Once upon a time, it was difficult to imagine Wolfenstein as a franchise. While Wolfenstein 3D was a hugely-influential FPS, the Doom franchise quickly made Wolfenstein yesterday’s news.
After some less-than-memorable entries, the franchise restarted with 2009’s Wolfenstein. Ten years later, with Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the challenge is to create something engaging for fans and new players alike.
Ultimately, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a partial success in this regard, tweaking the familiar formula with a few new twists. But the heart of gameplay is still the same, and this is not likely to be the game to win over harsh critics of the previous franchise entries.
The Wolfenstein game series has dabbled in alternate history for many years. After all, Wolfenstein 3D is a game where you can end World War II by shooting Adolf Hitler and his giant robo-suit.
But starting in Wolfenstein: The New Order, alternate history became the main focus of the narrative. That game was set in an alternate universe in which the Nazis actually won World War II. In that game, B.J. Blazkowicz helps form a resistance and kick off a new American Revolution against Nazi rule.
In Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the protagonists are actually the two daughters of Blazkowicz. They have been raised to fight (particularly against the remaining Nazi forces), and this adventure kicks off when their father goes missing.
A Story in Dribs and Drabs
On paper, this alternate universe has a rich and compelling story. In reality, it’s pretty damned hard to find the details of that story.
Beyond the most basic story details, the only way to get more information is to find various collectibles throughout the game. These collectibles (such as old newspapers) give you more information about what has happened within this world.
On one hand, this provides a powerful motivation for players to track collectibles down. On the other hand, this is one of the worst ways to build a world for players. Imagine how bad it would be if most of the story in the Playstation 4 Spider-Man game was limited to Peter Parker’s hidden backpacks.
Made for Multiplayer
One of the best things about Wolfenstein: Youngblood is also the worst thing about it. What am I talking about? The fact that it was designed from the ground up with multiplayer in mind.
If you have a buddy around, then taking on the Nazis together really breathes new life into an old formula. But if you don’t have a buddy with you, then you’re stuck with the game’s often-dodgy Artificial Intelligence.
For console players, one of the most disappointing aspects of the game is the lack of splitscreen. There has been a severe lack of couch co-op for modern console gamers, and this game didn’t do anything to change that annoying arrangement.
In its own way, Wolfenstein: Youngblood simulates warfare better than most games. That is a mixed blessing, though, because it leads to some seriously variable difficulty.
When you are playing through with a friend, the added challenge is actually a welcome addition. It forces the two of you to coordinate a strategy and makes your eventual victory that much sweeter.
When you’re playing by yourself, though, it can be quite difficult to coordinate with your A.I. partner. As a result, solo play through this game is much more difficult than in The New Order.
Just This Side of Formulaic
How much does Bethesda change the formula in this game? The short answer is, “just enough so that you notice.”
The main difference is the wide variety of side missions. In this game, you have a primary goal: breaking into district towers and getting vital Nazi info. And nothing keeps you from trying to storm the tower as soon as possible, though you’re likely to die trying.
You can make things a lot easier by taking on different side missions. These give you both intel and upgrades that make the big attack that much easier.
Other than the importance of these side missions, actual gameplay will be familiar to any fans of The New Order. This game is still all about running around small maps and taking on an army of Nazis. And while it may be bad to admit, finding new ways to kill Nais is still an amazing thrill, even after all these years.
Is Wolfenstein: Youngblood worth your time? With most players, the answer is “yes.” For FPS fans, this is a solid shooter. For franchise fans, this doesn’t deviate too far from the winning formula. However, those who didn’t like The New Order are unlikely to be converted by the violent antics of B.J. Blazkowicz’s daughters.