Wolfenstein: Youngblood EW review

Early on in Wolfenstein: Youngblood a young woman throws up with all the giddiness of a schoolgirl shooting milk out of her nose as her sister picks some exploded Nazi brains out of her mouth. This is the level of discourse the new co-op shooter from MachineGames and Arkane Studios offers: Nazis are bad, getting rid of them is good. It’s a message that bears repeating, particularly with the way real-world events have been turning in the last few years, and like the previous two Wolfenstein games in the rebooted franchise, Youngblood repeats it graphically and often. But unlike The New Order and The New Colossus, Youngblood doesn’t put forward much more than that in the way of political commentary during its somewhat brief campaign. The most culturally notable aspect of this entry to the franchise is that instead of a burly man, it stars a pair of silly but equally badass teenage girls. A lighter tone and shorter runtime aren’t necessarily bad things though, and the benefits added by an open-ish map and the option of co-op play make Youngblood the most approachable and fun, if not the most intellectually engaging,  Wolfenstein to date.

Jess and Soph Blazkowicz are the twin daughters of B.J. “Terror Billy” Blazkowicz, the man who was instrumental to liberating Nazi-occupied America and killing Hitler. When B.J. goes missing in 1980, Jess and Soph take it on themselves to follow their only lead and go out in search for him in Paris. While America is no longer under Nazi control, Europe remains overrun, so this version of the city of lights is packed with fascist soldiers, robots and cyberpunk tech, along with collectibles like 3D glasses and cassette tapes of 80s Euro-jams.

In the game’s opening moments, it felt likely that the two protagonists would get a little grating after a few hours of exposure, but surprisingly, the frequent juvenile quips and antics of the leads kept some of their charm throughout the experience. This could be a result of the voice actors’ performances, adequately campy and self-aware writing, or again, a positive byproduct of a campaign that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

For combat purposes, Jess and Soph are functionally identical, each with the ability to learn the same skills, carry the same weapons and develop the same upgrades. In terms of personality, there’s just enough difference between the two that they read as separate people, though in my playthrough, Soph’s traits seemed a little more fully sketched out than Jess’s (Soph writes short stories, plays pranks on her sister, etc., while Jess, I guess, likes hunting or something). One praiseworthy note worth mentioning is that while the three lead protagonists– Jess, Soph, and their mission control tech support buddy Abby— are all teenage girls, none of them are overtly sexualized, and romance plays absolutely no role in their journey.

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The only relationship that really matters in Youngblood is the sisterly bond between the girls, and that relationship carries over into the gameplay design. The major selling point of Youngblood, and the mechanic that makes it easier to get into than the previous games in the series, is two-player co-op. Having someone to revive you after you get knocked down, whether it’s another player or an AI controlling the other sister, keeps the pacing of the action flowing, relegating momentum halting game over screens to only the really rough areas. Sticking together also allows for the use of peps, which grant both characters a powerful heal or stat boost on a relatively low cooldown. These peps, like other abilities, are unlockable through an RPG-inspired character screen.

The influence of Arkane, developer of Dishonored, is a positive one on the Wolfenstein formula. Earning skill points to improve health, armor, weapon proficiency and more, and silver coins to upgrade weaponry is a satisfying enough means of progression, and the world is just open enough to give a sense of choice without losing focus.

Somewhere between an expansion pack to Wolfenstein II and a full standalone game, Youngblood makes for an excellent diversion. The characters are likable and silly, as is the story, and the gameplay takes some of the best elements of Wolfenstein and Dishonored and blends them together to entertaining effect. It places the player right into the action and keeps them blasting Nazis with limited distractions. Once again, Nazis are bad, getting rid of them is good.

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