Wolfenstein Youngblood E3 Hands-on: Machinegames meets Dishonored in captivating co-op gem

The boss battles in Youngblood are the developers’ replacement for the more involved cutscenes and set pieces seen in their single-player output – something I ended up missing quite dearly during my playthrough, though there were glimmers of it – once we depleted the officer’s healthbar we checked out the window to see him holding onto the zeppelin wing, precariously close to the engine. A couple of curious shots to his torso turned him into human mince.

Despite the lack of one-shot cutscenes, the writing is still as punchy as ever – the sisters are seriously endearing, each in their own way – it was a refreshing switch to play as two strong wisecracking women after Blazkowicz’ honour-bound death march.

Whilst BJ is a bloody brilliant character – it’s nice to have some pep injected into the story, especially in this case where the comedic heavy lifting doesn’t have to be solely done by side characters. Jess and Sophie are deadly but naive to this world and sort of ambling through it – they’re coming to terms with the horrific situation in their own way.

Some of my favourite parts were when they would play pretend as Arthur and Kenneth – characters from their favourite Sci-Fi books they read on the family farm. A sisterly in-joke, it’s dorky as hell but deeply endearing – the chemistry is amazing between the two girls, which in a reflexive way will help co-op partners open up and curate quality communication. I can see where the story could get emotional outside of all the wisecracks, which is a nice feeling.

Our demo ended with an incredible tease – we hit a wall in a metro station menu screen which had a fast travel system. We’re told that the game is somewhat open world – players can return to certain districts to work on side quests, and there’s also a hub where players can shoot the shit with story characters.

I asked whether the side quests would have narrative ramifications like Dishonored, but unfortunately, it seems to be more of a means to help the resistance in a logistical sense than advancing character arcs.

Gunplay is crunchy, and with the health bars and extra U.I providing more visual stimuli, it’s an endorphin rush of a game. I found the armor system interesting – you have to choose certain guns to get rid of specific enemy armor depending on their class – sadly though I don’t think this is quite so balanced yet, I felt like it was cornering me into using the same few guns instead of being rewarded for whipping out a varied arsenal.

Speaking of variety, I fought all manner of foes – from reserved snipers to devilish cyber dogs and flamethrower fiends that rushed at me with vigour. It got up close and personal, a style complemented by the new disarmament animations (if you hold the trigger whilst ripping a rifle from an enemy’s palms you can turn it on them and fill them full of holes.)

The groups of enemies thrown in front of us always provided a healthy challenge and promoted a ‘think on your feet’ attitude – you had to consider how to use your environment and call out tactics to get past enemy cabals.

The actions you perform together as co-op partners are interesting too – deciphering code on one screen to unlock a door on the other and cracking open chests to pick up silver coins, but we’ll get onto those in a moment. Some puzzles required use of a suit ability – sprinting through a vulnerable wall to find extra items and concept art.

This was another partition of the game that I felt uneasy about. I know puzzles aren’t the focus – this is a shooter after all, but feeling the tease of Dishonored-style depth only to be served a reality check was a bit disappointing. I hope the puzzles range in style later in the game instead of following the same codebreaking rules – that would be a disservice to the spectacular environment’s that the team have built.

The levels look and feel open-ended, but you can’t really be hasty when you’re constantly coming up against opposition. Even so, the variety of environments was cool – from the kitchens and arcades of the floating zeppelin (with vents and secret passageways to explore) to the crumbling streets of Paris under Nazi rule, I enjoyed exploring where I could.

There was a magnificent moment when we were platforming on the outside of the zeppelin as it floated over a moonlit Paris – the Eiffel Tower covered in a brutalist metal sheath – after all the laughter and adrenaline it was a gut punch of a chaser, a reminder of what’s at stake. Such is the brilliance of the world behind Wolfenstein.

To dwell more on the metagame, the silver coins I mentioned before function as a currency to upgrade the sister’s weapons and purchase cosmetics. You can don a power suit emblazoned with a Swedish flag or unlock a new powerful pep signal – there is a lot of free reign given to the player in how they can customize their chosen protagonist. Weapons have a mastery system, and attachments genuinely alter how they act and sound rather than being simply incremental stat upgrades, which is good to see.

You can skill up to level 40 in the power armor tree, and the skills you can pick up look to diversify gameplay – I picked one which let me disarm heavy enemies to take their devastating laser guns and another that afforded me a side dash to help escape sticky situations. I left my play session keen to hop back in and grind my way up the tree to make my chosen sister as powerful as possible.

I wouldn’t even mind playing it solo given how the clever A.I was explained. According to the developers they chip in on battles meaningfully and don’t just hang around like a bad smell.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is landing in a year already populated by co-op shooters – it’s going to have to set the bar high in order to succeed as Borderlands 3 snaps at its heels. From my impressions though, this is certainly a game I’m excited to play – especially if I can snag a co-op partner to commit to it.

I felt like this was a provocative tease for a more in-depth experience as the game opens up a bit more in the space beyond where my demo ended. If that promise holds up when the game hits shelves on July 26 – I’ll be ready to reclaim Paris in an instant.

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