Reviews: Wolfenstein II and Stranger Things 2
Posted on October 31, 2017 Posted by John Scalzi 25 Comments
Last week two bits of entertainment I’d been looking forward to finally unlocked for my enjoyment: the video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Stranger Things 2, the second season of the well-regarded Netflix series. What did I think of both? Well, let me tell you.
Wolfenstein II: I enjoyed the heck out of this. The game takes place in an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII (they nuked New York!) and have occupied the US. Your job is to take back the country, mostly by shooting the ever-living crap out of every Nazi you meet. Obviously, this is a game that has some resonance in today’s political era, in which homegrown WannaNazis are stomping around in their polo shirts and khakis (some of these tender racist flowers complained about the content of the game recently, to which the gamemakers said, essentially, “Ha ha ha fuck you, you little shitheads,” which is a sentiment I can get behind).
Although the game takes place in the US, you don’t actually kill American Nazis, merely Nazis in America; they all spit German at you as you shoot them. Which is fine! Nazis of any sort make for good killing, if you ask me. There’s a special joy in mowing them down by the dozen, untroubled by pesky ethical issues. They’re Nazis, they deserve to meet large-caliber ordnance. And they do — this is not a game that’s stingy about throwing Nazis at you to be dispatched. I played the game on medium difficulty and found it was nicely playable at that level; challenging to get through but with enough ammo, armor and health that I could survive without having to save every ten seconds.
The game comes with a storyline involving hero BJ Blaskowitz and his band of freedom fighters joining up with the American resistance and visiting places like (nuked) NYC, Roswell, New Mexico and a New Orleans that’s been turned into a ghetto for America’s undesirables (Jews, blacks, gay folks etc). The storyline is pretty good, and has interesting moments, but can be bleak and has a couple of missteps, including a memorably gratuitous topless scene with one of the women characters, also involving very large guns. That said, I generally enjoyed the storyline, which featured more humor in it than I remember earlier installments having.
But really you’re here to kill Nazis. And you will! In the US and on Venus! (Why Venus? I think the answer is, why not on Venus, and also, there’s something sublime about battling Space Nazis on Venus. That’s a B-movie title right there.) If you’re hankerin’ to slaughter goddamned fascists, this is the game for you.
A final note of gratitude for this game: It’s all about the single-player experience, which is something I really appreciate these days. I don’t really care to do multiplayer games that often, and I prefer generally to pay for my game once rather than through in-game transactions. I don’t want to be on a team and I don’t give a crap about jaunty hats or alternate armor. I just wanna shoot things in peace and at my own pace. Kudos to the Wolfenstein II team for giving me exactly what I’m happy to pay money for in a video game experience.
Stranger Things 2: It’s a pretty good ride, and with that said, I’m reminded of a line in Die Hard 2, when, after a whole movie of plane crashes and guns blazing and terrorists grimly being evil, Holly McClane looks over to John McClane and asks “Why does this keep happening to us?!?” The answer is, of course: Because that’s what the audience wants. The audience wants the thing they got before, only more of it this time.
And there’s definitely more to ST2: Stakes are higher, the danger more dangerous, and poor Will Byers (who if this series had actually been filmed in the 80s would have almost certainly have been played by Wil Wheaton) gets slapped around by the Upside Down even more than he was in the first season. There are more subplots (justice for Barb! Eleven looks for home! New kids with their own drama! Steve and Nancy and Jonathan!) which take more time to deal with and don’t necessarily resolve in any particularly satisfying way, instead leaving loose ends to be picked up in Stranger Things 3, which will almost certainly happen.
Also, more than once, someone has to act stupidly in order to advance the story, which the shows tries to wink at by having the characters note that, gosh, they sure did something stupid there, didn’t they? Which doesn’t really solve the problem, but at least lets you know the show acknowledges your awareness that someone’s being dumb for plot purposes.
(Oh, and, hey, Duffer brothers: Naming one of your characters “Bob Newby” is a little on the nose, guys.)
None of this really bothered me that much, however, because the story does keep clicking on and ramping up, and the characters, so engaging in season one, continue to be so here and are often even more so. The kids still feel like real kids, the adults are occasionally clueless in particularly adult ways, and the bad guys are slightly more dimensional than they were before. I was sucked in and watched one episode after another just like I was intended to, and with the exception of an interlude episode which felt more like a soft-launch pilot episode of another series entirely, they all connected seamlessly.
Which is to say the story-telling technician in me could see all the tricks season two of this series was laying out and using, and the “shut up and just give me a fun ride” audience member in me didn’t care, because generally speaking, all the tricks worked like they were supposed to. So well done, everyone: ST2 was really enjoyable and I’m in for season three when it inevitably shows up and tortures Will Byers again.
