I wish more video games would let their hair down like Wolfenstein: The New Colossus does.
Like the first Wolfenstein reboot, New Colossus’ greatest strength isn’t its gunplay but its characters, who we grow to know and love over the course of the game. They make jokes, they act like arseholes, they take shits, they get depressed, they find love.
Unlike almost every other game out there, the cast of Wolfenstein feel like people, not heroes. The only square-jawed champion in the game is you, playing as the God-Athlete BJ; everyone else is flawed and kind of broken.
No scene in the game (in either game, really) is able to capture this humanity better than the birthday party sequence, which sure is something to take in:
This entire scene is a masterstroke. There’s just so much going on, so much to soak up besides the...well, the obvious.
Wolfenstein isn’t interested in giving us perfect sidekicks. Almost everybody in the game (and I’m talking about your allies here, not the Nazis) has serious flaws undermining their character, making them at best unreliable and at worst unlikeable.
But so do I. And so do you. We’ve all got our problems. They’re what make us human, and they’re what provide the measuring stick for the times we aren’t the worst, and can do good things in the name of a good cause. A hero doing heroic things is expected, boring even, but seeing normal folks rise above their shortcomings to save the day and risk their lives packs far more of a punch.
It’s true of firefights but it’s even truer of drunken fistfights. BJ’s party scene is maybe my favourite part of the game, better than the execution, better than the showdown with your dad, because it finishes the job the rest of the game starts in rounding out these characters. We’ve seen these very real characters endure hardship, death and destruction, and now we get to see the other end of the spectrum as they have one hell of a night.
Maybe the best way to illustrate it is this. Here’s how most video game characters get drunk, on their way to triggering a boss fight or a cutscene about being very sad:
Here’s how Wolfenstein’s resistance gets drunk:
This is how people party. It’s stupid, it’s messy, it’s regrettable, it’s 100% relatable.
The party sequence doesn’t just push a slider called “character development” along a few notches, either, it serves as a fantastic tonal release for the game’s final chapters. For all of New Colossus’ jokes, much of it takes place in a very grim America, from the atomic wasteland of Manhattan to a New Orleans ghetto that’s almost uninhabitable.
What better way to keep the player’s spirits up for their final push against the Nazi stronghold than to pause the action for a long, hilarious party sequence? Like the characters themselves, it was the perfect time for a break from all the stressing and killing.
New Colossus shows that an America ruled by Nazis is a terrible place. But it also shows that a video game without light-hearted moments can be just as grim.