The resurgence of Wolfenstein has been nothing short of pure fun and chaos, with Machine Games finely tuning the formula in New Colossus, but when they announced Youngblood would be a co-op experience, I was concerned that things would be changed for the worse and while they changed, things proved to be not as bad as I had thought, just mostly so.
The game starts out with a nice cinematic, showing the twins, Zofia and Jess, each working on their strengths, before it cuts to them in action on a zeppelin that is floating above Paris. Once you have completed the mission, you are given the reason as to why they are there, BJ has vanished, taken off weeks before the girls and the only clue they discover has him heading to Paris, so the girls take off after him, leaving the adults behind. While the girls are quite hesitant to make their first kill, despite their desire too, their reaction upon getting it, is hilarious and bizarre all at once, as they seem to swap from normal scared girls, to almost sycophant levels of enjoyment, then it is just normal Nazi blasting action. The story then takes a sharp left into uncharted territory, at least for the Wolfenstein series, in that you are free to choose how to proceed, choosing what missions to do and yes, you can rush at the required towers at the start, but only if you want to become a paste smeared across the ground.
Instead, you will need to assist members of the Paris resistance and you can do that by helping rescue people, obtain intel and other assorted missions, which in turn gets you levelling up and one step closer to the towers, and BJ. As the game was made with support from the team at Arkane, you can see where their expertise has been used as the game now sports an opened world, or at least three large chunks of world, that you can travel around at times using the Metro Subway system. Missions can also be obtained by just wandering around the streets of Paris, which can result in you getting side tracked with planting a car bomb, whilst looking for a hideout, it feels organic and helps build the world up just that little bit more. While the main objective is to storm the three towers that are littered around the world, there is little more than that, story missions will help with that task, but the side ones not so much, but you need to do them anyway.
Perhaps the biggest change is that you can tackle missions in any order you choose, but all that is underlined by the repetitive visits to the three core arrondissements. At first glace each location seems quite similar to the others, you emerge from the Metro from underground, head into an open space and then breakaway to smaller parts, which then have more of a distinct look to them. Sadly, the objectives and enemies to kill in each one do not vary, so be it your first visit or your thirty second, the layout and enemy placement will be the same. The enemies however do level up with you and while I would love for that to mean that they are challenging and require you to change up your tactics, I can’t. The way that the enemies evolve is to simply gain more armour and become somewhat more impervious to previously required number of bullets, that you used to fell them, which is a problem as the game requires a lot of resource management, but never tells you that.
In past games, the super powerful weapons, the ones that can one hit a baddass baddie, required some special ammo, which was always a challenge to obtain, making the use said weapon a bit of a moment, here though, that impact is relegated to the basic weapons. As you take down waves of enemies, mech soldiers and everything else that the Third Reich has at its disposal, your ammo count will drop a lot, even more so than what you can reclaim from enemies. This would not be a major issue, if you could collect enough from enemy strongholds and resistance safe houses, but there is a distinct lack of ammo for some of the basic weapons around the world, what there is however are a lot of silver coins and many collectables. The latter of those, actually help fill the world out like never before, from innocuous chats from a guard to codes that help unlock a supply room, they help the world feel real. The coins however undo that, as they are mostly used for cosmetic items and I honestly care very little about them to begin with in any game, in a game that is about shooting Nazi’s, as long as I can do that, the rest matter little. There are upgrades that you can buy with them, but those upgrades are tied to your characters level so there are times when you will have a lot of coin, and very little to spend it on, except some paint jobs.
Of course, the core of the gameplay is that of two characters shooting everything they can and as the game was designed as a co-op experience, that is way you need to play it. There are three ways you can play it actually, online with a friend, online with the chance that a random person will join and offline, meaning just you. Each of the ways of playing has an upside and a downside, the problem is that all of them have a singular downside as well and that is the inability to pause the game. When playing with a friend, you can chat away, making plans and such, the downside, you can’t stealth with two people, it just never works. With a random person, you have the same issue as with a friend, but it can be compounded by the lack of communication, something that was quite the issue on the Switch, as most people did not use any sort of chat enabled headphones. Offline is more of a regular Wolfenstein experience, giving you the freedom to make the choices you want, the catch is that you still am unable to pause the game and now you are reliant on the AI, which is wonky at best. There were times when playing this way, the AI would be across a room and not eager to assist with pulling a lever or helping me up if I fell in combat and then there were times when it would be super responsive to what I was thinking needed to happen.
As I was playing on Switch, right away you know the visuals were not the same as they would have been on the other platforms, but don’t let it fool you, they are still impressive. There is a host of times when the action will blur, especially if you are moving quickly, but this helps make the game feel faster than it is, but where the visual quality might not be up with the others, the art direction still shines. Each of the locations that players have been to in the past games, have had enough of a real world infusion, so you could recognise where you were and Paris is no different, from signs, to buildings, there is enough real world influence to help place you in the location. The weapons and walls from the Nazi’s however, help sell that this is not the Paris you know and helps to sell the impact that thing are going wrong, walking out of a laneway, where there were wicker chairs by a café, you can walk passed an old car, only to then spot a modern-ish truck, complete with generators and such on the back, it is quite the juxtaposition.
On the audio side of the presentation, the game does a great job of applying the right mix for the right space, there are times when you are fighting inside stairwells of buildings and the sounds you get back suit the space wonderfully. The voices can be quiet at times, especially those who are speaking French, with the German sounding quite scary at times as well, it helps sell the fact that the French, while fighting back are still under the oppressive thumb of the Germans. When it comes to the main characters, Zofia and Jess, they have an odd accent that is not easily placed, as it is a mix of Texan-American and Polish, not a combination you would usually hear. There are times when the accent slides and becomes stronger in one side or the other and that is common with folks that have grown up with two distinct accents around them, so it is a nice touch. The score is more of the same that we have come to expect from the series, the difference pops up in the radio, with the German inspired 80’s music, while suitably campy, it does fit the theme.
Wolfenstein Youngblood is a solid game that attempts to mix up the now solid formula, the main problem is that you will spend a lot of time, revisiting areas, sometimes in the one mission, in order to gain enough xp and money to move on safely. The other point to consider is that the game is meant to be played with a second person, but the balance is not quite right, which leaves things to be a challenge and not a fun one. Those who are willing to work with a friend, will find a solid game here, there is just a lot of faff to get through to find it.
Review copy provided by Bethesda