Two sisters in advanced cybernetic suits killing Nazis? Sounds fucking dope! How could that go wrong? Wolfenstein has found huge success and popularity since it was rebooted with Wolfenstein: The New Order and proceeded to achieve critical acclaim with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Players and critics alike have fallen in love with MachineGames’ interpretation of the Nazi-killing franchise that helped define the first-person shooter genre. However, it seems like this new entry is a step back compared to the standard set by its predecessors, which brings in cooperative play and a live-service model at the cost of quite a bit.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the fourth in the rebooted Wolfenstein franchise and sees the player(s) assume the role of either Zofia or Jessie Blazkowicz, daughters of B.J “Terror Billy” Blazkowicz, the notorious Nazi slaying badass who raised hell in the previous games. BJ has gone missing and it’s up to the two siblings and their friend, Abby, to track him down. Finding themselves in a Nazi-occupied Paris, the sisters don the Da’at Yichud supersuits that Wolfenstein veterans will be familiar with and go to town, murdering “Nazi sumbitches” and pepping each other up. The game knows what it’s about and this is its core strength. Mowing down Nazis, whether it be by stealthily taking them down or shoulder charging straight into them and making them explode into pieces is just as satisfying as ever and the game’s unapologetic and gratuitous violence towards the genocidal regime is nothing short of beautiful.
As previously mentioned, Wolfenstein: Youngblood features cooperative play. You and your best mate can assume the shoes of the sisters and raise hell in Paris (different to that gap year in Europe you keep talking about). When choosing your character, you can choose which abilities they start off with (cloaking or shoulder charge etc). Whether you decide to stack up on the same abilities or go for an even split and mix it up is up to you, but every ability is as useful as the other. Naturally, I went for cloaking as I love stealth gameplay and Wolfenstein’s stealth has always had a certain air to it. The core gameplay translates really well and a couple of nice additions make the cooperative play feel really good, especially the pep system. While on the surface the pep system is a silly way to increase the survivability of each player, it’s actually a fun little way to increase the interactivity between the players – and if you are like me and the friend that I played with it’s a great way to get a cheap giggle out of one another. If you opt to play the game on your lonesome, the sister you aren’t playing will be AI-controlled, and quite bothersome. While some features like the AI partner prioritising stealth until you initiate a firefight gives them a modicum of an allure, its general clunkiness and sheer stupidity (reminiscent of how dumb the friendly AI in Halo 5 is) often outweigh its usefulness.
Unlike its predecessors, the story is by far one of the weakest points of Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Even though it’s set in the very rich world of Wolfenstein, the game really fails to tap into the story elements that made the previous games what they were. Instead, the writing and design are focused on more of a live service model, attempting to complement the fact that Youngblood is a co-operative shooter rather than a singleplayer, story-driven shooter. The game features a lot of tedious busywork by way of side objectives, only they’re more or less required to be powerful enough to tackle the iota of proper story missions that are available. Yes, Wolfenstein: Youngblood has opted for “RPG mechanics”, introducing a levelling system which is much different to the games before it. Instead of offering challenges for the player to complete and earn perks as rewards, doing basically anything will reward the player(s) with XP. Increasing your level brings with it a bunch of benefits, like an upgrade point and extra damage and (at some points) increasing the amount of perks and upgrades you can purchase. Because of this damage increase, Wolfenstein: Youngbloood likes to artificially gate the story missions by making the enemies you face in them higher than you are when you can first access them (especially the bigger units). So you’re forced to do all of the various side missions, which are all more or less the same – kill this person or go fetch this thing. Instead of opting for meaningful content and quality storytelling, the game would rather you traverse the same areas over and over again to complete mundane, repetitive objectives. Though, to be fair, it occasionally mixes things up by making you kill a certain person and then fetch something. This is without mentioning the fact that the game features daily and weekly challenges to add to the monotony. Wolfenstein is not about breaking seven fire hydrants or blowing up five cars within a 24 hour period.
Level design was arguably the weakest point of The New Colossus. While the writing and sheer chaos of the game led to a cacophany of Nazi destruction, the levels weren’t all that interesting to traverse, with progression being more or less a straight line. Along comes Arkane Studios, the masterminds behind the Dishonored games, a series praised for its superb level design. Arkane managed the level design for the game and it’s telling. The levels are much more interesting to play through, with every style of play catered for with meticulous design. The level design perfectly complements the different core abilities you can choose, and picking up the different key weapons grants the ability to unlock a variety of rooms and secrets which reward the player(s) with XP and money and collectibles. Combining the different possible styles of gameplay accommodated in each level creates some of the most memorable moments of Nazi killing available and the overall design of the game is very focused on making sure you experience the level design, which is both good and bad. Good because the level design is the core strength of Youngblood, bad because it’s relied on to the point where it’s at the cost of what made the other Wolfenstein games so good, and creates a progression economy of tedious busywork.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood actually runs surprisingly well, trying to achieve a 60fps goal (at least on the PS4 Pro) and succeeding. It’s by no means perfect but most of its technical blemishes aren’t really framerate related. If you’re someone who tries to absorb the entire world that has been built around you as a player, it is entirely possible to see texture flickering when geometry overlaps. In some cases it will be small, like where the footpath and the road connects, and in other cases it can be bigger things like entire windows flickering. In my first session with the game (I played the game in two sessions), all my audio was completely broken for a mission or two. Normally I’d pin the blame on the headset I was using, but the audio from my party chat was coming in just fine so the issue seems isolated to the game itself.
Like any live-service game, Wolfenstein: Youngblood features microtransactions. Naturally, I am against microtransactions but there have been some cases where microtransactions in a retail game can exist without compromising anything about the game’s design, Monster Hunter: World being a prime example of this. Perk upgrades and weapon upgrades all have their own economies which cannot be worked around, but there are skins which can be purchased with the premium currency, Gold Bars, and there are also boosters that can be purchased. These boosters affect ammo drops, silver coin drops, max armour, max health and XP gains. It’s kind of hard to ignore these microtransactions as pay-to-win, even if the game is very playable without even realising they are a thing. The ability to pay for better ammo and silver coin drops, increase your max armour or health and increase your XP gains is undeniably pay-to-win design. While the game doesn’t go as far as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey by creating a problem to sell you the solution, the fact that these things exist in what should be a game that doesn’t fit in the live-service model is very disappointing.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood had the recipe for success. The wanton destruction of the Nazi regime with a friend in levels designed by Arkane Studios sounds like the perfect mixture of genre-blending that could surmount to one of the best games around for a cooperative experience. In reality, it’s developed into a shallow game with little to no story content but lots of tedious busywork. Its great moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t enough to distract from how the game is built around artificial padding that even houses a pay-to-win microtransaction economy. Even with its slightly cheaper price of entry, this is a game that I would recommend looking at when it’s in the bargain bin section.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher