Besides the frantically fun shooting and killing of evil Nazis, the one thing players will always associate with the Wolfenstein franchise is protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz. The American hero has always been the face of the franchise in some shape or form, and in the MachineGames-developed reboot has been under even more of the spotlight with its narrative focus and the abundance of insane situations it has put him in during his bid to bring down the Nazi threat (that beheading scene from Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is simply unbelievable).
Well, in the latest release in the series Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the Blazkowicz name is back at the forefront – however, instead of B.J. reprising his role as the protagonist, it instead falls to his twin daughters. Whilst the Wolfenstein series has been primarily known as a single-player experience, here players can work as a duo in online co-op to bring down some Nazis and re-unite the Blazkowicz clan in a battle across occupied Paris.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes place twenty-years after Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and puts players in the role of twins Soph and Jess Blazkowicz. With the USA now seemingly free from the Nazi threat, they’ve been able to live a relatively safe life on the family homestead – however, when B.J. goes missing in the still Nazi-occupied city of Paris, they head out to find him and get their first real taste of what the Nazi’s are capable of. Fortunately, they’re armed with powerful battle suits full of special capabilities, so they’re more than prepared for what’s ahead of them.
As of late, the Wolfenstein series hasn’t been one to take itself too seriously, with its over-the-top villains and the outrageous scenarios it puts players in certainly feeling almost light-hearted when compared to the brutality of the subject matter. Wolfenstein: Youngblood retains that quality, with Soph and Jess’ endeavours often feeling both comical and cool throughout, even IF they’re heading through an area of Paris that is clearly in a bad way with an air of desperation found throughout.
That being said, those who appreciated the depth of the narrative in the last two games may find themselves a little underwhelmed here. Whilst Wolfenstein: Youngblood is by no means bare-boned with its storytelling, it doesn’t offer a whole lot of depth as far as divulging the smaller details is concerned – instead, it focuses more on the relationship between Soph and Jess and their transition to Nazi-killing bad asses. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to note if you’re a fan of the series’ traditional take on storytelling.
The satisfying gunplay does remain the same though, but with one big change: this time you’ll be playing in co-op, with the player either joined by another online player or the competent AI. You don’t have to worry who you play as though, with both Soph and Jess feeling the same from a gameplay perspective – working together is encouraged though, with players able to act as distractions to flank enemies, revive each other when bleeding out, or even give boosts to each via the likes of health recovery or additional damage. Be warned though: rather than following a traditional checkpoint system, you instead have shared lives. If you run out, you’ve got to start your current mission over again, so you’ll want to be on the ball when it comes to reviving each other when bleeding out.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood also follow more an open-world approach, with Paris split up across multiple districts that you have the freedom to explore as you speak to civilians and tackle side missions. Some areas may be left off-limits thanks to some over-whelming enemies who are ready to kill you in an instant, though main missions are always clearly marked out so you’ll always know how to find your way to your goal – the city itself is designed in an attractive and intriguing manner though, so you won’t be able to help but to head off the beaten track and explore a bit. One thing I really liked was the location of your home base, which is in the ever-eerie but undeniably cool Paris catacombs; not only is it perfect for the setting, but also the vibe of the game.
Unlike previous games, the enemies in Wolfenstein: Youngblood have both health and armour bars that you’ll have to deplete if you want to defeat them. Fortunately, there’s a levelling system in place where you can constantly improve Soph and Jess’ abilities, so you’ll never feel too overwhelmed. You can gain experience points by killing enemies and completing quests, which can then be spent to unlock new abilities and increase your stats. It’s a system that’s easy to get used to and allows you to cater your development for your playstyle. Find yourself losing health fast? Upgrade your health and armour. Do you prefer sneaking around? Upgrade the cloak time of your suit. Do you just want to feel powerful when killing enemies? Unlock the tackle ability which allows you to annihilate enemies with one swift blast. It’s one of those levelling up systems where you feel your character improve with each new thing you unlock, which is always a plus.
Enemies’ capabilities scale with you when you level up however, so you’ll need more than new skills to take them down – you’ll need some powerful guns. Fortunately, Wolfenstein: Youngblood has these in abundance, though they do come with the caveat that they’ll also need to be improved upon to remain effective. This could be a bit of a pain, especially for veterans of the series. Wolfenstein has always been known for having a meaty shotgun for example, so imagine blasting an enemy with it only to realise it has little effect on their health because it hasn’t been improved enough – it’s certainly a lot less satisfying than players would’ve been used to. Maybe I just preferred the old-school approach of the other games in the series, but having to constantly improve my weapons here (and often through grinding) just felt like it halted my progress a bit.
Still, when it boils down to it there’s no denying that the overall gunplay is a lot of fun and that MachineGames have proved once again that they’re masters of first-person shooting set pieces. Whether you’re using conventional weapons like shotguns and machine guns or the likes of the laser rifles and flame throwers, there’s no denying that killing enemies and trudging through dangerous corridors is satisfying. When you upgrade them, they can have some ridiculous capabilities too, so there is more to the system than just seeing enemy’s health drop a bit more each time you improve a weapon. There’s just a demand for balance in the game and when everything is levelled out it feels so good; if you fight against overly-powerful enemies you might be in for a bad time, but if you face off against enemies with weapons that’ve been upgraded enough you’ll have plenty of fun as you unleash hell upon them.
Developer: MachineGames, Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC