2017 has been a bumper year for games, but in a lot of other ways, it's been the backwash of the sewage tsunami that was 2016.
We're closing in on the end of a year that has seen so much actual horror that it's hard to choose what the worst moment was. What has been terrifying, however, is the rise of nationalist white power movements across Europe and America. It's kinda crazy that we're only 2-3 generations removed from people who actually fought the Nazis and sacrificed everything to resist the spread of fascism throughout the world, and yet here we are again. We're actively debating the ethics of being able to punch someone that proudly proclaims to be a Nazi, instead of just doing the actual punching.
That's why I think Bethesda and MachineGames have made a brave stand with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. I can imagine when development started on the game the team didn't expect to release into such a torrid political climate, but goddamn if they didn't stick to their (very large) guns and say "You know what, FUCK NAZIS!"
There's a lot of things you can do with a hatchet and a Nazi...
Wolfenstein II is a game that simply does not give a fuck about your beliefs. You can argue and debate the legitimacy of violence against people who have a different ideology to you, but Wolfenstein II says "let's bury the hatchet, literally."
I counted at least 6 different ways of stealth killing Nazis with the hatchet. All spectacularly gross, and all of them made me chuckle. If the hatchet's not your thing, then go loud! Dual-wield enormous auto-shotguns, upgrade your grenades to have explosions, fire, and electricity. Grab your laser rifle, or rip a heavy weapon from a downed supersoldat. Hell, ride into battle on a steel, fire-breathing death hound; it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is to make these Nazi motherfuckers pay.
This, for me, is the glory of the game. The unashamed slaughter of a bunch of assholes in as many inventive and interesting ways as possible. The fact that they try everything possible to stop you, and they just... can't. You're a machine. A painstorm. As your co-revolutionary Grace says to you at one point "You ARE a motherfucking freight train."
The villains, for the most part, are faceless goons. They chat about horrible things as you sneak up to do even more horrible things to them. They are over-confident and under-prepared. The antagonist, Frau Engel, is a full pantomime evildoer and getting your vengeance on her is brutal, short and satisfying.
STORY/MOMENT SPOILERS AHEAD: MachineGames have been careful not to humanize any of the enemies in Wolfenstein II. Hitler himself is portrayed as a frail, babbling psychopath who cannot control his bodily functions and begs for his mother. One of my standout moments of the game was having the opportunity to kick Hitler right in the face (an event that kills him, and you) which was followed by the sweet ping of a trophy popping. Damn straight I want a trophy for kicking Hitler right in his stupid mouth. In the final days of 2017, when national newspapers are running fluff pieces normalizing Nazis in the US, it feels particularly important to me that we balance this with "here are 12 hours of ultraviolence against weak, sniveling, stupid-ass Nazis."
In a wonderful and prescient point, the citizens of occupied America are by and large content with their new evil empire. Your father, who is a giant, gaping asshole of a man, sells you out without a moment's thought. He blames all the usual suspects for his failure as a businessman, so he welcomes the invasion force with open arms. Normal people watch TV and get on with their daily lives without so much as a whimper. Killing übercommanders in side missions "liberates" areas of the US, but I got the feeling that nobody is willing to act until someone else does the hard work.
The best counterpoint to this is that with the exception of your pregnant girlfriend (who is a bonafide BADASS), most of your supporting team are unlikeable assholes. A drunken preacher, a chain-smoking wild-eyed revolutionary, or Fergus the mad Scot with a rogue Dr. Strangelove arm. I think this sets the scene really well, however; this isn't a story about good vs. evil, this is a story about a whole bunch of people who may well be complete fuck-ups, but hey, they aren't Nazis, so they'll do.
I just put the controller down after the credits, but I want to jump back in as soon as possible. I still have a killboard with 4 or 5 generals waiting for me to fuck their day up, and I have the first DLC episode downloaded and ready to go.
Wolfenstein II won't save the world from the day-to-day horror we're facing at the moment, but hell, it made me feel good for the time I was playing it. Kudos to Bethesda and MachineGames for not pulling any punches and making this game the antidote to some of 2017's ills.