Developer: Machine Games/Arkane Studios Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Review Platform: PlayStation 4
I consider Wolfenstein 2 to be one of the best first person shooters to release this generation. It combined a fantastic story with shocking twists, and some incredibly smooth and responsive gameplay. Unfortunately, Wolfenstein Youngblood doesn’t come close to reaching those lofty heights, and in most aspects takes major steps in the wrong direction. While the concept of taking on the Nazi menace alongside a friend sounds interesting on paper, Wolfenstein Youngblood somehow finds a way to make this experience feel sadly empty.
Wolfenstein Youngblood takes place 19 years after the conclusion of Wolfenstein 2, with B.J Blazkowicz and his wife Anya living a (somewhat) normal life with their twin daughters, Jessica and Sophia. Shortly after the introduction, B.J has gone missing and his daughters suspect he has travelled to Paris. This sets up the cooperative adventure with a strong foundation to build upon, but this story thread is barely acknowledged again until the final few main missions. Just as the story begins to ramp up to the conclusion, it is over within an hour and the credits begin to roll. Even the late addition of a new ‘big bad’ feels undercooked, and instead felt thrown together for a final boss battle. Ultimately Wolfenstein Youngblood’s story feels rushed, with no emphasis on the main narrative, and a forgettable villain.
Wolfenstein Youngblood’s twin heroes also suffer from a severe lack of personality, but the potential was certainly there. Similar to Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider remake, we experience Jess and Soph’s first kill. This scene doesn’t carry any emotional weight, and after this bumbling moment the twins become Nazi killing machines. Youngblood then struggles to give either individual any moment to truly present their own unique personality; instead both characters feel like carbon copies of one another. The twins do have short moments when interact after battles, and small fun scenes during elevator rides, but neither does enough to explain why you should be invested in these two characters.
After the fantastic exploration of B.J’s character in Wolfenstein 2, I was greatly disappointed to not see that same quality of character storytelling in Youngblood. I wanted to be invested in Jess and Soph’s adventure, but Wolfenstein Youngblood struggled to provide a strong reason why I should.
Wolfenstein Youngblood is at heart a cooperative experience, where you can play as either sister. Both sisters have the same skills, abilities, and are able to wield the same weapons. While the emphasis is on cooperative play, players can also tackle the entire adventure with an AI partner. Fortunately, the AI companion is more than sufficient when it comes to battle, and there were only a few times when they ignored my revive requests. If you don’t have any friends to play with, Wolfenstein Youngblood offers the ability to join another player of a similar level through the main menu. This is a fantastic feature that worked well, and I never had to wait long to join another player’s match or experienced any lag.
Wolfenstein Youngblood does succeed at offering the same fast paced and exhilarating combat as Wolfenstein 2, which is easily Youngblood’s selling point. Whether playing solo or with a friend, combat is extremely enjoyable. Every gun has a satisfying kick and you feel every bullet as it leaves you weapon, this feeling of power can be emphasised tenfold with the shotgun. I absolutely loved using the shotgun in Wolfenstein Youngblood, as it has an incredible amount of power, and it feels absolutely devastating to wield. The same can be said about the special weapons, which can evaporate or electrify an enemy in mere seconds.
The environments in Wolfenstein Youngblood have a great sense of verticality, which makes exploring areas a lot of fun. Most missions can be tackled from any direction, and the option to attempt stealth gameplay also exists in most areas. I had a lot of fun simply exploring each location for collectibles, which tested your ability to utilise double jumps to perfection as you’d try to reach hidden locations. The same praise cannot be said for the maze-like Underground areas in Wolfenstein Youngblood, which are shrouded in almost complete darkness; which are tedious to traverse.
The structure of Wolfenstein Youngblood’s gameplay loop is actually quite similar to the original Destiny; without the loot. Side missions are acquired from the NPCs situated in your safe house, but unlike Wolfenstein 2, these characters merely exist and are never given any explanation as to who they are. These side quests will require you to revisit main mission areas to collect certain items, kill a target, or destroy a certain number of a certain thing. As you revisit areas the same enemies will appear, and will respawn with a certain amount of time. The incentive behind these side missions is to acquire experience points to level up and unlock new abilities, as well as silver coins to purchase upgrades.
