MachineGames’ high-profile reboot of the Wolfenstein series has been going strong thus far, with The New Order and The Old Blood breathing new life and energy into the old, long-forgotten franchise whilst still keeping its core theme (killin’ Nazis) intact. This continued in the sequel, The New Colossus, which was not as strong as The New Order but still managed to dole out plenty of Nazi-killing fun alongside some entertaining character interactions. The latest instalment of the series, however, is a maverick in many ways. Before Wolfenstein 3 graces our televisions and computer screens at some point in the next couple of years, MachineGames has taken a sharp detour with Wolfenstein: Youngblood – a game so radically different to the previous games that you’d be right to be taken by surprise – hence maybe the somewhat middling reviews from Steam reviewers and outright damning criticisms from Metacritic users. The question is though, is this latest Wolfenstein outing actually deserving of that criticism?
Wolfenstein: Youngblood’s plot goes something like this. 20 years have passed following the liberation of America after the end of Wolfenstein II, and B.J. Blazkowicz has vanished. In their typical adult fashion, the adults present, those being former insurgent-turned-FBI-leader Grace Walker and B.J.’s badass-in-her-own-right wife Anya Oliwa, have decided that it’s not worth looking for him (as Grace puts it “If B.J. #@%&in’ Blazkowicz doesn’t wanna be found, no-one on God’s green earth is gonna find his ass”). It’s up to B.J. and Anya’s twin daughters, Jess and Soph Blazkowicz, to go to Paris in order to find him, while helping the underground French resistance.
I’ll be honest, this plot feels more like a basic excuse for why 2 badasses are bouncing around Paris shooting Nazis; it’s quite thin, not overly inventive. It jumps around places with little rhyme or reason and there’s very little reason to actually pay attention to it. Indeed, in my approximately 5-6 hours of playtime thus far I’ve been having too much fun shooting to care much for the story. Certain plot points make its place in the timeline quite confusing as well, with it not being entirely clear whether or not it takes place before or after the events of the upcoming Wolfenstein 3.
However, much like iD Software’s RAGE (which I reviewed at the beginning of this year), this game makes up for its patchy story by way of its gameplay and level design. Unlike in the previous three games, Youngblood’s levels are laid out in a more open fashion, encouraging exploration and revisiting levels to tackle different missions, thanks in no small part to Dishonored and Prey developer Arkane Studios having a hand in their design. Side-missions frequently take you through multiple locations with plenty of wide-open spaces for some nicely chaotic firefights, and on occasion Abby can find little side objectives you can do for some bonus XP. I personally felt this made the game a lot more three-dimensional than the previous games’ linear levels, and it seems like a natural progression from The New Order and The Old Blood’s “hub levels” in the form of the KC headquarters and the Ausmerzer, respectively.
The most striking difference with Youngblood is, of course, the fact that it is co-operatively oriented, something that Wolfenstein hasn’t attempted since the Xbox version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein in 2001, and certainly never before to this extent. You can team up with a friend or play solo with the AI taking control of the other sister, but the game can be enjoyed perfectly well solo as well. It’s just a shame they didn’t take full advantage of the co-op dynamic for, say, high-powered team-up attacks the likes of FIre Emblem, but nevertheless it does help to give the game a little bit more character, even if the AI companion acts a little bizarre sometimes. But hey, who can say no to shooting Nazis with a friend?
The gameplay is, at its core, similar enough to the previous Wolfenstein games: blasting Jerries with a gorgeous collection of satisfying weapons. You start out with either a pistol or a machine-pistol, and within a few levels you’ll have built up a collection of 4-5 guns, most of which are returning weapons from the previous installment, and all of which can be upgraded using Silver Coins which you can find throughout the levels and which accumulate pretty quickly. So, it won’t be long before you’ve fully upgraded at least one weapon. You can also bling ‘em out with skins if you like, also purchasable with Silver Coins or by way of the dreaded M-word, but these skins are the only thing you CAN buy with real money and the aren’t in any way intrusive, so that’s not really an affront to me at least.
One thing I like about the weapon upgrades on offer in this game is that they’re much more expansive than The New Order’s limited number of scripted upgrades and The New Colossus’s meagre offering, with each standard gun having three different upgrade options or “brands” each for their feceiver, muzzle, sights, magazine and stock/grip, respectively. Some of the heavier weapons can get their accuracy or damage output upgraded, and selecting a trio of options from one brand also grants a damage bonus. Compared to The New Order’s offerings, this makes it a lot easier to spec for your specific playstyle.
This isn’t the only RPG-like element that this game has implemented. For instance, there are also skill trees and a level system not unlike Destiny or Borderlands, neither of which should need much in the way of explanation. While it is a bit jarring seeing that the enemies now have bullet-spongey health bars, not to mention base abilities from the previous games being made into unlockable skills in this one, it ultimately feels like a more fleshed out version of what they were trying to do in Wolfenstein II with the Contraption perks and such, and adds a welcome new dimension to the Wolfenstein formula that makes it a lot more rewarding to splatter the everloving nipples off of every baddie in sight.
For most of the reviews I’ve seen, people were critical of these differences, especially the more RPG-like elements, which has resulted in a less than stellar response from the gaming community as a whole, or at least those moved enough to review it on Steam or Metacritic. The story is bland and the game is quite different to a typical Wolfenstein title, but it’s important not to lose sight of what this game fundamentally is. It was never supposed to be a full-on Wolfenstein experience. This game is a spinoff, a fun distraction to keep us going until Wolfenstein 3 comes out. That’s all it really needs to be, and that’s all it is. It’s got your standard shooting mechanics and a plot that just about holds the action together, if thinly, coupled with RPG elements that give it a little more replay value. Hhonestly, for a £25 game, what more can you ask for?