Blazkowicz’s Conversation with a Marxist in Wolfenstein II

Horton and B.J.’s political debate leaves me hopeful for The New Colossus‘s portrayal of Marxism.

Yesterday, Polygon released a 30-minute gameplay video of the upcoming Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, wherein we had the opportunity to see the dialogue cutscene found in the trailers between main protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz, and Horton Boone, the leader of a Marxist resistance movement in New Orleans. Horton is recruited into the Kreisau Circle, but not before he and B.J. get drunk and have a philosophical debate.

Horton talks about his band of revolutionaries, holed up in a battered Orleans building, describing them  as “the outcast, the poor… well, everyone apart from the American God-damn Bourgeois,” the first indication that MachineGames know their Marxist terminology. He introduces B.J. to his friend Paris Jack, “a true believer in Anarchism and a hell of a clarinet player.” Is this left unity in action? One can assume.

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Then, out comes the ‘Horton Special,’ a moonshine whiskey, and the two men discuss the resistance and get pretty heated about their respective political beliefs. Horton is weary and jaded, having planned for a revolution long before the Nazi occupation. He along with many carried the banner of the civil rights movement, campaigned for equality, and protested the US draft, to which Blazkowicz garners anger, arguing that Horton and his ilk should have fought in the war instead of “passing out Bolshevik propaganda and opposing the draft on every street corner.”

This triggers the now well-known revolutionary rant from Horton, in which he talks about standing up against the “imperial war machine of the United States of America and the greedy money men of wall street who was itching to send the children of the proletariat off to die in foreign lands so that they could be filling their coffers.” That, seeing through America’s  exploitation of its people, decided not to co-operate and protest in the way that he did.

It looks like it’s going to be a very faithful portrayal of Marxist and other left-leaning revolutionaries. And with other small details littered throughout the scene, like a hammer and sickle flag in the background of one shot and a propaganda poster asking its readers to “become the hammer,” MachineGames really aren’t shying away from the explicit leftist thought and imagery, and what’s even more interesting to see is that these characters and their ideals are positioned on the side of the protagonists of the game.

Communists have always typically combatted the ideals and actions of Nazism of course, but it’s very uncommon that they’re portrayed as the good guys in film, TV, and video games. Often when they are, it’s to set up a shock twist wherein they betray the protagonists in order to seek their own goals.

But this cutscene has left me feeling optimistic about Wolfenstein II’s resident lefties, and alongside the diverse cast of the Kreisau Circle and the aggressive anti-Nazi messaging in all of the game’s promotional material, perhaps this’ll be the games industry’s first really great triple-A portrayal of the far-left.

Space Jammers Preview – Needs a LOT of Work

Space Jammers is a top-down, twin-stick, bullet-hell shoot-em-up, with cited influence from games like Binding of Isaac and clear inspiration, or at least shared themes, with Nuclear Throne. It puts you in control of one of four space kitten pirate rock stars, tasked with looting and shooting across the galaxy in order to fund your musical tour. The concept is exciting enough, and it’s difficult to mess up a twin-stick shooter at it’s core. But a number of mechanics, graphics settings, and optimization issues leave this a game that I both wanted desperately to enjoy, and can see myself enjoying once a lot of work goes into it.

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So, to begin with, let’s preface this with a couple of important things: Space Jammers is soon releasing in Early Access, and it’s still riding out the end of it’s Kickstarter campaign. It’s not a finished product, which is why this isn’t a review. It’s also not a final, scathing slander of the game that I won’t potentially update if I review it. This is constructive feedback, more than anything else. I really like the concept of Space Jammers, and I want to see it do well. The build that I’ve been given is dedicated to early previews; it’s less stable than the demo build, but it has more frequent updates to I can see it’s progress. With all that said, let’s begin.

The first thing I attempted to do in Space Jammers was configure my controller. I enjoy using one with twin-stick games more than I do a mouse and keyboard, as the name of the genre suggests. This didn’t work out too well. Buttons were incorrectly-mapped, with frequent attempts to pick up items and use special abilities resulting in quitting the game, and they often appeared too sensitive with single presses zipping me through multiple menus at once, and it made the game far more challenging than it should be.

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As such, I had to resort to using a mouse and keyboard, which was less than ideal, but functional nonetheless. A big issue that this presented was the currently local-only multiplayer. I wanted to see how the game felt when playing with friends, but I couldn’t, as the lack of online functionality paired with the controller support issues unfortunately rendered this impossible.

Based on the recommended system requirements of the game, I opted to bump up my graphics quality to ‘high.’ This provided minor improvements to the clarity of pixels, but a disproportionate drop in performance. The whole game entered a state of slow motion, which I initially thought to be the intended game speed, and would have been one of my criticisms. This suggests poor optimization, and it’s something that will need to be looked at. But, playing on ‘normal’ graphics quality didn’t hinder my experience with the game, aside from occasional dips in speed when in highly-populated areas, and sometimes even tiny nooks that you wouldn’t expect. Something else in the graphics options did, however; the ‘bloom’ effect.

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This, along with options for scan lines, vignette, and film grain, are all attempts to add that arcade cabinet aesthetic to the game, and these other three work quite nicely. The ‘bloom’ effect, however, adds a red fade from the top to the bottom of the screen. As it’s a default setting, I wasn’t aware that these two things were linked, and it left me constantly wondering whether my character was low on health or not. The colour palette as well, while vibrant and varied, seems incredibly saturated, making the game a strain on the eyes

There’s variety in the stages of Space Jammers, with the standard walk-and-shoot areas occasionally partitioned by scrolling space ship sections that play like a fusion of Galaga and Geometry Wars, with asteroids to blast and dodge in order to avoid damage. This keeps the game feeling fresh, though these stages have a lot more potential for what they currently offer.

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The game feels quite fluid and fast-paced, with sharp movement and a precise aiming system. What holds these qualities back are a few mechanical choices that feel artificial in their difficulty. Ammo capacity is scarce, and whilst this wouldn’t usually be an issue, it lessens the impact of some of the weapons that the game gives you to use.

These weapons are also somewhat challenging to get to grips with, as their behaviours are unpredictable, even from shot to shot. I had one gun that fired exploding rockets, but it often alternated, seemingly at random, between firing one rocket in the direction of the cursor, and then also firing two rockets perpendicular to the gun in either direction, which led to some slip-ups and unintended character deaths. The spawn rates of enemies in the game also seem that little bit too high, leaving me feeling that some areas were impossible to tackle without sprinting through to the exit.

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I really wanted to like Space Jammers, and I can see it’s potential, with a compelling concept, refreshingly-varied gameplay style, and hard-to-spoil twin-stick action. But in its current state, it’s not as enjoyable an experience for me as I was expecting. Here’s hoping that with some more time, and perhaps some more funding, Spread Shot Studios can polish out the flaws and come out with something pretty great.

It’s still definitely worth giving a go to see how you feel about it, and so you can observe it’s development too. You can download the demo for Space Jammers here, and add the game to your Wishlist on Steam here, for an Early Access release on 13th of December.