It’s difficult to know what to make of Wolfenstein: Youngblood. If I close my eyes and think of nothing but the shooty shooty bang bang action, then I can settle into a happy place. Slick gunplay is what Bethesda shooters have done so well for the last five years, but that just begs the question: if something works so well, why try and fix it? I’m all for something new and fresh but this… this really doesn’t work.
Wolfenstein 2, now there’s a game. From start to finish, I relished in the glory of maiming my enemies in crazy, balls to the wall action, jumping out of my chair whenever something cool happened. It just doesn’t come together in the same way for Youngbloods. It’s the 80’s, we have some fresh characters who are BJ’s twin daughters, it’s another chance to dive into the mythos, and there’s RPG mechanics and a hub world… wait, what?
Youngblood kicks off with a short and sweet piece of exposition showing the twins, Soph and Jess, interacting with their badass parents. Jess is off hunting with good ol’ dad, while Soph is getting put through the paces by her mother, Anya. Skip ahead slightly and BJ has taken a little quiet trip to Nazi occupied Paris, getting himself disappeared in the process. The twins set off on their merry way and land themselves in a whole heap of fun and japes, ostensibly while trying to find him. In reality, the story goes as AWOL as BJ soon after the game’s opening.
As a Bethesda shooter, sliding, shooting, and duel wielding is a fun as it has always been. That’s where the similarities end, however. While you might expect a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, Youngblood suffers from some pacing issues which really throw you off. It’s fallen deep into some RPG territories where it really shouldn’t be going. Everything is now levelled up, your guns, your skills, everything. It’s followed in the footsteps of other shooter hybrids and it’s a gamble that’s not really paid off.
What makes it worse is when you run into an enemy you can’t kill because you haven’t levelled up enough or don’t have the right ammo type. Not only that, but enemies have health bars, in another massive departure from the MachineGames series. All of a sudden, the charm of Wolfenstein is wearing off and I’m starting to get a slight soulless feeling from all of this. Why won’t it let me kill things with my big gun? That’s what I did in The New Colossus, so why can’t I do it now?
The game was designed to be played as a co-op experience, even including a Buddy Pass in the deluxe version that lets you play with friends for free. You can select between Jess or Soph, but the choice is irrelevant and serves as a skin swap. Functionally, both characters are the same with the main difference being the ability you begin with, either cloaking or crush. You can learn the other skill later, so there’s no real choice there either.
Each character can use pep signals, which will buff the other sister during intense fights. It was kind of handy in the early stages when I was getting blown to bits – you just stuck a thumb up and receive a health boost – but this didn’t really help with the guys I couldn’t kill. Nope, they just murdered me. Wrong ammo. Oops!
If one of you goes down in a fight, there’s a fairly generous window of opportunity to be revived. If you somehow miss this, which I did plenty of times, then you have up to three shared lives to use as an auto-revive. Which is fine… unless you can’t kill the enemy.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I have a real issue with the bullet sponges that roam the world. Again, it absolutely kills the pacing. I want to rip and tear my way through my enemies, not rip and tear through one and then hold the trigger for ten minutes while I idly wait for my bullets to penetrate my opponent’s armour. That’s just not fun. Neither is grinding out levels to try and increase my gun stats or abilities, just so I can push a little extra damage through. The balancing is all kinds of wonky.
Oh, and if you want to sit in the menus and sort your upgrades, please do so in a safe space because you can’t pause the game, even in single player. The cut gets even deeper if you’ve progressed far into a level and get killed, because the checkpointing needs a bit of work and having to go back a full ten minutes really stings.
In another departure, Youngblood is the most open world game in the series, giving you three quite large districts of Paris to explore with the main goal in each one being to take down giant Nazi strongholds called Brothers. These areas are nicely designed, with lots of vertical space to explore and plenty of room to make use of your double jump. Of course, it’s open world, so not only do you have your main missions, but you also have a ton of side missions to sink your teeth into and will bump into fresh batches of enemies as you revisit areas.
Doing side missions will unlock safer routes and give you extras to aid your Nazi slaying antics, helping towards your end goal of completing the Brother Raid Missions – these are essentially traditional Wolfenstein levels, not to be confused with MMORPG-style raids. By all means, if you want to go straight for the Brother when entering a zone then cool, good luck. It’s like ramping up the difficulty and playing with just a knife… that’s blunt. You’ll have a hard time.
There’s endgame content in the form of more story missions, but this requires more of the grinding that has no place in a Wolfenstein game. Even then, there’s too little pay off. There’s also daily and weekly missions, but they just make you question what this game is turning into. It reeks of online looter shooters or free to play and just feels a little trite.
Even the characters and story don’t make up for the wonky game structure, because it’s not here! One of the best parts of Wolfenstein is the storytelling and character development, but it gets a little lost in the shuffle. Big moments of exposition are few and far between and dialogue between the sisters is drowned out in the gunfire. Maybe that’s for the best, because I didn’t really like what little I saw of the sisters. The opening cutscene painted this picture of the girls as trained killers, but the game ruins that characterisation in the opening level. Suddenly they talk like immature idiots, which is odd because their parents don’t, so where on Earth has this come from? Don’t speak Gen X gibberish, just because the 80’s demands it. Their parents are legends, the kids are dicks.