That poor kid. He should just move out of Hawkins. Really, they all should.
Thanks for the Wolfenstein recommendation.
I too have NO INTEREST in the multiplayer shooters (with our without copious microtransactions) as I want to enjoy playing a game, not try frantically to keep up with an Adderall deficient, foul mouthed 13 year old. I did not play Destiny. I will not play Destiny 2. And I will have nothing to do with Anthem, other than to urinate on any copies which might be left alone in my presence (as I strongly suspect that the quality problems with, and hence demise of, one of my favorite series has EVERYTHING to do with Bioware’s decision to transition development assets to that “streetwalker by another name” of a game).
Too many companies think “games as a service” is the way to go to maximize revenue. And it may be. But it also overly caters to a certain segment of gamers…young, overwhelmingly male, and highly prone to blurting out, shall we say, questionable things online. Gamergaters, IOW. And if supporting THOSE jackwagons (Bioware) is what certain (Bioware) companies (Bioware) want to do (Bioware), then I suppose (Bioware) I’ll just have to severely limit (Bioware) what I buy from them (and if you guys even THINK of turning Dragon Age over to your C-team so you can crap out Anthem 2, you have another think coming) in the future.
Stranger Things 2 is so much fun and if the Duffer brothers knew you they should find a way to allow you to write a chapter in Season 3. Cause you understand how to keep people hooked. Nice Mask and as always thanks for creating wonderful diversions from the upside down reality of DT.
When the first trailer for Wolfenstein II dropped, I noticed one of the comments on it remarked that it was a game about “killing a bunch of people you disagree with”, in response to which I thought: “Isn’t that a pretty fair description of most video games?”
I do wish I could understand why Stranger Things left me completely cold. On paper, it ticks a lot of boxes of things I like in a TV show but I only watched the first episode of season 1 and couldn’t get the motivation to watch any more. I didn’t *hate* it, I just didn’t care about anything that was happening or any of the characters. I feel like the only person who feels this way about the show. :-(
Claire, my wife had the same reaction, which led to us stopping watching it after the first episode. Then this past weekend, our youngest decided he wanted to watch it with us all as a family, so we sat down to it. At one point, my wife noted that this wasn’t really her type of show, but she was enjoying it as a family thing, so we moved on to episode 2 and she felt definitely more engaged with it, and we’re looking forward to continuing.
So, it *may* be that it’s just a show some people have to warm up to, with folks who are used to bingeing on shows barreling on through and getting to that point automatically. Of course, there’s too much to do in life to waste your time with media you’re not enjoying, but you might consider giving it another episode or few.
I’ve just started Wolfenstein II, and I’m enjoying it so far. As someone who grew up with the first 3-d shooters, I enjoy how games like Wolfenstein and Tomb Raider have evolved – while keeping their single player focus. That said, I really wanted to enjoy the latest Doom…but I just didn’t.
I know the original Doom’s plot was threadbare at best, but this latest iteration seems to go out of it’s way to spit on any idea of story whatsoever. NPC’s try to deliver some plot to me, but my avatar smashes monitors and rejects those attempts, as if insulted that he should care. Plus, game copy (or perhaps it’s just advanced reviews I read) seem to indicate all sorts of mystical background to your character that A) wasn’t in the original games, B) doesn’t seem to mesh with the sci-fi elements of the initial game levels I’ve played, and C) doesn’t really seem to matter. Really, nothing I’ve seen about plot seems to matter. Your character certainly doesn’t seem to care, and if all you want is to rip, tear and shred your way through demons, then I guess Doom works.
I like that Wolfenstein weaves a good story into their game. It’s not just, “look! Nazis! go get ’em!” I’m only through the introductory sections so far (I count that as being everything up to the first point you’re allowed to free roam around your stolen u-boat), but some pretty dramatic stuff has already happened. And if I didn’t already hate Nazis before this point, I sure as heck do now!
So, more power to single player games! I fear for them, as big companies seem all about micro-transactions and in-game multiplayer add-ons. I don’t mind the DLC and season pass options, as long as I feel I’m getting value out of my base purchase and the later DLCs. I think Skyrim and Fallout have paid off there, as have Wolfenstein: The New Order and both recent Tomb Raiders. I hope game companies keep going with these sorts of adventures.
Regarding Wolfenstein II – Is the character you play voiced? I’ve generally avoided games that don’t let you choose the gender of the protagonist (or at least make the only playable character gender-neutral), but for a first person game it might not be that bad, assuming the character is unvoiced.
The lead character is male and has been constant through every iteration of Wolfenstein, going back a couple of decades. And he definitely talks. So if that’s a deal-breaker, be aware.
Appreciate the response, thanks.
