After three genuinely surprising entries in the revived Wolfenstein series, we’re presented with
the first entry without frequent series figurehead William “B.J.” Blazkowicz.
It’s now up to his twin daughters, Jess and Soph, to save the day and retrieve
their missing Pa from Nazi occupied Paris. This is Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
First things first, the revived Wolfenstein games have consistently been some of the finest first
person shooters around, managing to seamlessly blend an engaging narrative into
the players actions, making it feel like you are actually the person driving
the plot along, rather than the obligatory cut scenes that interrupt your
shootathon. Kicking off with 2014’s Wolfenstein:
The New Order, it is quite surprising how well developers MachineGames and
publisher Bethesda studios have managed to weave in a deceptively archaic story
about ‘what if the Nazi’s won and had access to supernatural stuff and
conquered the universe’ and make it tasteful and relevant in todays society.
With copious amounts of blood, guts, and gore, with every
splattered skull and dismembered limb being as gruesome as you’d expect, there
was also a deep story that had three dimensional characters who you genuinely
cared about. Sure, it’d be easy to rest on the pure evil of Nazi’s and call it
a day, but the attention to detail with exceptional writing and world building
made the games what they were – a genuine treat to play, and an absolute joy to
sink into a world where you could obliterate Nazi’s.
Which is why Wolfenstein:
Youngblood is such a disappointment of a game. There’s the skeleton of what
made the previous entries good – great gunplay, superb visuals, enjoyable quips
between characters – but the main part of what made those games great is gone. The
world map is interesting, with a Nazi-fied Paris being a curious place to
battle in, but the decision to make all of the missions available right away
takes away all of the plot structure. What narrative is there is dry and empty,
with it being just one major ‘fetch quest’ to find Blazkowicz, and in turn making
every enemy encounter just feel like target practice. Sure, every so often a
buddy on the radio will throw a request at you – can you get this enigma machine, can you assassinate
that commander – but they’re rinsed
and repeated ad nauseum, so much so that you can’t help but ignore any
additional mini-fetch quests thrown your way.
The decision to push the Wolfenstein
series twenty years ahead from the sixties to the eighties feels abrupt and
unwelcome. The last entry, Wolfenstein
II: The New Colossus, ended with Blazkowicz and co. working to recruit new
members to the resistance and aiming to assassinate major Nazi leaders around the
globe. It suggested that there could be a genuinely exciting path for the
series to push forward into, and if they desperately wanted to include co-op
play, then they certainly laid the groundwork for that to happen. But, instead,
with nineteen years of plot skipped over, you can’t help but feel like you’ve
missed out on something important and the game never allows you to play catch
up, making a third act ‘plot explanation’ cut scene feel confusing and
The game can be played either with an AI partner, or
co-operatively. I played through the entire campaign co-operatively, and as
with most co-op games, your gaming partner and you make up most of the fun
yourselves. This reliance on co-op gameplay is likely the reason for the less
immersive plot – it’s harder to create a branching story like the previous
games when you’ve got to players to account for. What does make the co-op
gameplay enjoyable is the ability to ‘pep’ your sister partner with health or
armour, depending on your loadout. This means that you’re always working
together to keep the other alive, and given it’s a positional perk, you have to
be in close proximity to each other, which makes most of the gunplay tense,
tight, and terrific. This is where Youngblood
shines, but it’s mostly at the players doing, and not the games.
For all the Nazi imagery and foes that you obliterate, you’re
given little context in the game as to why these are terrible people that
deserve death. I’m not saying this to sympathise with the Nazi’s – far from it –
but more so to illuminate how the previous games worked to show you why Nazi’s
are a horrifying group of people that deserve death. The series has, oddly,
always tried to be respectable, even when it’s shown concentration camps, or
torture rooms, or the depravity and brutality of Hitler, but all we see in Wolfenstein: Youngblood is very mild
suggestions of how awful the Nazi’s are. Sure, well-kept dining rooms lined
with a wonderful smorgasbord of food and treats sit a door away from a bloody
torture chamber, but there’s little context as to what has happened, and in
turn, the Nazi soldiers you shoot feel like generic enemies. I wish I was given
the opportunity to hate these enemies within the game.
Youngblood is a moderately fun time when played with a friend, but a
disappointing entry in the Wolfenstein series
overall. Like the 2015 entry, Wolfenstein:
The Old Blood, this feels like a stopgap game between main entries, and if
that’s the case, then I can only hope that the series gets back on track for
the next one. Sure, it’s fun to play a Wolfenstein
game with a friend, but I need more of what made this new series great to get
me back for another entry.
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