General Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse is a gnarly looking old man, with the kind of exaggeratedly evil voice, mannerisms and disfigured face one tends to associate with modern depictions of Nazis. He’s crouched down staring at me through the screen, flanked by two giant Über-Soldaten, each with one of my comrades, Wyatt and Fergus, wedged under their weighty knees. He’s goading me - or more accurately William Joseph "B.J." Blazkowicz, the bloke I’m in charge of - in that wholly merciless way Bad People From The National Socialist Party tend to do. And because he’s a thoroughly amoral kinda guy, you see, he’s up for dissecting one of them and he - here’s the kicker - wants me to choose who is to be the lucky recipient of his scientific attention. Do I pick Wyatt, the spunky rookie who only minutes before had saved me from certain death and whom I now "owe one"? Or will Fergus, the gruff and straightforward Scotsman who clearly has a history with B.J - though to what extent I’m unsure; I didn’t play two thousand and nine’s Wolfenstein - be the last man allowed to possibly, maybe, perhaps stand back up?
Hold it for a bit longer, just so we’re sure he’s not joking.
Nope, video game Nazis are lots of things, but never, ever - ever jocular.
Scottish I suppose, bugger it.
As Wyatt is hauled into a machine to have his good-natured brain sucked out the back of his head I begin to wonder if I’ve made the right decision, if I’ve just sacrificed the wrong soldier - from the wrong side of the Atlantic (the ever-present spectre of nationalism does funny things to the mind). As fate would have it I’m given a good long while to think about this, because shortly after escaping with my non-sacrificial comrade, B.J. is nicked by shrapnel, ending up in a coma for fourteen years, a span which is tastefully cut down to a two minute time lapse. While he has far longer to agonise over this decision than myself, I still feel pretty rough as the seasons slip by and the camera pans to the left, the room bathed in desaturated hues and ambient music. Ending this period of reflection, I stab a Nazi in the throat and embark on a bloody and vengeful road trip of sorts; for the next fifteen hours I end up being far too busy to think about poor Wyatt and my fateful choice. I think he’s mentioned again twice.
When the end rolls around I am, as I’d assume is B.J., exhausted. We’ve dashed about Europe as hard as any touring rock band - carrying about the same amount of hardware - and it’s actually a relief to see him contemplatively roll onto his back and call in the nuclear strike which may or may not release him from his cycle of ever-escalating Nazi killun’. Half an hour earlier he’d wrestled Wyatt’s jar-bound brain from a robot, ending the poor sod’s suffering in much the same way he was now about to do for himself: with military hardware.
The other time someone evoked Wyatt’s memory was during a little speech from Fergus. In it he’d bemoaned B.J.’s sentimentality in saving him, saying that they were both men of the past and that his young counterpart would have embodied a future where striking back at the incumbent regime could have been successful. He’s upset because they are getting old and won’t be able to hold their own for much longer - though they still look good for fifty year olds, especially B.J. who remains buff as anything after sitting in a chair for over a decade.
Much of the game’s story, at least with Fergus alive, is preoccupied with dismantling the action-hero archetype. It’s the end of the line for their type of masculinity - the old-world military patriarchy - as they age and are not replaced by equally square-headed gents, even if, for all intents and purposes, the B.J. of The New Order is as potent as the one in Wolfenstein 3D. That it is only said somewhat diminishes the thrust of the sentiment - and I’m almost certain that the bomb isn’t going to land on B.J., forcing any future Wolfenstein projects to be fronted by New Strong Female of the moment, Anya - but, to follow a sad line of thinking, at least it’s striving toward something.
Once it’s all over - the whole sorry, jingoistic, frivolous affair (I’m almost certain that these aspects of it are calculated and deliberate: a derision of the series' thematic constraints, possibly) - I’m pushed, as is the way with the post-credits videogame, back to the main menu. Navigating to the “Chapters” section I’m confronted with two columns: the “Fergus Timeline”, all decked out with names and little memory-jogging thumbnails, and a morose, post-prophetically (if one can say that) empty “Wyatt Timeline”, reminding me of what could have been.
There’s no way to easily go back and pursue this train of thought. I can’t hit a button and load right back to that decision which shaped, in what I’d assume is a very superficial way, pretty much my whole experience of the game. If I feel the urge to see what nineteen sixty Nazi-occupied Europe would look like with Wyatt as ‘my boy’, I have to go right back. Back past The Decision itself, back past B.J. being saved by a plucky soldier with a grenade, back past the beaches and the shooting, back past the AA guns, back past the late title card and back past the beginning of the game. To try again and see the world from another perspective I have to do just that: there’s no shortcut.
So just like all those stupid evenings where you say you’ll go to bed early but still end up staying up too late, thus making yourself extra vulnerable to the effects of the libations you are to consume the following day - at a special event that’s been planned for months - you are, essentially, tied to your decisions whether you like it or not. No amount of grovelling self-pity (we’re all just seeking personally-approved absolution if we’re being honest) is going to change what we did. Whether we’re happy with our actions is wholly irrelevant: we did what we did, we’re stuck.
I’m glad The New Order contains this little ‘fuck you’ to its players if I’m being honest. “If you want to play the game again” I hear it say “then be my guest, but bugger me if you’re doing it in an attempt to nurse your own personal guilt or re-imagine my already re-imagined history: that isn’t the way this works.” Life is too short to worry about the way you did things in the past, especially considering you more than likely cocked it up spectacularly. The New Order tells you that if you want to see how thing ‘could’ve gone’ then you’re more than welcome to; just be prepared to graft and repeat yourself in order to sate your debilitating curiosity and self-loathing.
I’ve personally done enough things I’d rather not relive to know better. Which is why I gave a little sigh at the sight of “Wyatt’s Timeline”, poured one out for him and turned off the TV: it’s best to just let the past lie where it is.
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