Since arriving to wide-spread praise with the series reboot Wolfenstein: The New Order, it’s almost been something of a walk in the park for Bethesda’s Nazi killing FPS series. With each adventure taking us through the heroic adventures of fan favourite protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz and his harrowing journey against the Nazi war machine, we’ve seen him lose years to a coma, be forced to choose between close friends in life-or-death situations, form a resistance and run into battle as the underdog. Now though, the buck has passed hands, and this time it’s B.J. Blazkowicz that needs saving – welcome his Youngblood!
In a series first, Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes things forward with an all new approach – a focus on co-operative gameplay. It’s an interesting concept and as someone who has long enjoyed the strong single-player narrative of the series, I wasn’t quite sure how a co-op focus would work. But Wolfenstein: Youngblood seems to have taken the addition of an extra character, mixed it with the high intensity action the series has been known for, and produced another adventure that maintains excitement throughout.
To kick things off, players begin the game as one of two characters, Jess or Soph Blazkowicz. The immediate choice of which twin you choose to begin your adventure with isn’t overly important besides the immediate weapons available, as your actions will be what makes all the difference throughout the campaign adventure. After a lengthy intro cutscene that sees both daughters being taught survival techniques by their parents, you’re then sent into the thick of it, turning these innocent yet bold young women into Nazi assassins. The reason? Well, B.J. is missing, and with an overheard conversation pointing towards Paris, France as his last location, they set off to bring Dad home.
It’s got to be said that from the moment you first take control, Wolfenstein: Youngblood has a slightly different feel to it than the previous games in the series. Sure, the movement is just as smooth, and the visuals are equally fantastic and detailed, but there are some key changes here that alert you to the fact that Machine Games are taking a few risks. The first one that makes itself apparent is the level design.
As a co-op experience, it’s not surprising to see environments introduce multiple paths of attack, and throughout each level, there are always at least two routes you can take in which both characters have an opportunity to remain hidden and play the heavy stealth role. What is a bit different in this particular adventure however is that the paths you can take feel heavily linear. Of course, Wolfenstein is genuinely a linear experience, but now, with the extra character, the freedom to move around levels and decide who to pick off and when to do so does now feel more forced, and in turn the co-op aspect of it all feels a bit restricted. This isn’t helped by the absolute ton of co-op actions that litter each level. Now that’s not to say Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a linear game, in fact, there is a lot more open exploration available this time, however if you’re looking to take down particular enemies, then you can usually guarantee on certain paths being the best way to do so.
If there is one thing Wolfenstein is always good for though, it’s the gunplay, and Youngblood ensures that is still very much the case. Weapons still very much look and feel as you’d expect, and although enemies take a bit more of a beating this time thanks to the introduction of health bars for each one, it’s all smooth and the weapons are as close to a lifelike representation as you could ask for.
With the running trend remaining that the Nazis are the now the world’s leading force within the Wolfenstein universe, it’s not unexpected to have France feeling a little out of place. Sure, the Eiffel Tower is still there – despite being turned into some sort of HQ for the Nazi’s war mongering affairs – but if it wasn’t for that, then there would be very little on show to punt home the fact that we’re running through the streets of Paris. Whilst detailed and sharp visually, the locations feel highly similar to that of previous games and with such an iconic tourist destination being used, there could have been more included to make things feel a little more unique and memorable to each area.
As for the story, things are generally done and dusted in around 10-12 hours depending on your playstyle; but it is certainly another well written and carefully executed adventure. Sadly, this time players won’t find the up close and personal cutscenes with other story characters and instead find the only real human interaction coming from the two sisters themselves; they frequently share witty remarks and conversation as the game goes on. The only real enemy interaction is had from sneaking up and finding a quiet yet effective way to dispatch them – as alarms inevitably go off and you’re left running through guns blazing.
The overall goal of the game is to take down the two huge Nazi controlled outpost towers – the ‘Brothers’ – before progressing onto the end-game content. To do this, players can either run in and pull of a full-frontal assault or sneak in via way of secret routes that can be found on collectible floppy discs hidden in various offices throughout the game. The whole game revolves around these two styles of play and for the most part it does work, however should you trip an alarm then the complete onslaught of enemies can become a bit of a burden, especially with checkpoints forcing a harsh restart of an entire area should you slip up. With some enemies often requiring entire magazines in order for you to take them down, the satisfying feeling of dropping an enemy to their knees does slowly turn into a bit of a chore later in the game.
In terms of the visual and audio experience though and Wolfenstein: Youngblood on Xbox One is another heavy hitter. It delivers fantastic detail within the environments, weapons look incredible and enemies are just as they always have. Not to mention the underground Paris Catacombs seem a lot more lively than other areas of the game, with them fleshed out and full of character thanks to the resistance fighters that you stand amongst. The general feel of the area is only enhanced further by the echoing sounds and well placed shadows. There are a few slight issues with sound dropping out but for the most part, all is as you would expect from a Wolfenstein game.
The final thing to note is character progression and the fact that as you level up, you can begin to introduce new abilities to your characters which in turn can bring in some new ways to play. Abilities come in three categories – Mind, Muscle and Power – and as you work towards level 30, you find more of the skills within each becoming available; unlocked with points given for levelling up. It’s a simple process for sure and each upgrade only really improves upon the last version of itself rather than giving an entire arsenal of abilities to choose from, but it still does a great job of giving players that something extra to work for.
Overall though and if you’re a fan of previous Wolfenstein games, Wolfenstein: Youngblood may feel a bit odd. It’s not in any way a bad game and should you have a capable teammate by your side then there is no reason not to go jumping in at the first opportunity. If you’re expecting more of the same however, then you may be a little disappointed with small changes making big differences; that means Youngblood ends up feeling like an experimental spin-off rather than any kind of sequel. Nevertheless, the story brings a satisfying conclusion, and there are plenty of Nazis to kill once more, which in turn makes for another enjoyable Wolfenstein experience.