A new co-op spin-off has you fighting Nazis in an alternative history version of occupied Paris, but is it as good as the regular games?
We’ve never felt the modern Wolfenstein games get the credit they deserve. Clearly, they’re popular enough for Bethesda to continue making more but the two numbered sequels have some of the best storytelling we’ve ever seen in an action game. Not just in terms of the basic mechanics of getting across the plot and characters but in the fact that they have a unique style of their own that isn’t just trying to copy some other movie or video game.
The characters in a Wolfenstein game are always absurdly exaggerated and yet at the same time far more human and three-dimensional than the usual cardboard cut-outs that front other video games. And we’re happy to say that B.J. Blazkowicz’s daughters Jess and Soph follow in that same proud tradition, as the game excels at showing their naivete, immaturity, and hatred for Nazis in a manner that seems… not realistic – that’s not Wolfenstein’s style – but relatable and human.
Slightly confusingly, Youngblood involves a significant time skip from the last game and it’s implied to take place after the events of an assumed Wolfenstein III. In the series’ alternative history timeline the U.S. has been liberated from the Nazis but Europe is still in their grip. B.J. is getting old though and the plot of Youngblood revolves around his disappearance in occupied France, with his inexperienced daughters (and Grace Walker’s techy daughter Abby) taking it upon themselves to go and find him.
As developer MachineGames told us, when we spoke to them earlier in the year, Youngblood started off as a smaller scale game more in line with The Old Blood, which was released in-between Wolfenstein I and II. Youngblood is, sensibly, still not a full price release but was born from their desire to experiment with co-op play, as the studio has very little experience with multiplayer.
Youngblood can be played alone but doing so does not suddenly turn it into a facsimile of the other Wolfenstein games. If a human partner is not available (and the game makes it very easy to have one drop-in, so that shouldn’t be a problem) the other character is always played by the computer, since you need her for team-bonding tasks such as opening heavy doors or special loot-filled crates that litter each level.
Not to mention reviving you when you’re killed – which works on a system of shared lives, which seems very fair until you realise the checkpointing underneath can send you back half a level if you both die.
The solo Wolfenstein games have a significant stealth element, but as you can imagine that’s been de-emphasised here. Stealth is still possible, and one of the special abilities is an invisibility cloak, but if the other sister is spotted then naturally the alarm will be raised (although alarms are no longer controlled by individual commanders, as they were in Wolfenstein II). That doesn’t mean the enemy soldiers will automatically know where the other player is though, which allows you at least a few extra moments of concealment.
Despite its emphasis on storytelling and stealth, Wolfenstein has always had excellent gunplay as well, and naturally that’s still the case with Youngblood. The series has been going on long enough now that some of the recurring enemies and weapons are becoming a little too familiar, but there are new examples of both and a whole new armour system for Nazis which is weak only to specific types of weapons – ensuring you can’t rely on just one firearm for the whole game.
Both sisters wear the Da’at Yichud battle suits that have featured in the previous games, which prove to be highly customisable – with the weapons also offering many more modification options than previous entries. This essentially turns the game into an action role-player, and while the character progression is simple the need to acquire experience points to level up leaves some enemies impossible to tackle until you’re at a similar level to them.
Surprisingly, Youngblood comes the closest to any of the Wolfenstein games to having an open world structure, with Paris split up into several medium-sized hub areas where you can tackle story missions and side-quests. Together with random enemy encounters that means you’re never short of things to do, and can never afford to feel safe, but the side-quests are not very varied and it quickly becomes clear they’re just filler to facilitate level grinding.
In the end you begin to question whether the whole role-playing element was really a good idea, as while unlocking new abilities is as gratifying as usual there’s no real loot to be gained from repeatedly fighting the same enemy and no benefit to taking on those higher than your current level – beyond slightly more experience points than usual.
Youngblood is an odd mix of flawed ideas and welcome improvement, with level design that is notably more interesting than Wolfenstein II. The alternative history version of 80s Paris can seem rather sterile and empty at times, but you can certainly spot the influence of co-developer Arkane Studios in the increased number of platforming elements and a greater sense of verticality in the level design.
Clearly, the game doesn’t hit every mark it takes aim at but the mere fact that it’s trying to do things differently, despite being a small-scale spin-off between the major releases, is impressive in itself. It’s a great co-op experience, with a good dozen or so hours of action, but the whole role-playing aspect seems ill-conceived. And as much as we enjoyed the two leads the other characters make little impression, with relatively few cut scenes and no memorable villains.
Trying something new is always to be applauded and what works in Youngblood works very well, but it’s a partial success at best and without question the weakest entry in the series so far. You might argue that better that than a competent but overfamiliar new entry and we wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but we’re definitely ready for the proper Wolfenstein III now.
In Short: A flawed but enjoyable co-op spin-off that’s unfocused and scrappy but still manages to find lots of entertainingly imaginative ways to kill Nazis.
Pros: Fun co-op system and the series’ customarily excellent gunplay. Interesting level design and plenty of content. Soph and Jess are great, even if the storytelling is less of a focus this time.
Cons: The whole role-playing aspect is underdeveloped, as are the side missions and open world elements. Few interesting characters outside of the main two.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Stadia
Developer: MachineGames and Arkane Studios
Release Date: 26th July 2019
Age Rating: 18
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