Wolfenstein II: Narrative Efficiency

One of the basic rules of building a story is Be Efficient. People can tell when you’re just spinning your wheels and nothing’s actually going on – it’s a really bad look. It also suggests that you don’t really understand the essence of your story, because you’re spending a bunch of time on things that aren’t really that important. Today I wanted to talk more about the narrative efficiency of the Roswell-New Orleans bridge, just to see what it’s actually achieving from a narrative perspective.

Okay so let’s just quickly list the stuff that happens between the end of Roswell and the start of New Orleans.

  1. BJ ‘dies’ and gets a new clone body
  2. The power suit gets destroyed
  3. BJ has some flashbacks to his childhood
  4. BJ learns the Nazis have taken (and probably killed) his mother
  5. BJ kills his father
  6. General Engel kills Super Spesh
  7. General Engel thinks she’s killed BJ

There is some other stuff going on, but those seem like the main strokes to me. Let’s just go through them and talk about how efficient they are or what broader purpose they serve within the narrative.

Stuff #1: BJ dies, new clone body

The whole getting captured and executed and resuscitated thing really isn’t necessary for this plot point to happen. We know that BJ’s on the verge of collapse. It could just be that when he gets back from the Roswell mission, he collapses, or his internal organs all break down or something. There’s ways to make this shift happen without the massive long capture sequence.

Stuff #2: The power suit gets destroyed

Ehh. If Caroline was still alive, it could’ve gone back to her when BJ had a new body and didn’t need it to not die. That could’ve been the whole arc: Caroline doesn’t get killed by Engel, but gives the suit to BJ, because he’s about to die from his injuries. Then later, when BJ’s body degenerates further, he gets the new body and the suit goes back to Caroline so she can walk again. Easy.

Stuff #3: BJ’s flashbacks

These are generally fine. I’m glad they didn’t try to force them into the opening sequence and make that even longer than it already is.

Stuff #4: BJ’s mother

That’s sad 😦

Stuff #5: BJ’s father

Fine, yeah, good, not awful. Grouping BJ’s mother and father makes sense. I’ve talked about it before: it’s bringing that whole story arc to a close. It’s actually doing work, so it’s great.

Stuff #6: Engel kills Spesh

Really not sure why this needed to happen. The whole prison scene is basically a cul-de-sac – it doesn’t advance the plot in any meaningful way. The best that can be said about it is that it’s subverting your expectations – you might think that you’re going to have a prison breakout sequence, but from the other side. All through New Order, you were breaking people out, and now maybe someone’s going to break you out. So okay, maybe it’s an extremely long subversion of expectation. That’s pretty inefficient. Spesh’s death also doesn’t really do much for the wider narrative. Grace gets upset for about two seconds, and then it’s never really mentioned again. Nothing is escalated, the stakes aren’t raised – everything just continues as normal. You do get the scene with Engel where she sticks her gun in your mouth, in that weirdly sexual move – and that’s a pretty interesting scene, sure. But if the main purpose of the prison break episode is to give Engel some screentime, you could have cut Spesh and just have Engel come in and do the gun thing. Or just cut the gun thing as well. There is one great line in that scene, where she says something like ‘How does the smoke of the bullet that killed your friend taste,’ but I’m sure they could have squeezed that line in somewhere else. Have Engel shoot a rebel at the start of the game, on the Ausmerzer or something, and put the line in there. Then just cut the prison altogether.

Stuff #7: Engel kills BJ

Again, so what. The developers try to justify it afterwards, having Grace say something like ‘They all think you’re dead, they’ll never see you coming.’ But nothing really changes as a result of BJ’s supposed death. Engel keeps chasing the Eva’s Hammer, because she wants her submarine back, and BJ is spotted by the Nazis about two minutes into the next level. BJ’s execution adds nothing of value to the narrative. It’s inefficient. You do get to see the Nazi-fied Lincoln Memorial, and look down on the Washington Monument – it’s pretty intense seeing those landmarks all Nazied up. But I’m sure they could have included those landmarks at some other time. How hard can it be to put them in a couple establishing shots for something?

-/\-

So some of the stuff in there has a narrative purpose – particularly the stuff regarding BJ’s parents. But aside from that, most of the other content isn’t particularly efficient. It’s interesting, and it’s not necessarily artistically worthless, but it’s a really extended sequence that doesn’t do a lot to advance the story. I’m really struck by Spesh’s death in particular here – at best it’s meant to be a surprise, but after you’ve watched it two or three times, it gets really dull. It’s not advancing the story at all. It’s a narrative dead end. There’s a similar issue with Spesh’s rant about space aliens at the start of Roswell – it’s basically just fluff. Again, not inherently bad, but ultimately pointless. Doesn’t further the plot. The story wouldn’t really lose much if the developers removed Spesh’s alien conspiracy thing. It wouldn’t lose much if they removed the entire prison sequence, to be honest, and the courthouse. In fact, if BJ turned up to the farmhouse, learned about his mother’s death, killed his father, hallucinated his mother, and then went home and had his body completely break down, you’d have basically all the same story progress that’s currently in there right now. In fact, you could even make it look like BJ’s body breaks down in response to learning about his mother’s death. That would give the moment a lot more emotional impact – he hears the news, kills his father, and then keels over, almost as if the news itself is killing him. Then the rebels turn up and find him, and his body’s just fucked, and they decide to do a crazy head transplant. All the same beats, all the same progress, no time wasted with a flying house and a foiled prison escape and a fantasy trial murder and an execution on top of the Lincoln Memorial. And when you put it like that, I mean, really.

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