Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review

July 30, 2019
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The Wolfenstein series has been going for almost forty years. It’s a long time, especially when you note that the first game came out in the same year that Donkey Kong and Mario (née Jumpman) first wobbled across our CRTs. It’s fair to say that B.J. Blazkowicz’s job hasn’t changed that much since his introduction in 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D — but we wouldn’t really call for it to, either, as stomping Nazis into a fine paste is the sort of decent work anyone can be proud of. However, with Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the time has come for a new generation to try to take up the mantle: our usual protagonist is here stepping out of the spotlight in order for his twin daughters, Jess and Soph, to follow in their father’s footsteps. Don’t be fooled, though. Wolfenstein: Youngblood doesn’t occupy the same space as a full entry in MachineGame’s current series, but instead is a stopgap akin to what Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was to Wolfenstein: The New Order. Whereas the focus is still on fast, bloody gameplay, this latest instalment also experiments with co-op and more non-linear gameplay to make a case for the series existing outside of our Terror-Billy’s personal vendettas.

Pile 'em high.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood skips forward nineteen years from Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, and is set in 1980s Paris, where the Nazis still have a stronghold. The game follows Jess and Soph’s mission to meet up with the French resistance movement and track down their M.I.A. father. I found the twins immediately likeable and endearingly dorky in their terrible jokes, sweary banter, and an obsession with a Hardy Boys-style book series called ‘Kenneth and Arthur’. When booting up the game you’ll be able to choose which of the sisters to control, although this doesn’t mean a great deal beyond the superficial. Both characters can unlock all weapons and skills over the course of the game, so it only really impacts your basic starting weapon and the face you’ll see when turning to your partner during gameplay. In a first for the Wolfenstein series, this title insists that you don’t take on the world alone, as you will be joined by your twin sister throughout. Searching for a random player to connect with is straightforward, and I didn’t find any server issues during my time with the game. However, if solo play is more your thing, your partner in crime will be played by a friendly, if sometimes spotty, AI bot. 

There are a number of new mechanics designed to best make use of the co-op gameplay, such as the life system. Instead of a death kicking you back to the nearest checkpoint, you can be revived by your partner before you bleed out — but even if you do die before being resuscitated, you will expend one of three shared lives, which will put you back in the action with health restored. If one of you dies without any chances left, the game will end and you’ll both be sent back to the start of the entire map you’re playing through. The revival system works well online with another human player, but on more than one occasion in offline mode, I watched helplessly as my sister stared blankly ahead, ignoring my calls for assistance. And this wasn’t even in battle — I’d fallen to the final shot of a now-exploded Nazi mech, and there was nothing else that could conceivably be distracting the buddy AI. 

The arcadey levelling system won’t be for everyone, but does feel nicely celebratory.

Alongside the new co-op experiences, the maps are more open and rife for exploration. From your base of operations in the Parisian catacombs, members of the resistance will assign you tasks such as taking out an enemy kommandant or rescuing a comrade. In doing so, you can open new doors and metro stations, creating shortcuts about the map (all fingers point squarely at new co-developer Arkane Studios for the influence, who used the same idea when bringing their Dishonored series to life). It means that the levels do change over time as you become more familiar with them, and being on the lookout for new routes to help bypass heavily armed opposition keeps the experience lively when the sidequests start to become fetch tasks. With multiple missions taking place over repeat visits to the same maps, it does mean that you won’t have the sort of terrain-destroying spectacles at the end of most missions as often found in a more linear FPS title. This isn’t an expressly negative point, but players expecting more of MachineGames’ previous blockbuster moments may feel like they’re missing something.

Sadly, being able to choose your own missions to take on isn’t as freeing as you’d think. You’ll still need to pick up some non-essential objectives in order to grind up some points at times, as Wolfenstein: Youngblood has a new levelling system. Going into a higher ranked mission means your bullets will uniformly do a fraction of the damage as would be inflicted upon a lower level enemy. Shown in a pop-up lifebar above an enemy’s head when your reticule is on it, anything more than a few levels above you means they will soak up anything you fire at them, and dish it back in spades. 

You’ll be glad of your partner when taking on the bigger Nazi mechs.

The game is purposefully arcadey with lifebars, perks, and onscreen weapon achievement pop-ups, which will definitely put off a number of players — but I did like the new shield indicators displayed for each enemy, which tell you what sort of weapon you need to choose to best chip away at their defenses and add another layer to the combat. Fans of the previous outings will be thankful to hear that the actual gunplay is as satisfying and reliable as ever, with rapid double-jumping movement and a meaty arsenal to switch between, and real distinction between weapon types. The familiar Nazis, robots, and dogs are back again, and blasting a face off with your shotgun is rewardingly cathartic from beginning to end.

With the simultaneous release of Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot, it’s been a good opportunity for MachineGames to test the possibilities of Wolfenstein working as a larger franchise rather than an enclosed series. I don’t expect to see Wolfenstein: Karting anytime soon, but if these seperate games do well, I wouldn’t mind continuing to see the Wolfenstein world pushed in new directions such as this. Decent level design and stellar core gameplay go a long way in glossing over some of the more pressing issues of a glitchy companion AI and a couple of bugs here and there (most noticeably a glitch on PS4 which stutters the audio at random times, and will not resolve itself until you load a new area — expect this to be a priority for MachineGames to fix in the near future). Jess and Soph are carved from the same hard bark as the rest of the Blazkowicz family tree, but what we learn about them is minimal compared to the more heavily narrated character arcs of B.J.’s own games. I’ll look forward to spending more time with the twins in future instalments, but for now Wolfenstein: Youngblood remains a bright and breezy co-op shooter — to hell with a weighty story, to hell with big set pieces, and to hell with the goddamn Nazis.

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Enjoyable, but not as engaging as previous entries, Wolfenstein: Youngblood does a good job of attempting to branch the series out from its trademark style.
Matt Jordan

I first met all three generations of the Blazkowicz family in the 1990s, and we stay in touch to this day. A fan of trippy comics, genre-heavy storytelling, and the IMDB trivia pages. I’ve never beaten that level where you ride an ostrich in Sega’s The Lion King game.