Ridiculous, visceral and bloody. Those are words that you would normally associate with Bethesda’s recent reboot of the Wolfenstein franchise. For Wolfenstein Youngblood, you get those things as well, however, there is an air of blandness that permeates throughout the whole experience.
Wolfenstein Youngblood is the result of a collaboration between MachineGames and Arkane Studios, and like the studios, you and a friend will collaborate together to take down Nazis as you play as Jess and Zoph Blazkowicz, daughters of BJ Blazkowicz, the main protagonist from the past two games.
Together, the sisters are out to find their father, who has suddenly went missing from their family home. Their search takes them to France, where a Nazi resistance group is holding fort and the twins are enlisted for their help while they search for clues on the location on their father.
Playing as the sisters might seem like an exciting prospect; after all, they are the offspring of the enigmatic BJ Blazkowicz. However, besides their last names, it is hard to see any sort of relation to the legendary Nazi killer. It becomes evident really quickly that the girls are acting way below the age that their physical appearance might imply. This new Wolfenstein series is not short of attitude, but the Blazkowicz sisters themselves simply have too much of it.
Being that this is primarily a co-op game, it is of course better if you play with another person. Unfortunately there’s no option to play this in split screen; you can only play this online with your buddy or with a stranger. The developers have included a perk system which gives additional health or armour to both you and your buddy just by pressing up on the directional pad. It’s amusing at best, but I can’t say that it hasn’t saved me a couple of times.
There’s also the option of playing solo, and honestly, it isn’t that bad. Sure, the A.I isn’t perfect; they’ll still wander out in the open for enemies to shoot unopposed, but the developers have balanced it out well enough to not be a problem. I found that the A.I usually can take more punishment to mitigate the issue of being an open target and they are usually quick to revive you if your character falls during battle. Not perfect, but better than most A.I buddy games I’ve experienced.
As you mow down the countless soldiers in your path, you’ll gain XP which contributes to the leveling system in the game. Leveling up nets you ability points that you spend on abilities, like increasing your maximum health, or increasing the duration of your invisibility. The guns also have their own level system, which ranks up the more enemies you kill with them. Mods can be added to your guns to improve one of three categories; either your accuracy, fire rate or damage and stacking three of the same category grants an additional bonus.
Throughout the duration of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, you’ll divide your time between the streets of Nazi-occupied France and the underground shelter of the resistance. The shelter acts like a hub world for the game, where you can re-supply and relax as you explore around the area. The re-supplying was a particular aspect I found annoying. Instead of being in a single location, items for health, ammunition and armour are located in separate places, meaning you have to run around just to get yourself ready for the next mission.
Speaking of missions, the shelter is where you can receive secondary missions from characters in addition to the game’s story missions. They range from simple rescue missions to obtaining reports from Nazi bases. Either way, they rarely deviate from the cycle of killing Nazis and serve more as a distraction from the main story. You can skip these, but they offer XP and silver coins which are much needed to further spec yourself for the later parts of the game.
From the shelter, you can fast travel to various locations within France to tackle the missions. Each location is a fairly huge sandbox for you to explore; traversing the streets linking towards hospitals or abandoned housing as well as secret Nazi headquarters that is tied with the missions.
It’s clear that Arkane had a direct influence with the level design, with lots of verticality and platforming implemented. The suit that the twins wear allows them to double-jump, which presents more options in exploring the level. For example, you can jump towards a nearby balcony to flank your enemies or scale buildings to reveal hidden locations. It’s a good addition to a franchise that has otherwise been very linear in its approach.
The gunplay is one that has two faces about it. In general, the guns feels good, with every one having a good amount of punch behind every shot and a nice variety of weaponry to execute carnage towards the Nazi soldiers, like the LaserKraftWerk which cuts through enemies with Lasers. With that being said, guns don’t have an impact when shooting from a distance. Bullets don’t seem to hit enemies distanced about 5 or so metres away despite them being able to hit you; it’s a major problem in the game especially since the levels themselves are huge to allow you the freedom to attack however you want.
Stealth also seems to be an afterthought. Though they give you the option to slowly eliminate threats while cloaked with the added incentive of giving bonus XP, it mostly comes off as clumsy and usually ends up with you alerting the enemies and having a shootout anyway.
Wolfenstein Youngblood attempts to bring double the fun by unleashing you and your buddy into the world of Wolfenstein. Unfortunately, double also means trouble with unlikable main characters and clashes in gameplay philosophies dampening the fun of killing Nazis.
Visuals courtesy of Bethesda