While games like the aforementioned Destiny, or Borderlands incentivise replaying areas to potentially unlock new loot, Wolfenstein Youngblood doesn’t have this incentive. Replaying areas for experience can be a lot of fun, but all enemies scale with your level and stronger variations of the same enemies will appear. This made most side quests fall in the same gameplay loop as you never feel a sense of getting stronger, and you will mostly only get a few hundred silver coins for your trouble. I absolutely love the frenetic gameplay action on offer in Wolfenstein Youngblood, but everyone has their limit. I completed every side mission available in Wolfenstein Youngblood, and it didn’t take long before the repetitive nature of these missions became an issue. Without that potential of loot being dangled in front of me like the proverbial carrot on a stick, the incentive to play mediocre side missions wore off very quickly.
The silver coins gained from completing side missions and killing enemies can be used to upgrade weapons, purchase alternative armour skins/helmets, and Peps (emotes). The weapon upgrades increase the amount of damage output, magazine size, and overall quality of your weapons. The outfits on the other hand are merely different colour variations on your current armour suit, but as this game is first person, you only see these visual changes on your twin sister. Peps/emotes are quite useful, and each offers different variations of boosts for both you and your cooperative partner. For instance, you can boost your health to full in tricky situations, revive your partner from a distance, or even double your damage output. I loved how this feature emphasised cooperative support, and they always offered a nice way to help your team even if you were in trouble.
I must also mention that while almost everything can be purchased using silver coins, some suits are locked behind the currency known as gold bars. These gold bars can only be acquired through real world purchases, and are attached to most of the alterative skins on offer. If you intend to unlock every item using nothing but silver coins, you are out of luck. I am unsure if gold bars can be exchanged for silver coins as I haven’t used this feature, but from what I can tell, this is not the case. These are merely customisable elements that don’t break any of the experience, but it’s something to consider.
I also experienced some strange audio issues whilst playing Wolfenstein Youngblood. During gameplay the audio would simply begin to cut in and out, eventually sounding like I was trying to tune into a radio from a far distance. It would crack and stutter and the only way to fix this issue was leaving and returning to the area; this happened 6 times in total. While the audio in cut scenes was fine throughout, the visuals themselves often experienced frame rate drops. Fortunately, these frame rate issues never occurred during gameplay, but they features in almost every cut scene. I also must mention that on one occasion I experienced a mission breaking bug as an item I needed to progress fell through the map, and as Wolfenstein Youngblood has no checkpoint system, I was required to restart the game in order to replay the entire mission again.
Hopefully within a few weeks of writing this review most of the issues mentioned above will be fixed, but these are worth mentioning and are something to consider when making your purchase.
If you’re looking for a cooperative shooter to play with a friend, and you have no interest in a strong story component, Wolfenstein Youngblood definitely checks those boxes. The gameplay itself is sublime and the areas available to explore emphasise a fantastic sense of verticality. While the emphasis is on cooperative play, Wolfenstein Youngblood can be played entirely solo and the AI partner is more than sufficient.
However, if you’re a Wolfenstein fan who was hoping for a narrative focussed follow-up to the impeccable Wolfenstein 2, this isn’t for you. Wolfenstein Youngblood struggles to produce a story that feels important, creating an undercooked villain, and unfortunately heroes with little personality to differentiate themselves from one another. The gameplay loop of Wolfenstein Youngblood feels like a ‘loot shooter’ without the loot, which definitely made the bland side missions stand out; and not for the better. While there also a handful of technical issues currently on offer, as well as a few ‘potentially’ glitched Trophies for those looking to chase the Platinum.
Wolfenstein Youngblood left me feeling disappointed, and while I certainly enjoyed the gameplay over my 25 hours with Youngblood, there are so many other aspects that feel subpar when compared to Wolfenstein 2. Hopefully a potential Wolfenstein 3 will bring the series back to previous high standards, that the franchise has already proven it can reach.
The Score: 6.5
PlayStation 4 review code was provided by publisher.