and serious. Yes, it has robot Nazi dogs, but it also has a concentration camp scene that's presented with tact, and that balance keeps the fantastical grounded in a brutal reality. The upcoming sequel, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, walks that same line, and it goes one step further: it brings you out of Europe and to alt-1960s America amidst threats that persist in real-life in the present day.
We recently played a few hours of The New Colossus, broken up into two levels. The first is the opening wheelchair mission, which we played at E3, and the second starts out in Roswell, New Mexico during a 4th of July Nazi parade. Blazkowicz arrives in Roswell dressed as a fireman and carrying a nuke in his fire extinguisher, and the first thing you see, just ahead of you on the sidewalk, is a pair of Klansmen in white robes and hoods.
It's an uncomfortable feeling, walking toward KKK members in broad daylight in a game and knowing that there's nothing you can do. But this feeling is also compounded by the knowledge that there are KKK rallies happening in real-life America in the year 2017, an America where the Nazis didn't win the war. It's simple fun to blast Nazis to hell in Wolfenstein, but seeing the KKK stroll past a Nazi officer who says he likes their "style" is not so much fun as it is deeply unsettling.
All around Roswell, there is evidence that the language employed by the fictional Reich (and everyone subjugated by it) is not far from sentiments you can still hear today. A newspaper review for a "dystopian" novel about a world where the Allies won, for instance, discusses the moral depravity of different groups, including LGBT people. A newspaper clipping later in the mission features a letter to the editor thanking the Germans for saving America from social ills. A cheekily color-swapped version of the Abbey Road cover in a music shop window reminds you that you are, indeed, in a distorted version of history.
You walk through all of that to a diner you might have seen in the reveal trailer, where a mother practices German with her son, telling him he'll need to learn it. Then a Kommandant walks in and talks about strawberry milkshakes in a comically threatening soliloquy before getting shot in the head. A cutscene directly after involves your Roswell contact going on about aliens and the "weird shit" in Area 52, which is the first extended respite from the discomfort that precedes it.
But it's not the last. You take your nuke underground and proceed to fight hordes of mecha-Nazis on a train using powerful machine guns and hatchets, which is pure, ridiculous fun. You don't have time to think about politics or real-world implications, because all your focus is put toward finding shotgun ammo and not dying. My time with the game concluded at the end of the train ride, but I'm looking forward to seeing if The New Colossus continues to maintain a strong balance between its two opposing tones. The examples we saw kept The New Colossus from feeling heavy-handed in its real-life parallels, which in turn prevented the characters' wisecracks and idiosyncrasies from getting cheesy. Combined with some good old-fashioned Nazi slaying, it's making for a promising sequel.