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Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus' Wheelchair Offers a New and Fascinating FPS Perspective

Wolfenstein 2 finds all kinds of interesting ways to make you feel helpless.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

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Since the dawn of time, first-person shooters have been about fast-paced action. As with the great majority of people in real life, you don't even think about the advantages conferred by increased mobility. You just take it for granted that you can get anywhere you need in a hurry, with the occasional added benefit of a jetpack.

Wolfenstein 2 begins by taking those advantages away. When BJ Blazkowicz awakens, he's no longer the chiseled hero of the previous games. Rather, after being in a coma for five months, his legs have wasted away. He can only get around with the help of a wheelchair.

"I'm broken," he says at one point. And you can feel it, because you're in that wheelchair.

You're given little time to adjust to your new situation before being thrown into the fire. You are on a resistance U-Boat, and the Nazis have invaded. Confined to your wheelchair, you are left to jerkily wheel forward with one hand while an SMG droops unsteadily in your other. You can't strafe or even climb stairs: you're pretty much limited to rolling straight head.

The level design takes advantage of this in interesting ways. In order to get up to another level, for example, you have to roll up a conveyor belt or ride one of the gears that is presumably powering the engine. But at point one of the Nazis reverses the belt and you're sent tumbling backward, your wheelchair flying away as you lay nearly helpless on the conveyor belt. All you can do is quickly shoot the Nazis before they can shoot you, as you are unable to reach cover.

Blazkowicz's plight reflects the dire place the resistance finds itself in. Having won, the Nazis are firmly in charge, and the resistance is seemingly on the run. The Nazis are led by a terrifying woman reminiscent of Rosa Klebb's who taunts Blazkowicz as he lays helpless.

"Is this what a hero looks like? A useless cripple of a man peeing into a tube?" She cackles.

It takes her less than a minute to establish herself as a truly heinous villain. Having captured the leader of the resistance, she strips her down to her underwear and stands ruthlessly mocking her. Then she pulls out an axe and prepares to decapitate her before her cohort meekly protests.

"Didn't I tell you to stop eating sweets and get some exercise?" She sneers to her overweight subordinate. "And I've read your filthy diary."

She orders her squeamish minion to kill the resistance leader as you're forced to watch, unable to move as you're held by two sniggering guards. I found myself moving the camera away from the scene as much as I could, unable to watch. But then I hit a cliffhanger.

The whole experience was all rather different from the fun of Sunday's reveal trailer, which seemed to promise a healthy dose of humorous insanity. It was dark, with was reflected by Blazkowicz's white hospital robe quickly becoming splattered in blood from killing Nazis.

Even the humor had a dark tinge to it. When I used a microwave trap to fry a hapless soldier, one of his cohorts yelled, "He exploded in a cloud of mush! He was getting married in two weeks! I was his best man!"

Yikes.

But the bit that jumps out at me the most was the battle in the wheelchair. I can't say I've ever had an experience quite like that in a video game, a medium that is so often about power fantasies. Interestingly, this appears to be something of a trend of late: The Surge also starts you in a wheelchair.

I suppose what I liked the most about the scene, aside from the excellent level design and intense atmosphere, was that BJ turned his position of weakness into a strength. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, he was able to make do and hold his own for quite a while before finally being captured. It was a very cool level, and it really did a lot to put me into his shoes and frame of mind.

If the rest of Wolfenstein 2 is nearly this good, then we're surely in for one of the very best shooters of the year.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #1 NiceGuyNeon 6 months ago
    It sounds 100% like The New Order. Surprisingly in that game you wake up out of a coma but are mobile pretty quickly.

    But there was a similar start in The New Order where you're forced to watch a comrade be murdered.

    The villain, if I'm not mistaken, is a returning character and she has one of the most harrowing interrogation sequences in TNO. It makes you physically uncomfortable. (Well I was uncomfortable) It was one of the best releases of 2014 and one of my favorite shooters made. I'm really looking forward to more of it.
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  • Avatar for toppform #2 toppform 6 months ago
    I'm not surprised to hear that the in-game tone is darker than the trailer. TNO looked very kitschy in the promo material but didn't shy away from showing cruelty, albeit in a wonderfully campy way. If TNC can keep the same balance throughout it can be just as great.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #3 Lonecow 6 months ago
    As someone who is married to someone in a wheelchair I think this is kind of bullshit.

    There are no games we play where she gets to create an avatar that represents herself. No character creator or game that lets her experience a virtual world in the same way she experiences the real world. She was born without the ability to walk, and she has no desire to walk. It's not a state of "helplessness" for her, as you put it. She doesn't play games and think, "Golly gee this is what it is like to walk."

    And it's fine, game developers can't be expected to code their games for a minority of people who can't walk. But doing it like this. "Oh shit now you are starting the game SUPER weak." is really insulting, and insensitive. And of course they can't keep them in the wheelchair the entire game, that would be a different story if you had the option to stay in the chair. No it's a moment of, "Whew, thank God they got out of that chair, now I can really kick some ass bro!"

    Even you have this mentality, "Despite being confined to a wheelchair, he was able to make do and hold his own for quite a while before finally being captured."

    If you ever met anyone in a wheelchair who has lived their entire life that way, you wouldn't see being in a chair as helpless.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #4 Kat.Bailey 6 months ago
    @lonecow I don't really think that you can equate BJ's situation to someone who is disabled. BJ is waking up from a coma and is thus unable to walk, and the game goes out of its way to hammer home that he feels broken from his injuries, etc. I was reflecting that it's a different perspective for an FPS. That is in no way suggesting that disabled people are somehow broken or helpless.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #5 Lonecow 5 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey Maybe you didn't intend it that way but read your headline and sub head again, and tell me how that doesn't make it sound like being in a wheelchair makes you helpless.
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  • Avatar for helpfulmole #6 helpfulmole 5 months ago
    I don't really like modern shooters so much but this is different for some reason. I don't think I have watched an 8 minute trailer so many times before.

    Their blend of surreal, cinematic, camp, and hyper violence is possibly the best thing ever. I'm really glad you enjoyed the first bit of the game. It gives me a lot of hope that this thing is special.
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  • Avatar for PsychicPumpkin #7 PsychicPumpkin 5 months ago
    I'd be more excited for Wolfenstein if it didn't come out on the same day as Super Mario Odyssey. I'm definitely keeping it in mind to pick up down the road.
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