This title was reviewed on PC, but is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
MachineGames‘ reboot of Wolfenstein came as a great surprise in its overall quality and polish, graphically and gameplay wise. Whilst 2016’s Doom has been the gold standard for fast-paced blasting, the alternate history setting and engaging narrative of the Nazi-stomping franchise has been highly regarded.
From the moment you boot it up, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a visual treat. The art direction of the series was always strong, but the addition of 80’s flair is just brilliant. Bright signs are smattered on the rooftops around war-torn Parisian cobbles, and retro tech fills your base in the Catacombs. Whilst definitely a rather gloomy and grey game, which most people are sick of, these new touches spruce things up. The fascist foes you face are a mixture of utilitarian military and machine tech; political viewpoints aside, they feel almost alien (until you blow them into a million bloody pieces!).
Everything just looks so polished and detailed, from the models to the textures. Every post-processing effect known to man just make the whole package jaw-dropping. Ray tracing (for Nvidia RTX users on PC) is currently missing at launch but even without it, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is another tour-de-force on all fronts.
Let’s address l’éléphant in the room straight away. You can’t release a game about Nazis, prejudice, liberation etc. without there being a political edge. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is not an exception. However, the story is (for the most part) less dark than its predecessor, for better or worse.
Set two decades after The New Colossus, the Blazkowicz twins Jessica and Zofia (seen previously as a bump) are living in somewhat rural peace in the liberated USA with their parents. After B.J disappears and Anya struggles to rally the search efforts, the sisters stumble across the power suits, and a lead – Paris. Taking matters into their own hands, they head off to Nazi dominated Europe to begin the hunt…
Jess and Soph have a youthful innocence (showcased by a hilarious scene after their first kill) which threads through the uber serious business of shooting fascists, and dealing with fellow militia. Throughout the story, the theme of sisterhood and personal growth from naive teenagers to adulthood is strangely wholesome.
The main campaign proceedings top out just shy of ten hours, but the side missions and sub-stories giving by your resistance family bulk this out further. There are also heaps of collectables if you want to immerse yourself in the world even more.
It might be a non-numbered sequel, but there are plenty of changes over its immediate predecessor.
In one of the larger changes to the way things work, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is pseudo open-world. Rather than the heavy linearity of The New Colossus, you are free to roam the streets of Paris, and the main missions take place across the city’s districts. With bags of mobility to hand, you can get lost for hours exploring every nook, cranny, crevasse, and other physical feature you want. Random bonus missions also appear every now and again, in a similar way to The Division and other multiplayer shooters.
Whilst not a slow series by any means, the tempo of the action and your movement has been amped up. You now have a double jump and slide by default, and have a cool side-hop/dodge as well. This makes things feel a lot more like Doom as you spring around the battlefield, up onto rooftops, and slide-tackle Nazis all over the shop! Gunplay is as satisfying and diverse as before – it’s hard not to have a grin on your face. You’re able to pep talk your sibling mid-battle as well, giving various stat bonuses.
There’s also a new levelling/exp system. Upgrade points and very minor boosts are given as you climb the ranks, but enemies also have levels. This creates scenarios where you’ll occasionally encounter troops that are near-invulnerable due to that difference. It’s distracting when you stumble into a lab with scientists wearing nothing more than lab coats, point-blank them with a shotgun, and watch as they don’t flinch and down you in a single pistol shot. Whilst I do understand it’s used as a way to gatekeep the player out of certain free-roam areas that are more story-focused, it’s a cheap method. Most enemies level as you do as well, so it undermines the point – why artificially put a level modifier on when the game adjusts things anyway?
Customisation, as seen before on weaponry, has been fleshed out to include a strong character progression system. Mind, Strength, and Power trees hold a whole array of upgrades to the girls’ abilities: if you want to make stealth easier, you can supercharge your thrown weapons or make cloaking more efficient. If hosing down rooms with sustained gunfire is more your bag, you can invest in wider ammo pickup range and increase your armour cap. You don’t have to specialise in one thing either – you can end up being a cloaking, wall smashing, dual-wielding.
There’s been controversy around microtransactions in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. I’m not here to argue for or against them as a concept, but they are not as bad as some people would like to make out. Minor ‘boosts’ to ammo and health drops can be bought with in-game currency, and there are a lot of cosmetics that can be acquired without ‘gold bars’ (the paid for stuff); some of the cooler colours/skins are gold only though, which is pants, but that’s about as far as the nickel and dime attitude goes.
Which leads me to the final and possibly most important part of the gameplay additions – multiplayer. The entire game is co-op enabled, which when coupled with the aforementioned sandbox, is welcome news! Sharing the wild gunfights and parkour adventuring is arguably better with a friend or internet random. Unfortunately, your partner’s AI when playing solo leaves much to be desired, which is a shame.
As a game set in the 80’s, the music has a leaning towards rock and synth. If you remember the excellent soundtrack from Aussie duo Power Glove in Far Cry: Blood Dragon, you’ll know what to expect. Sound effects are clean and powerful, ballistic weapons especially sound fantastic with meaty explosions, realistic pings, clicks, and ricochets.
The supporting cast are, as before, strong but stereotypical: the “bloody ‘ell” Brit, various French people that sound like Pepe le Pew. This might rub some people up the wrong way, but it’s lighthearted and goes well with the other zany elements of the game.
And finally, credit has to be given to the voice acting of Jess and Soph. They are goofy and likable, and their mid-battle chatter is genuinely quite funny (and doesn’t repeat very often – one of my pet peeves!)
The series set a high bar, but Wolfenstein: Youngblood stands amongst them confidently. The youthful energy of Jess and Sofia bleed into the already solid gameplay experience and storytelling, giving it a freshness that I wasn’t expecting. AI, economy, and weird enemy levelling issues are sad to see, but these shouldn’t put any FPS fan off what is a really good game.