Wolfenstein: Youngblood — Lasers, nazis, and idiot sisters
Who let the fire-breathing mechanical dogs out?
I've always considered the Wolfenstein franchise to be one of my favorites. There's nothing quite like blasting a laser-powered rifle into the face of a nazi and watching him burst into a blizzard of fiery ash. And with 2019's Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the fourth entry in the New Order timeline, the ridiculousness and over-the-top amusement is as loud as ever. While it may not be the strongest in the lineup, it's a unique sidestep that entertained me for dozens of hours and left my trigger finger satisfied.
Veterans of the franchise may be surprised by the departure from the traditional Wolfenstein gameplay loop, which usually consists of a single player going from point A to B all the while decimating the Third Reich in a variety of creative ways. While that core principal remains, the introduction of co-op shakes things up a bit. Playing as Jess and Soph, the twin daughters to nazi-killing machine BJ Blazkowicz, you set off to an alternate reality 1980s Paris to help clear out the invading German soldiers and build up the French resistance. How you tackle each enemy encounter is now opened up to encourage strategy and planning, and in turn adds a touch of sandbox gameplay to the usual run-and-gun. Will you take to the rooftops and snipe your enemies from a distance? Maybe use your upgraded cloaking abilities and trusty knife to sneak around? These options, combined with a new RPG-style leveling and weapon tuning system, allow you to craft your individual character to your own play style.
Gameplay is crisp, responsive, and addicting once your character has the tools at her disposal to really take out the trash. I found my endgame playtime to be the most enjoyable, having gotten used to the variety of ballistic and energy weapons and the familiar hunting grounds. You transition from an unprepared rebel to a fully upgraded madwoman, fighting the regime like it's a slick choreographed dance of destruction. And the climb to that powerful rank isn't a slog, either. You'll loot for in-game cash, ammo, collectibles, and other goodies to get stronger and stronger. It's a welcomed gameplay shake up, and one I hope makes the jump to future Wolfenstein installments. There are also dozens of unique nods to the alternate reality setting, including cassettes and VHS tapes (called UVKs in-game) that show a twisted world where pop culture has been drenched in Aryan propaganda.
The real Achilles' heel, however, is the one element that MachineGames was hoping would be a hit: the co-op. Rarely have I found myself so frustrated by team-ups than in Youngblood. Rather than venture off to conduct your own havoc, the game interrupts exploration by placing walls and crates in front of you that can only be interacted with if both players are present, and every single one of these blockades slows things to a standstill. This, mixed with the cumbersome narrative that forgoes the thought-provoking beauty of the past few entries, makes those in-between engagements lackluster, to say the least. And, if those frustrations weren't enough, the Blazkowicz girls are blubbering idiots. They speak and act like some hybrid toddler/frat bro disaster, and are in total contrast to their emotionally stricken father. They are, far and away, the worst playable characters I've had the experience of embodying in recent memory.
- Final Thoughts -
If you can forgive the forced co-op encounters and mindlessness of the Blazkowicz daughters, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a deeply satisfying first-person shooter with enough gameplay options and varying locales to keep you entertained for hours. It's brutal, fast-paced, and when it comes to decimating nazis in style, the series has never been better.
(Image courtesy of Steam)