Being a very old man indeed, I remember playing the original Wolfenstein 3D, which at the time was an absolutely amazing experience. In a world of cutesy platformers, back in 1992 being able to fire up a Dos PC and play a shooting game, requiring us to take down Nazi soldiers and even MechaHitler, was so far out of my experiences at the time that I was blown away. It was brought to us by iD Software, and these days the franchise is in the hands of MachineGames, who brought us the fantastic Wolfenstein: The New Order. The Old Blood is a prequel to The New Order, and picks up before the events in the first game. It’s hard to believe that it’s been five long years since I first fired up Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, so come with me on a little trip down memory lane as I recall my first steps into the game.
Being created as a prequel to The New Order allowed MachineGames to almost treat Wolfenstein: The Old Blood as an origin story for the hero, B.J. Blazkowicz. The game takes place chronologically just before the events of the prologue in The New Order, and is again set in an alternate history version of the year 1946, with the Nazis still going strong and trying to cause as much trouble as possible.
In this game, B.J. and another O.S.A. agent need to infiltrate the titular Castle Wolfenstein to obtain some top secret papers and so on and so forth. They need the papers because it will tell them where to find Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse, a man whose name is most certainly earned. However, the baddies here certainly aren’t backward in coming forward in the evil deeds stakes. An example is when B.J. and his friend fail to find the documents that they need, and are instead captured by a man named Rudi Jager. Now, old Rudi is a bit of a sadist, and proves it by electrocuting the other agent, then feeding the resulting corpse to his favourite dog, an albino, mechanically augmented dog called Greta. Luckily, when it’s B.J.’s turn in the chair, he is able to escape, injure Rudi and take Greta out, earning Rudi’s undying enmity. And the story gets weirder from there on out, believe it or not, featuring power armour, gas seeping up from underground that reanimates corpses creating creatures called Shamblers, and a truly monstrous final boss. However, as I’m not all about the spoilers, I’ll leave the discussion of the story missions there.
The gameplay of The Old Blood would be instantly familiar to anyone who had played The New Order, or indeed those who had ever played an FPS before. The staples were there from the first game, and the DNA is clearly visible. Interestingly, as I was doing my research for this Looking Back (not just replaying the game) it was revealed that this was initially envisioned as DLC for The New Order, first as two separate packs, then as one big expansion. Eventually, the decision was made to release the content as a standalone game, which allowed the development team to have a bit of fun with the work. For instance, in one section where B.J. had to infiltrate an inn, there is a group of drunken soldiers singing songs in German. These are the voices of the dev team, who took the job so seriously that not only did they learn the songs in German, they also got drunk before recording it to give the audio that ring of truth. Now that sounds like a great career choice to me – “Dave, today you’ll need to get drunk and sing, think you can manage that?”
New innovations on the gameplay front are a little thin on the ground, but an interesting one was the use of pipes as a melee weapon. When they are dual wielded, B.J. can use the pipes to scale vertical surfaces, and if he joins them together into one big pipe he can use it to smash his way through weakened walls. As a melee weapon, it came with different animations depending on whether it’s one pipe or two.
Stealth also could play a big part; a silent melee takedown was useful to avoid the rest of the enemies in the level being alerted. Choosing to go in all guns blazing, including dual wielding some of the weapons (I’m still not convinced anyone, even someone with a build like B.J.’s, could keep an assault rifle in each hand anywhere near a target, but hey ho), or going in all sneaky is a good way of making the same game play differently. There is also a Perk system in place to reward certain gameplay styles, like stealth takedowns or dual wielding kills, resulting in extra health or armour. Further, amassing a certain number of kills with a certain weapon unlocks extra ammo for that weapon, so looking at the available perks and seeing which one fitted your playstyle soon became second nature, even letting you try new things like explosive kills.
And boy, do you need every edge you can get, especially on the higher difficulties. With the lumbering Supersoldaten (super soldiers), the giant mechanical Panzerhunds and then the zombie-like Shamblers at the other end of the scale, maximising your damage output and health is vital. Taking cover, setting ambushes and working the stealth route all become valid tactics, as storming in all guns blazing is usually a good way to reach a conclusion – usually with B.J.’s clogs well and truly popped.
As you progress through The Old Blood, other options become available too. There are Challenge Arenas, that can be played straight from the main menu, requiring you to fight your way through waves of enemies in the hunt for medals, be they Bronze, Silver or even Gold. The other diversion is the addition of the so-called Nightmare Levels, which are accessed by finding and interacting with a bed on the levels. These two extra modes certainly ramp up the difficulty a lot.
I can remember really enjoying playing both of the Wolfenstein games, and I also threw myself straight into Wolfenstein II when it was launched. There’s something about the character of B.J. that I really like, whether it’s his gruff machismo or his all round badassery, without ever stooping to Duke Nukem levels of self parody. It helps that the likes of Rudi, Helga and the stupid robot dogs are all so inherently evil that it’s almost like a duty to take them out.
So these are my memories and assorted titbits of information I have learned by looking back and playing through Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. But what about you guys out there? Did you play the game at release, and if so what did you think of it? Are you tempted to pick it after reading my witterings about it? You’ll be able to purchase it right now from the Xbox Games Store for £14.99. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!