Them: “Welcome to Murder King – can I take your order?”
Me: “I’ll have sausages, custard and a bit of mustard, please.”
Me: “And to drink, I’ll have a pint of your finest tomato soup.”
Them: “Sir… those things don’t really go together. That’s not the kind of order we would normally do here.”
Me: “Damn straight it’s not – because this isn’t any old order…”
Me: “…this is a goddamn New Order.”
And it goes together beautifully.
Sausages, custard and a bit of mustard – these are the metafoodical components of Wolfenstein. They really shouldn’t work, but they do.
The metaphors themselves don’t work, though. It’s the custard’s fault, clearly – it’s always the goddamn custard’s fault.
Wolfenstein’s recipe, then: a cup of history, a light sprinkling of horror, a touch of levity, four spoons of heart and ten dollops of absolute insanity. Machine Games’ dark dichotomy is ostensibly a recipe for disaster – a nonsensical, unbelievable soup of stupidity.
And yet Wolfenstein is anything but. Instead, it’s a thoughtful, considered, heartfelt narrative interwoven with a crafted and engaging campaign, a game that knows what it wants to be and how to be it well.
Here, a severe historical backdrop – and the associated trappings of torture, imprisonment, slavery and death – play host to a casserole of seemingly disparate ingredients. At its core: a rising Nazi soufflé set to be popped by yours truly.
Armoured man-monsters, robots, dogs and armoured robot dogs – Wolfenstein cooks up a near-parodic set of antagonists. By extension, it feels like we shouldn’t really take them seriously. And yet we do, as Machine Games has peppered Wolfenstein with a not-so-secret sauce: its characters.
Wolfenstein transplants a colourful character roster – as wacky as elements may be – and transplants it into a dark world with weird happenings. But we take them and seriously, and their individual concerns. The consequence: we take their world seriously, too, and more so their foes.
In that regard, Wolftenstein didn’t invite me to suspend my disbelief, it disarmed it. A serious subject matter, then, littered with profound historical imagery is ostensibly reduced to the sophistication of an insensitive Saturday morning cartoon or one-dollar, bottom-shelf comic book. At least, at first glance.
It seems almost disrespectful to exploit such a base for such a ridiculous sauce. It could be argued, though, that we fundamentally accept the world and the villains before us for one simple reason: the Nazis – with all their robot dogs, man monsters and giant-ass machines – are the physical embodiment of our feelings about them: a terrifying, near-alien force that many would struggle to identify as human.
Or would identify as too human, depending on your perspective.
More to that, Wolfenstein never takes the associated imagery or symbology for granted, never exploiting it as a generic brand of evil. This is a game that’s clearly qualm-free in demonstrating just how monumentally awful its antagonists truly are, never passing up the opportunity to make you hate them.
And not only does this hatred make kicking their asses all the more satisfying, it helps drive the plausibility of the world, as these ‘hate-making’ scenarios are real-world happenings with a slap of aesthetic icing. Hatred imbues you with the will to kill – authenticity be damned.
What’s wonderful, too, is that these villains are ultimately defeated – or, at least, massively inconvenienced – by the living embodiment of their beliefs, with Blaskowitz virtually labelled as such.
The Nazi’s excessive appearance is our gut reaction made manifest – and it’s why it’s so easy to accept what we’re presented.
And it’s this focus that – as strange as this might sound – helps Wolfestein feel like an original PlayStation game. Key word, there: game – not an ‘experience’, ‘service, or ‘platform’.
No multiplayer, no coop, loot crates or hollow downloadable content. It’s a game, and a damn tasty one at that. Not in a PlayStation game in terms of quality, of course, but in terms of sheer focus. Like its setting, Wolfenstein feels like an experience ‘out of time’ with its contemporaries, disconnected from the superfluous extras that, as it inadvertently demonstrates so well, aren’t required for a damn-good time.
In short: Wolfestein is a near perfect alignment of what it wants to be and what it does.
And despite moments of levity, not once do I fail to take Wolfenstein’s world and its cast earnestly.
But similarly to their outward manifestation of evil: the core events of Wolfenstein’s future dystopia work because so many of its elements seem like the logical conclusion – if exaggerated and twisted – of the ultimate goals of any expanding empire.
Sure: a moon base by the 1960s seems a tad preposterous – not unlike sausages and custard – but all those things mentioned earlier, torture, slavery, death, imprisonment, are merely themes continued in Wolfenstein, only adding a sense tangibility to a world that never quite existed – but perhaps almost nearly did.
What’s more, it also carefully side steps the notion that ‘they were better’, by assigning their breath-taking technological superiority to an external source, effectively reducing them to thieves.
In a strange way, then, it doesn’t explicitly exaggerate the Nazis – in a general sense, at least – it merely inflates various representational elements to evoke a very particular feeling about them. If your distance from history numbed you to their nature, Wolfenstein might provide a wake up call by presenting them in a way that helps us grasp that feeling.
That giant hybrid-mechanical dog is terrifying and an obvious affront to all that’s good and wholesome. Ergo, the association with the Nazis follows.
Wolfenstein is ostensibly a recipe for an incoherent mess – a game which, on paper, invokes thoughts of parody, not passion. But Machine Games have taken disparate ingredients to cook a distinctive dish that, when pitted against its po-faced, big-budget brethren, invites me to care in a far more successful way.
‘Nazi’ has become a near pop-culture reference, a would-be meme – a suffix to denote authoritarian preferences, “a grammar Nazi”. It’s not to difficult to see, then, how our perception of who they were – especially if you’re not particularly versed in history – might be blunted by both ignorance and the word’s integration into casual, everyday parlance.
But by turning up the heat on the Nazi’s aesthetic elements, its developer offers a wake-up call, a digital slap of sorts – a novel way of reminding us just how absurdly abhorrent they were while crafting a compelling game, underpinned by that very reminder that, no matter what recipe you decide to concoct, it shouldn’t combine sausages and custard.
Unless your name is ‘Machine Games’, that is.
For they are truly the masters of mustard, sausages and custard.