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 pointless.
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.
Overall, Wolfenstein: 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.