Since acquiring publishing rights from Activision, Bethesda has released three Wolfenstein games, starting with 2014’s soft reboot The New Order, and then followed by The Old Blood and The New Colossus. Front and center in all of those was longtime series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz, a Nazi-killing icon. Now, Bethesda is brushing BJ aside in favour of his daughters in the co-op driven Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
Although there are some differences between controlling BJ and his offspring, anyone that has played recent Wolfenstein games should have no trouble jumping right in. You’ll be limited to four weapons classes initially (pistol, shotgun, SMG and assault rifle), but you’ll find a trio of more unique fare as you progress. A perk also lets you pick up and store heavy weaponry if you choose to invest in it.
It makes for a crowded weapon wheel, but there’s one important thing missing, the ability to dual-wield any gun — you can double up on pistols, but that’s it. On the surface that may not seem like a big deal, but the game itself is riddled with armour-covered enemies that can take repeated shotgun blasts to the face from point-blank range, so yeah, we missed the extra firepower. The game’s deviation away from stealth as a viable means of advancement makes this an ever more painful omission.
BJ’s daughters do have a couple of tricks up their sleeves with special abilities and pep signals. There are three options for the former, though a cloaking device and a violent ram attack aren’t joined by the third choice until late. There’s more variety in the pep signals where one of the sisters makes a gesture and a corresponding buff is applied such as health recovery or a boost to damage. We ended up using both heavily, which added a little wrinkle to the gameplay.
There isn’t a lot of location diversity in Youngblood as you spend your time fighting through various sections of Nazi-occupied Paris both above and below ground. Everything looks solid, and the frame rate held up like a champ even as the screen filled with enemies, explosions and other weapon effects. Still, minus much narrative input and with few cut scenes, things start to bleed together with few true standout moments.
It’s more of the same on the audio side where the performances are decent enough, but none of the new characters or villains is given enough to do to make their mark. Compared to the series’ penchant for ridiculous yet memorable NPCs it’s a mostly disappointing showing. At least the guns and explosions pack a suitable wallop.
Set roughly 20 years after the events of The New Colossus, Youngblood picks up in a world where the Nazi influence has been curtailed, though it remains a significant threat. When their father, BJ Blazkowicz, disappears, twins Jessica and Sophia decide to go looking for him with their friend Abby (the daughter of Grace Walker) after they turn up a lead that suggests BJ traveled to Paris to link up with the French resistance forces.
It’s enough to set the table, but the story is pretty thin. Instead, the game hands out compartmentalized missions, allowing you to strike out from a central hub and tackle them as you see fit… sort of. While you’re technically free to go in any order, you’ll often see a number next to a mission that indicates a target experience level (or a skull if you’re in way over your head) so odds are you’ll be taking on side quests to bulk up for the main events.
Yes, leveling up is a major part of Youngblood with each kill, opened crate and completed mission netting you experience points and/or silver. As your level increases you’ll get skill points to distribute to one of three areas: mind, muscle and power. Within these you’ll do things like increase maximum health and armour, learn new abilities and improve carrying capacity for explosives and ammo. It’s pretty standard stuff.
Silver is used to purchase weapon upgrades, pep signals and other cosmetic items such as new skins for your guns and bodysuits. You’ll also earn permanent damage buffs and can nab some bonuses if you equip multiple pieces of the same set to your guns. Despite the constant progression in damage dealing and absorption, enemies tend to scale right alongside you, so you never feel overpowered.
Youngblood is designed with co-op in mind, though you’re free to use the generally competent friendly AI. Either way, the sisters will draw from a pool of lives that, if exhausted, will end your run and send you back to a checkpoint. Considering the game allows a lengthy downed state where you can be revived odds are you’ll only lose lives at the boss-related difficulty spikes, which can be plenty frustrating — especially given that used ammo is lost, forcing you to not only retrace your steps but replenish your inventory as well.
Those spikes speak to the game’s biggest problem of striking a balance when it comes to providing a challenge. You’re constantly fending off lots of enemies, and far too many arrive donning tons of armour, turning the soldiers into glorified bullet sponges and firefights into wars of attrition since cover-based shooting is not Wolfenstein‘s niche. It’s fun when you encounter the right mix of enemies, but it doesn’t seem to happen nearly enough.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood provides you with the tools to unleash all manner of hell on no-good Nazis, and that’s always going to be a satisfying experience. It stumbles in some key areas, however, and doesn’t pack the same punch as its predecessors.