In case the title didn’t make it clear, SPOILER ALERT!
Wolfenstein: The New Order’s narrative and gameplay is made possible, arguably, by the catharsis that comes from killing those who deserve to die. As the player charges through cramped corridors, automatic shotgun in each hand, leaving insta-gibbed corpses in their wake, they never have to stop and question the morality of it all.
The New Order tells us early and often that Nazis, especially General Deathshead, are evil, and need to be eliminated. Over the 10-12 hour campaign, the player has more than ample opportunity to do so. Hundreds of foot soldiers, mechs, mech-dogs, super-mechs (there’s a lot of mechs), and commanders are felled along the way. In the final mission, Frau Engel, her Bubi, Deathshead, and all of Berlin are destroyed, yet the ending fails to live up to its first two satisfying acts. Deathshead, the biggest, baddest Nazi of them all, does not meet a just end.
Although the player doesn’t personally kill Frau Engel, her retribution is the most fitting. As a villain who spends the game imposing her cruel will on others (the prisoners at the Labour Camp, Blazkowicz in the train car, her Bubi), her punishment comes from turning that power against her, and finally completely removing it. At Camp Belica, the control of the machines Engel uses to dominate the prisoners is taken from her by Set Roth, and the giant mech mauls her face, leaving her scarred. In the game’s final chapter, Engel’s power is completely removed. In a deeply ironic sequence, Bubi Skypes (Do the Nazis call it Der Scheip?) his lover to show her he’s captured Blazkowicz and will kill him for her. As the player comes to and kills Bubi, Engel is forced to watch helplessly as the player unceremoniously executes her lover. Engel is dead long before the Bomb is dropped on Berlin: her lover is gone, but crucially, she was powerless to prevent it.
As a villain who spends the game imposing her cruel will on others… Frau’s punishment comes from turning that power against her…
The same sequence offers appropriate comeuppance for Bubi as well. He spends the narrative committing atrocity after atrocity in the name of impressing his Frau. As he captures and drugs you he whispers in your ear that everything he does is for her. His greatest misery, then, would be to disappoint his Frau. As Blazkowicz towers over him, ready to pull the trigger, Bubi’s real horror comes not from his imminent death, but from his failure to kill Blazkowicz for Frau. Worse yet, she sees the whole scene play out. With Bubi’s death, two out of three main villains receive their own form of ultimate retribution.
It is disappointing, then, that Deathshead doesn’t meet a similarly appropriate demise, especially considering how badly the game sets you up to kill him beforehand. After taking down mecha-Deathshead and his cruelly created Wyatt or Fergus-Bot, Blazkowicz removes the all-but-defeated General from his robot and proceeds to stab him several times. Not content to die by someone else’s hand, Deathshead detonates a grenade, killing himself while leaving Blazkowicz clinging to life. Herein lies the problem: Deathshead dies believing he’s won. He’s killed Blazkowicz and, his eyes, ended the Rebellion. He dies sure that his empire will continue. For an enemy that stands head and shoulders above murderers, tyrants, and perpetrators of genocide as the worst of them, Deathshead end is morally unsatisfying.
Some critics have pointed out the obvious connections between Wolfenstein: The New Order and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009): both are hyper-violent stories of small band of resistance fighters dishing out their own brand of justice against Nazi Germany, and both use the same pulp style, among others. What makes Inglourious Basterds the better Nazi revenge fantasy is its final act. As the theatre housing the entire upper echelon of Third Reich burns down, and Hitler is shot 57 times (possibly more) in the face, Col. Hans Landa is brutally marked forever as a Nazi. A government who infamously burned millions of political prisoners, Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals get a taste of their own medicine, and a trader is branded as a member of the very political party he betrayed; that’s cathartic.