“The little guy died this morning. He didn’t eat his cheese. Starved to death. So it goes...Oh, the kid? Yeah, he’s not here anymore. He went looking for the truth but he didn’t like what he found...Kid’s father had his future all staked out for him. Ivy League straight to the top of congressional power. Cut him off when he joined the military. Ungrateful brat, he called him. The kid’s mother fell into a depression in that big dark house. Same day the kid shipped off for Europe, she swallowed a bottle of pills. And that was it. That was that...He saw perfect patterns. Swallowing branches of a great tree. The all-knowing space entity at the center gazing upon him. The kid was approaching the apex of the universe, but it all slipped away! And a colossal black trench opened up, swallowing the colors and the kid couldn’t see anything except for a trans-dimensional gaping maw swallowing his soul. Oh, nothing matters anymore, man! Oh, sunset for humanity! Tell ‘em that he’s sorry. Tell ‘em that he loved them.”
I’m not entirely convinced that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the best story told in a video game in 2017, but it is without a doubt the best told story of 2017. The voice acting, the directing of the cutscenes, it’s so dynamic, so far beyond other games that you have to sit up and take notice while you’re playing it. And there are all sorts of big, flashy moments that make you do just that, whether it’s the reveal of a certain famous dictator in the game’s latter moments, or the big turn in the center, or BJ’s tragic return to his family home. And those moments are the ones you remember, but Wolfenstein II is full of so many more, big and small. It’s Wyatt, in the midst of a giant, dissociative LSD-fueled breakdown, huddled in a bulkhead mumbling to himself about his life and his failures and the failures of the world, all seen through the lens of his madness brought on by hallucinogens (the fact that you only get to see this scene if you choose the Wyatt path - which is absolutely the right choice - is criminal). It’s such an absurd game in so many ways, so outsized, so brazen, so confident in its storytelling, but it absolutely nails the small moments too, building a cast of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors.
Wyatt’s slow descent into madness is so wonderfully handled, continued with a sense of grace and compassion from his guilt born from being the survivor and losing his best friend J in The New Order to diving into the past after the death of Caroline and stumbling upon a sheet of LSD. The tripping allows him to escape, even just for a little bit, but all that really manages to do is wallpaper over the rot beneath the surface. It’s grim all the way down. His friends are dead. His mentor is dead. Nazis have taken over the world and claimed his homeland. Finding solace in an imaginary rainbow-colored chameleon can only take you so far. Reality is eventually going to come flooding in. And when it does, it hurts. But despite hitting rock bottom (and thanks to a timely intervention from one B.J. Blazkowicz), Wyatt perseveres and fights on.
There are so many shades to the revolution brewing in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. The group reels from the death of their leader and mentor. BJ is the tired, beaten down, grizzled war veteran, waiting for the sun to set on his harsh life but unwilling to see a world run by fascists while he still has an ounce of strength to live. Grace and Horton are radical revolutionaries, one out of the Black Panther mold, the other from Marxism. And Wyatt’s the young soul caught between it all, not strong enough to take them on alone, not confident enough to lead them, suffering from a crisis of faith when faced with the abyss. He's a less impressive BJ in a lot of ways, also abandoned by his father and faced with the tragic death of his mother. He has his own kind of strength in him, but can’t harness it on his own. He has to rely on the support and fortification of his loved ones. And with their help, by the end of the game, he’s right there, front and center calling on the subjugated in America to step up and fight their oppressors until death do they part. There’s nothing more American than that.