Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus pits a man who seems supernaturally gifted at killing Nazis against a world filled with Nazis. There are a lot of people to kill, and most action games would just leave it there. But Wolfenstein 2 goes above and beyond by exploring what its lead character does when he’s not fighting.
Be warned: The rest of this article contains tiny spoilers for Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus.
There are the quiet moments and side-quests of the resistance base, but there is also a scene in which our hero, B.J. Blazkowicz, returns to the farmhouse of his childhood to explore the countryside and remember what his life was like growing up. The memories aren’t all pleasant, but there’s enough there to remind him of being a child, and the friends he played with.
This part of the game is a slow, meditative look at the character’s past that doesn’t require you to shoot a gun nor solve problems. It’s a walking simulator, in other words — the type of game that fans of big-budget action titles are known to sometimes sneer at.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is happy to pull from other games and films to anchor its tone and pacing, and this tip of the hat to Gone Home and other games of its kind is a wise way to break up the story and action. Gone Home is probably the most famous example of the walking simulator, and is a game where you explore your old house to find clues about what, exactly, is going on.
The Steam description sums it up well:
You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something's not right. Where is everyone? And what's happened here? Unravel the mystery for yourself in Gone Home, a story exploration game from The Fullbright Company.
But that style of gameplay works remarkably well in this context. B.J. gets to explore his own head for a bit, and the player is given a break from the chaotic death and dismemberment that fills the rest of the game.
You can watch a portion of the scene below.
It’s not that this section isn’t dark like the rest of the game. It’s that it’s willing to look at that darkness through another point of view. B.J’s life isn’t in danger throughoutout this level — at least, not for most of it. He has literally gone home to try to find ... something.
Wolfenstein 2 begins with B.J.’s father, and now we’re back where all those childhood memories took place. These characters all came from somewhere, and those places still inform who they are and determine what they’re doing.
It’s one of the best sections of the game, and does a great job of setting up what comes next.
More games should be willing to be this playful when it comes to playing with expectations and genre, even when the result is serious.