He likes strawberry milkshake and enjoys cruelty. I know that much. But at this point, as the Kommandant sits between me and the exit just a few metres away, I’m not entirely sure which is his favourite indulgence.
I’m in Roswell, New Mexico, to meet Speshie – a conspiracy theorist and member of the resistance who owns a diner here. I’m dressed as a fireman and carrying a “portable nuclear bomb” disguised as a fire extinguisher. There are posters of my heavily-scarred face everywhere. The Nazi officer smiles at me after another slurp of milkshake and I instinctively angle the camera down a little, as if to cover more of my face with the helmet.
He walked in while Speshie and I were waiting for a mother and child to leave, so that we could shut up shop and powwow. When she saw the officer enter, the mother quickly ushered her son out of the eatery, despite not having collected their order. In the process, she dropped her bag, and the helpful Kommandant picked it up for her, all curled lips and menace, bidding her a good day. He enjoyed her obvious fear, I can tell. I’ve got a pretty good radar for this kind of thing, and he is clearly a bit of a shit.
So here I am. Fake ID on the counter, waiting for him to stop toying with me and actually look at it. This may be a largely explorative section of the Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus demo that I’m playing, but I don’t feel like I’m in any less danger.
The whole situation is deeply evocative of thatcoffee scene in Wolfenstein: The New Order. The one where you’re unlucky enough to time your trip to the restaurant car of the Nazi train you’re riding on to coincide with the arrival of Frau Engel and her personal bodyguard Hans Winkle (Bubi, to her). In fact, there are even direct references. They’re both built around what would otherwise be unthreatening beverages (I’ve since gone off coffee, and I’m thinking about sticking with banana milkshakes from now on) and in both situations your conversation partner compliments you on your “Aryan face.”
But this encounter in the diner is much more unsettling. It’s partly down to the domesticity of the location and the sense of intrusion it creates – America may have fallen, but the diner is no mobile Nazi stronghold. Crucially, BJ was an interloper in Germany in the first game, now the situation has been reversed.
There’s more focus here, too. The conversation, no matter how one-sided, is between you and the Kommandant. There are no minigames to play. And the juxtaposition of the muffled hubbub of sun drenched-revellers enjoying the parade just outside the door, with the shady gloom of the diner, ramps up the tension. It’s a stark contrast to the blurry anonymity of dusk-grey German countryside streaking past a train carriage window.
But the most profound difference is found in the quiet confidence of the diner scene. Frau Engel is undoubtedly an imposing figure, but revisiting the coffee situation after playing The New Colossus demo reminded me of just howbusyeverything was. She’s flanked by the hapless Bubi, armed guards, and a hulking mech. There’s a gun on the table, too, which she uses to threaten you. After my close call with the Kommandant, the train level all seems a little… brash.
The officer is carrying a weapon, sure, but it isn’t used to threaten me (hell, I’mthe one with a city-levelling bomb on the counter). He’s also alone. The threat he represents is entirely conjured through a combination of fantastic acting, brilliant script, and expertly tuned dramatic tension. He’s a grotesque caricature, sure, but he taps into the same streak of stomach-churning sadism mined by films such as Inglorious Basterds, Hellboy, and even Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Given all this, it’s all the more shocking when Speshie executes him. All that nasty charisma and enigmatic intimidation built up for a relatively short scene. All that effort poured into a brief encounter. Machine Games did a remarkable job of fleshing out The New Order’s characters, whether in love or at war, but on this unsettling evidence we haven’t seen anything yet.