McMillan’s Codex #4 by C.T. McMillan
Wolfenstein: New Order
The alternate history genre works well in videogames if done right. The Fallout series is probably the best example with its 1950s post-apocalyptic, atom-punk aesthetic. Though the world may be well constructed and full of depth, players can only suspend their disbelief for so long before they realize the DC Wasteland is an impossible place of impossible things. In literature, the trick to making fiction believable is using elements consistent with reality. To that affect, Wolfenstein: New Order takes the Third Reich and brings it into a hellish world of the 1960s.
Good gameplay is as essential as a well-crafted world. New Order achieves a balance between the two by going back to basics. While employing modern tropes of one-button grenades, iron-sights, lean, and slide, the mechanics are as old school as one can get. The player can carry more than three weapons, use two at once, and each has an alternate mode. The gameplay is shooter-oriented with the player’s movement brisk and smooth and the objectives as simple: kill everything that is not you. It also does away with quick time events and trusts the player to know what to do in certain situations. By simplifying and disregarding modern conventions, there is still enough gameplay for the player to enjoy while keeping focus on the world.
Unlike most World War 2 shooters, New Order is less about the war and more about its aftermath if the Nazis had won. A part of borrowing actual people and events from history is a level of honesty. One cannot pick and choose what they want unless it can exist outside the whole, and you cannot have Nazis without racism, supremacy, and the Holocaust. New Order does not pull any punches in its portrayal of the Third Reich while building a world with obvious dark allusions to fiction and history.
Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle and Robert Harris’s Fatherland are the best-known examples of alternate World War 2 history.
Both involve the Nazis winning the war and show the life of occupation on a global scale. Oppression affects society as the people are monitored with surveillance technology, threatened with violence, and controlled with misinformation. They openly submit to authority, their culture replaced by a police state of uniformed monotony prevalent throughout New Order. Furthermore, the game takes many liberties with the Nazi’s more fringe concepts for architecture and weapons.
Right after the prologue, the game’s portrayal of Nazi violence becomes clear. It starts in a mental institution where soldiers take patients for experiments before executing the rest. The killing is casual as one soldier walks about the patients’ beds with a pistol like it is a menial task. The regime’s conquest of America, its treatment of other countries, and its war in Africa that has devastated the wildlife can be learned in conversations and memos. In a sewer level, the player overhears a concerned citizen reporting her neighbor’s son to the police for wearing his mother’s clothes. In one chapter, the player is sent to a concentration camp to rescue a Jewish engineer. The depiction of the Holocaust is respectful while unflinching as people are marched to the furnace by the hundreds while a minority is worked to death in horrid conditions.
New Order’s genre allows it to take undeveloped ideas from history and make them a reality. Never is that more prevalent than in level design. Inspired by Nazi architect Albert Speer, buildings are modeled after Hitler’s vision of a world in cold concrete. Familiar cities bare the Nazi’s touch, dotted with statues locked at attention, arms extended while flags flutter in the wind. In Berlin, standing highest among featureless towers is the Volkshalle, a dome so large the breath of its occupants causes the interior to rain. It was to be Hitler’s symbol of triumph had construction come to fruition.
No shooter is without its weapons and New Order takes a note from the Wunderwaffe, a Nazi research and development program responsible for the creation of rockets, the jet engine, and other obscure ideas. The standard assault rifle is a direct parallel to the Sturmgewehr. The Horten 2-29, the first stealth fighter ever developed, is seen flying about shooting Allied planes. In one chapter on the Moon, a memo tells of an orbital weapon called the Sonnengewehr that could focus the light of the sun to burn cities. And yes, that was also a real thing.
Wolfenstein: New Order uses the immersive properties of videogames to create an impossible reality. Believing our planet could ruled by such evil can be hard to fathom without the hard work and extensive research of developers. This unsettling game stands an achievement in world building, and reaffirms that shooting Nazis, even future Nazis, is awesome.