The true villain of Wolfenstein II’s alternate “the Nazis won” storyline isn’t Hitler. By this time period of Wolfenstein II’s history, the 1960s, Hitler is beyond frail. He vomits on a carpet. Flem spews from his mouth as a chronic cough covers his speech. He struggles to urinate, and does so into a bucket. Seeing Hitler suffer and nearing death is cathartic.
The villain isn’t Frau Engle either, a sadistic Nazi General. Her lip scar, smeared English dialect and laugh conducive to a madwoman doesn’t make her any more dangerous than the average Nazi. Delusions run rampant behind her hatred. She’s a dangerous propagandist and vile, but weak. Without bodyguards, she’s nothing.
Instead, Wolfenstein II’s villains are American. Those people who succumb to economical pressures, blaming others for his financial follies. They celebrate racism. Worse, they’re complicit sympathizers who thinks Nazi rule benefits the country. They read Nazi news (viewed in-game via alarmingly prescient news clippings).
One mother waits at the counter of a New Orleans ice cream shop. She berates her young child. “Speak German. It will be useful,” she says. New Orleans no longer has a culture because of this complacency. Nazi jets fly overhead of that city, spreading trails of red, white, and blue smoke. Everyone in the city is white, or clad in domineering black armor. No one of color or different nationality is left, and no one questions where they’ve gone. Each citizen bears responsibility as armed and armored Reich soldiers march on their streets.
The heroes of this story then are those who fought and continue to fight. Wolfenstein II, likely by sheer luck, releases during a time of civil dissension, when Nazi-like rhetoric slips into conservative media (directly parodied through news clippings). These resistance fighters earn their status as heroes.
Progressive values. That’s the rebellion’s greatest asset. American culture, what little can seep in behind the Nazi forefront, followed the same path as it did in reality. Every bit of Wolfenstein II owes debt to anti-Nazi and Blaxsploitation cinema. A topless, blood-covered pregnant woman, carrying a Jew’s twin children, slings grenades at armed Nazi guards. Protagonist BJ Blazkowicz shoves the anti-disability rhetoric of the Reich back at them in the opening chapter. A jovial Jew uses his smarts to invent gadgets to destroy the opposition. The resistance leader? An R-rated black woman, married to a white man, with a mixed race baby. She seems written for a sequel to Pam Grier’s Blaxsploitation classic Coffy. Or, maybe she’s patterned after Pam Grier directly, but with stronger characterization.
Wolfenstein II embraces absurdity. It earns a rousing, lively response, as exploitation cinema intended. At times, Wolfenstein II is astoundingly colorful. Not only in the gallons and gallons of blood spewing from Nazi skulls, but in the helicopters these freedom fighters ride or the submarine they commandeered. Their helicopter is adorned with graffiti. It all looks drawn on with crayons. That sub is a like a cartoon safehouse, the Batcave for a growing resistance. You do you, says Wolfenstein II. Stand out. Don’t hide. Let everyone know who you are.
If anything, the fight against Germans sped up American progressivism. That’s what happens when good people shout no. People of all color work aboard the resistance sub (if with limited story purpose). One is a defected German. She needs to fight for her rights onboard, a first-hand lesson in the ideology. “You let a black man in here?” she asks, earning silent jeers for the remark, then backs down.
Wolfenstein II’s credits roll to an aggressive remix of Alice Cooper’s firey “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” absorbing the thematic weight of Wolfenstein II then celebrating it. It’s inspiring in the current climate, surreal as Wolfenstein II often is. There’s a monkey with a cat head and gargantuan Nazi military bases on Venus. A drunken birthday party is set to a metal version of the original Wolfenstein theme, apropos with the original game also being playable. However, this Wolfenstein 3D is not played against Nazis – Blazkowicz takes the place of Hitler, Russians in place of Nazis. That’s not as satisfying; it’s just too enjoyable to pop Nazi heads. There’s a lot of that in Wolfenstein II. Hours of it. This is not a quiet resistance, nor should it be.
Speak up. That’s Wolfenstein II’s message. If hashtags existed in the ’60s (alternate or otherwise), banners of #resist would fly. The characters of Wolfenstein II metaphorically carve #resist into bullets, just out of spite. It’s all reasonable, considering the alternative.