Who would ever have thought that the best part of a Wolfenstein game would be its story? After years of running and gunning with very little regard to the reason behind protagonist B.J Blazkowicz’s many missions, it fell to Swedish studio Machine Games to give an incredible world for which the insanity to take place in. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order introduced us to a reality where the Nazis managed to win the war and dominate the world, and while the action sections weren’t universally loved by the public, the story that spawned in that game and continued on in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus proved to be the very reason to play through those games.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a side game of sorts to the main Wolfenstein series. Like Wolfenstein: Old Blood back in 2015 — see what they did there? — Youngblood takes a slight break from B.J’s current arc in order to try and provide a more condensed experience. This time, we’re brought to the 1980s, where the USA’s been rid of the Nazi occupation and Blazkowicz has had the chance to raise his two twin daughters Jess and Sophie down in Texas. Little detail is shared about what happened in the story since the end of The New Colossus, only that Hitler met his fate at the hands of B.J. After a short intro movie that shows that the twins have through some training of their own, their dad goes missing somewhere in Paris, and it’s up to them to save him.
The thing about Youngblood that didn’t quite sit with me wasn’t that the game is different from past Wolfensteins. I’m totally okay with having one of those be a cooperative experience, but the added mechanics feel extremely forced and not a whole lot of fun. Having to deal with MMO concepts like leveling up and being gated from content totally kills the basic concept that makes shooters like this so much fun, leaning not on the need to be a skillful player, but one that can endure repetition, and a pretty bad cycle at that. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is all about having you run around a handful of semi open-world areas doing a bunch of side quests in order to level up and do the main story ones.
For as big as the map is made out to be, Nazi-occupied Neu-Paris feels narrow, claustrophobic, and not a whole lot of fun to explore. Sure, there’s some neat uses of verticality and alternate paths to take along the way, but it all becomes stale when you’re forced to run through the same sections of town and visit the exact same locales in various different quests. In my first hour of the game playing co-op with fellow Entertainium writer Callum, I managed to run back and forth from the French Resistance base in the catacombs and back to a prison building three separate times. For as sprawling as Paris is, couldn’t they have varied things a little more?
Speaking of missions, these are handed out by a host of characters that hang out at that base, but unlike say, The New Colossus’ colorful cast that is perfectly introduced during the course of that game, Youngblood’s secondary cast is just thrown your way and only serve as exclamation points for you to tick off in your minimap. Some returning faces were welcome for sure, but for as cool as it was to see an older Grace during the intro, having her nerdy and otherwise bland daughter take over as info giver to the twins is quite the turnaround. Even the two protagonists are pretty shallow in their own right. Yeah, they’re teenagers and they act accordingly throughout the entire game, not taking anything seriously, but their antics are downplayed in the end as weak attempts at injecting humor. Every single time they jump into an elevator, a different skit plays where they’re fooling around for the camera, which usually ends with a cliché record scratch. By the tenth time you see Sophie (or is it Jess?) try to scare her sister, you’ll probably feel as annoyed as me.
The entirety of the game can be played cooperatively with a friend or a rando online, or by yourself. If you play solo, whichever sister you didn’t pick is controlled by the computer, and let me tell you, while they are great at shooting stuff dead, it seems like they hold a perpetual grudge against you and hate to revive you. Youngblood features a shared life system that allows you to hold up to three extra lives that can be burned in order to revive yourself in a pinch, so you’re better off saving those for when crap really hits the fan, and luckily, the A.I in the game never uses it on its own, but considering it rarely comes to your rescue unless every single enemy is dead, you basically get three of your own before you get a game over.
It wouldn’t be too bad to die and retry if the game’s checkpointing wasn’t nonexistent. If you happen to fail at any point during a mission, you’re forced to start it at the very beginning. Bit the bullet one hit away from killing a boss? Too bad. Youngblood doesn’t respect either of the players’ time, and thanks to the already repetitive nature of the game that is already quite stale doing each mission once, having to do them over many times just throws even more salt onto that sore. While it’s relatively quick to run through a level especially in solo play due to the fact that the A.I character magically teleports to wherever you need them, which tends to be at one of the game’s numerous doors and buttons that require both characters to open or use them at once, it’s frustrating not having the safety net of a checkpoint, even more so when the stability of the online play is so flaky to begin with.
Having a leveling system in-game means that enemies each have their own level, and as long as they’re near your own, you can handle killing them, even if some take a little too long to go down, in true Borderlands “bullet sponge” fashion. Bosses in particular are prone to taking way too many bullets to kill, even when using the correct weapon for one out of the two armor types that they might have. Weapons also tend to run out of ammunition often thanks to that, so you’ll be constantly juggling your arsenal — which on one hand is a good excuse to experiment with different guns and not fall into the same approach to all situations, but in my experience, it only led to me grow more and more dependent on my co-op partner, human or not, as I’m forced to use an ineffective gun simply due to not having an alternative.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is by far better enjoyed with a friend along for the ride. The overly grindy nature of the game lends to having someone to chat with, the content eventually boils down to repetitive running around back and forth, it’s slightly more fun to do so that way. I wouldn’t recommend getting this game if you’re planning on relying on matchmaking, especially because there’s no way to communicate with your partner, where a simple typed chat interface would’ve sufficed. In the end, Youngblood is a underwhelming game, so it’s a good thing it’s not fully priced. If you can lock in a buddy to join you, you can even go for a deluxe version of the game that costs a bit more and lets you invite them and play through the entire thing with you with only a single copy. I can’t say I’m disappointed because I had no expectations jumping in. I’m really hoping there’ll be more to the actual numbered Wolfenstein sequel that’s bound to come out in a year or two.