Is The New Colossus as on rails as The New Order was? Games that are on rails drive me crazy and I end up having to avoid them. I prefer to be free to shoot my Nazis where and when -I- want to!
Why not on Venus? Why not indeed? Slaughtering Space Nazis on Venus? YEAH! In fact, is there ANY title that could not benefit from being moved to Venus? Gone With The Wind On Venus? Wuthering Heights On Venus? Jane Eyre On Venus? Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, On Venus?
So, I have an important question about your playthrough of Wolfenstein 2 – did you get the special Achievement on Venus?
I haven’t played Wolfenstein since the early ’90s; might need to revisit that insane world.
I’ve found Stranger Things enjoyable but forgettable. I don’t so much mind it being very, very derivative (though it was more annoying than clever when they lampshaded their own derivative nature by having the character Max comment on it).
What does bug me are the stupid cliches. That’s why I knew *exactly* how a major character was going to die in the next-to-last episode, a few seconds before it happened; the entire sequence had closely followed horror-movie chase scene cliches that were annoying me decades ago. The scene could’ve been written by an algorithm.
I was in my 20s in the 1980s. I miss being in my 20s, but am not thoroughly nostalgic for the period. But the actors are good.
Bob Newby is pretty on-the-nose, but let us remember Samuel R. Delaney had a character named Ernest Newboy.
Oh — for a creepier, less flashy bingeable show, let me recommend SyFy’s “Channel Zero”.
I understand what you mean about seeing the storyteller tricks. I work in theatre, and when I go to show, I feel like I’m two people when I watch it. One is the theatre pro who knows how the tricks are done and appreciates when they are done well; the other is the audience member who just wants a good story. Most of the time, both sides have a good time, which enhances the enjoyment.
And for Claire, I know how you feel. For me it was Arrested Development that everyone loved, and I could barely get through a couple of episodes. And that’s OK. The world will be pretty boring if we all liked exactly the same things. (And a lot of writers and artists would be out of work.)
” to which the gamemakers said, essentially, “Ha ha ha fuck you, you little shitheads,” ”
I’ve been chuckling for a full five minutes from reading this.
Also in Die Hard 2, John McClane, climbing through a ventilation shaft, remarks “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice??”
I saw some reviews on this. I never buy a game until I see the reviews. This is supposedly only a 14 hour game. $60 is kind of steep for such a short game. The price of most games usually drop pretty quick after 6 months. I would wait for sales and price reductions.
When the hell did shooting Nazis suddenly become controversial? Oh yeah, Election Day 2016.
Richard: I thought that was actually pretty funny in Doom. There is a big, complex plot… and the Doom Guy is having none of it because these people are idiots and there’s demons to kill.
In pulp-era or later tabletop gaming, Nazis occupy the same ecological slot as orcs in a fantasy game — the guilt-free kill.
I just checked Steam’s system requirements for Wolfenstein II, but it doesn’t say anything about how one controls the viewpoint character. Would a regular mouse work, or does this game call for a specialty controller of some sort? (Though I’ll probably wait for the crashing issues to settle first.)
I loved Stranger Things- both seasons! Mostly I love it for the acting which makes me totally suspend disbelief which I don’t find easy in horror type movies. I don’t remember child actors being SO good in the past, though I haven’t seen that many non-mainstream movies. In my humble, non expert opinion, I think the show compares favorably with what the British offer. I am a little disappointed in Johnathon’s lack of personality and don’t know why. He is nice and brave and caring and I should care…maybe because he gave his bat to Steve.
@Consumer Unit 5012 I also loved how the Doom Guy sabotages almost every attempt to tell a story. Also because while I don’t play shooters very often, when I play them I want to fight bad guys, not sit through cut scenes about some story (which, let’s face it, is almost always overly elaborate and fairly absurd anyway – it’s not like Neal Stephenson or China Mieville are writing video game stories).
Mouse and keyboard work just fine.
TBQH same with most games including RTS’s. I used to be pretty into competitive starcraft back in the day and it wasn’t until Starcraft II came out that I realized that there were people out there who actually cared about the whole ridiculous backstory for its universe and who would be doing the voice acting for the characters. The only time I’m fine with a serious story in a video game is in something like an RPG where it’s actually central to the action.
Oh and I’m not necessarily disparaging people who write video game stories – the Expanse series (which is brilliant of course) started out as the backstory to a video game which was never produced. It’s just that it’s hard to tell a decent story when a) you don’t control the pacing, and b) everything that happens is just a setup for a predetermined action setpiece. E.g. the whole point of the original Starcraft story was just basically to have plausible scenarios for any possible combination of the three races in the game to fight each other, so of course it ended up being contrived and silly.