Wolfenstein is back, again.
After the successful reboot of the classic first person shooter Wolfenstein in 2014, and its sequel, the series continues, now helmed by BJ Blazkowicz’s two daughters Jess and Soph. And for better or worse, BJ’s daughters carry on the legacy of the last two games, with small tweaks to its excellent combat.
The biggest of the changes, clearly, is the introduction of co-operative combat. Instead of the lone soldier up against the retro-future Nazi regime, you are now joined by either an AI or real-life co-op partner. Disappointingly, I couldn’t find any couch co-op option, so you’ll have to be playing on two different systems.
From your hub in the Parisian catacombs you can travel the Paris Metro to small, connected semi-open worlds to wreck chaos on the Nazi regime. The impact of developer Arkane, who contributed significantly to Youngblood, on the mission structure is clear. This is a game that plays far more like Dishonored than Call of Duty and you can go in quiet for large chunks of the game. The small combat arenas are interconnected by a web of corridors, gates and clever shortcuts that give the game an intimacy that traditional walled off areas would otherwise give. Set in the aftermath of a Paris Uprising, the streets are strewn with debris and the signs of the slow internal destruction of fascism are apparent.
Optional side quests within missions (that appear to be randomly generated as you are exploring) are placed in each hub area as you progress in the main side and story missions. This can break up the mission flow, leaving missions feeling a bit listless and without clear direction. There are also some bizarre quest design choices that feel like the world was designed before the quests were simply placed on top of them. In one example, a French Resistance fighter was trapped beneath a gate and in need of rescue mere meters from squads of Nazis, where his cries surely would have been heard by the enemy.
But all this talk of quests, semi-open worlds and sister AI distracts from what Youngblood is truly focussed on – shooting Nazis. It’s a game that wants you to know that, and the sisters repeatedly take glee is doing what they were raised to do. Mechanically, it’s similar to the previous two games developed by MachineGames, with a small selection of weapons that feel pretty good in the hand. Not as good as Doom or Rage 2 mind you, but it was pleasantly balanced and satisfying to shoot. In combat you now have to take into consideration the enemy’s armour type, pulling out the gun that will pierce armour when necessary. Fail to do so and enemies can turn into depressing bullet sponges, who take annoyingly long to take down.
Youngblood also doubles down on RPG elements that reminded me more of Far Cry 5 than the old run-and-gun shooters. You level up and your enemies level up and you can run into enemies way above your pay grade. You can also upgrade abilities to I didn’t like this so much as enemies take an inordinate amount of damage on the higher levels while dressed in nothing but a cotton shirt.
The sister AI, that said, was very good at giving me cover, actually taking out enemies, and reviving me when needed. You can give your sister a pep move, which can be a variety of upgrades, but in the end I think everyone will settle in for one sister giving full health and the other full armour.
If game AIs aren’t your thing you can play with randoms or with a mate. If you buy the Deluxe Edition, your buddy doesn’t even need to purchase the game (though I would have liked to see this built into the base price itself in the Buddy Pass system – wherefore art thou, Nintendo Download Play?). There are of course pros and cons of playing with an internet stranger but in my time with the game other human players were nearly always helpful.
The main story of Youngblood is shorter than the two other recent Wolfenstein games, but with all the side activities and collectibles, you could spend a longer time in game than with the others. You will be traversing old ground, for sure, but with the ability to unlock doors as your weapons are upgraded the areas do feel like they’re changing, if only slightly.
I tested Youngblood on PC, where it plays best.
With the game targeting 60FPS on consoles, I had no trouble locking to 1440p / 144FPS with an NVIDIA RTX 2080 Ti and i7-8700K CPU on Ultra, or to 1080p / 60FPS with an AMD Rx 580 video card, and an AMD R5 3600 CPU on high settings. The game looks fantastic, and the amount of detail in all aspects of the environment is phenomenal.
It has a distinctly Arkane look, and the influence of the most recent Prey in particular stood out to me, with a menacing if gorgeous retro-future neoclassical vibe to the whole visual design language. Amongst the kitchsy Nazi-themed posters for movies, newspapers and other paraphernalia, there are hints of parallels to the real 1980s. Hulking text-based computers dominate certain desks (where you can decode floppy disks to discover secrets), there are cassette tapes to collect and other semi-modern touches.
The scoring is also fantastic.
While Mick Gordon wasn’t involved in this particular project, the dark and sombre tone remains from previous entries. While I didn’t find any of the main scores particularly memorable, it was the ambient tracks that I felt gave the game the exact tone that it was going for.
Now, Youngblood does contain microtransactions, and that’s a shame.
While it was a bit difficult to tell what I could buy with the in-game currency you find everywhere (Silver) compared to the real-world currency (Gold Bars), I never felt compelled to purchase anything – in fact I had an overabundance of silver by the end of the game. There is a small amount of content gated off behind Gold Bars, but they are cosmetic. Still, I do feel you should be able to earn everything in-game without spending money, and the microtransactions that are there seem relatively pointless.
The ability to buy boosters that would enhance your in-game performance was there at launch, but mercifully has now been patched out. Instead, if you’re stuck, I’d suggested simply lowering or raising the difficulty.
At least there’s no loot boxes.
Released: July 2019
Platforms: PC (Windows 10), also on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre: FPS, Action
Developer: Arkane Studios