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Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: MachineGames
Release Date: July 26, 2019


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PC Review - 'Wolfenstein: Youngblood'

by Cody Medellin on July 25, 2019 @ 5:01 a.m. PDT

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a co-op experience where play as one of BJ Blazkowicz's twin daughters and undertake a do-or-die mission to find their missing father in 1980s Paris.

Buy Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Under the guidance of MachineGames, the new titles in the Wolfenstein series have a different vibe, despite them all being first-person shooters starring the legendary B.J. Blazkowicz. The New Order did a fantastic job of setting up the alternate history aftermath of World War II and establishing the game's serious nature. The Old Blood saw the developer try its hand at something akin to a classic shooter, with more emphasis on action over narrative. The New Colossus went in a dark direction, but it balanced the emotional baggage with some ridiculous science that led to a more satisfying ending. Despite those tonal changes, the titles had excellent shooting mechanics that proved to longtime fans that these developers knew how to work in the id Software shooting style. As expected, Wolfenstein: Youngblood does things a bit differently and takes the solid shooting into some interesting new directions.

The story takes place in 1980, almost 20 years since the United States was able to free itself from Nazi rule and Blazkowicz successfully killed Adolf Hitler. While other countries are still trying to build up resistance networks to free themselves from Nazi rule, both B.J. and his wife Anna have spent their years raising and training their twin daughters, Soph and Jess, in the event of another Nazi uprising. That training becomes useful when, one day, the daughters get word that their father has gone missing. Upon learning that he went to France on a secret mission, the duo and their friend Abby hijack an FBI helicopter and make their way to France to rescue their dad while helping out the French Resistance in the process.

This story has a much lighter tone when compared to the earlier games. That doesn't seem to be the case when the initial cut scene shows Jess learning about situational awareness while hunting and Soph is being pushed to work through the pain in her combo training. That serious tone stops once the girls make their first Nazi kill. Instead of being played out as a necessary part of their lives, it becomes a celebration instead. It doesn't take long to figure out that the twins have a much lighter perspective on life, as they'll talk about fun incidents or about their favorite book characters. Humor creeps in every now and then, but most of the game is played in a straightforward manner without the older titles' dark moments of introspection or scenes of cruelty and violence. To put it into perspective, what you're getting is more The Old Blood than The New Order as far as the tone and story depth.

The core shooting mechanics remain relatively untouched. Melee is restricted to either a knife or a hatchet, both of which display some brutality. There are also throwable versions of these weapons, a perfect complement to the grenades that you can chuck at foes. You can still carry as many guns as you like, and most of your arsenal is rather plain in terms of abilities. Guns have armor ratings, so you can identify which guns are good for whittling down enemy armor. The grenade launcher or laser are about as exotic as the weapons get. Shooting and aiming feel fine, similar to previous titles.

This is where the similarities end, as the game does everything else vastly different from its predecessors. For starters, you're always wearing a power suit, so things are amplified. Tackles have enough power to break doors, and stealth means activating an active cloaking system. You'll get some other powers later on, like magnetism, but you'll always start with the double-jump ability.

That last part is important to note, since the level design is also very different. It is here where Arkane's influence is more notable, as levels are not only sprawling but take verticality into account. It's completely normal to go from the city streets into a hotel, and it's also normal to gain access to buildings via open windows on the second or third floors. Fall damage is negated, so the game more than encourages you to take great leaps into anything open or scale rooftops to get the drop on foes.

The more open-level design means that your missions are also handled very differently. You now have the French Resistance base in the catacombs acting as your hub world. You can use the place to refill your ammo, armor and health, and you can even take in a game of a heavily modified Wolfenstein 3D, complete with two full episodes and a standard saving and loading system. However, the hub is more important as a place to get side missions from other characters as well as regular missions from Abby. Each side mission takes place in a different area of Paris, but some missions force you to visit several different places before they can be completed.

The open design comes with a few pros and cons. Taken negatively, the design means that you won't see many locales since most missions go to familiar parts of the stage. The design also seems to have an effect on enemy AI. The AI is still good about running around for turrets or sacrificing one person for the greater good of the squad, and they do this well in big, open areas. Get near a door, however, and they have a tendency to do stupid things. One situation saw a bunch of soldiers crowd a door and dart in and out, giving you free rein to pepper everyone with lead while taking minimal damage. Another saw big machines try to make their way to a door only to get stuck due to their size, again giving players the opportunity to get in a bunch of free shots without consequence. It wasn't a common occurrence, but it happened enough to note.

The new world design means the ability to transfer seamlessly between missions without having to return to the hub world. It also means the ability to switch missions on the fly and get some other incidental stuff done for Abby. The new design should mean that these expansive levels come with long loading screens, but that doesn't seem to be the case, as load times are actually quite decent, but you'd still want to get everything done before moving on to a brand-new area. Finally, entering a new area means that both enemies and items respawn, which can be great if you're farming but terrible if you just killed a big machine and have to do that again.

Aside from the world changes, Youngblood has implemented a new leveling and upgrade scheme. As expected, gaining levels is dictated by the missions you complete, the items you collect, and the enemies you kill. Gaining levels is good for automatic boosts in accuracy and armor and health refills. Leveling up is also good for upgrade points, with most upgrades coming in the form of health and armor boosts. You can unlock other abilities, like being able to throw knives or hatchets hard enough to knock someone down or picking up ammo and armor from fallen enemies. Meanwhile, the silver that you earn can upgrade your weapon parts, with some bonuses if you equip your guns with at least three parts from the same company. The bonuses are minor, like an increase in ammo capacity or stopping power, but every little bit helps. Like Rage 2, you're given almost all of the pertinent missions for the main storyline at the beginning, but unlike Bethesda's last title, trying to go there while under the recommended level is akin to suicide.

Perhaps the biggest and most notable change is that the game is completely co-op. That change has ripple effects, as other parts of the game accommodate the presence of extra firepower. XP, for example, is shared among players, so one person getting all of the kills isn't going to mean that the other player is going to fall behind in terms of leveling. The game also gives players a pool of shared lives, so unless you're good about reviving your partner, you can each die a total of three times before restarting the area. While everything you've obtained until that point is still in your possession, some areas are large enough that starting over is a real pain.

The real benefit is in the perks system. Once you get a meter filled, you can throw up a hand symbol to benefit both people if they're in vicinity of one another. A thumbs-up symbol gives health, while the devil horns grant armor boosts. Depending on your outlook, this is either very beneficial or very cheap. On the one hand, this means that you don't always have to search for healing items during heavy firefights, so you can press on before finding some real health. On the other hand, if you hole up somewhere and spam the ability, difficult boss fights become cakewalks.

If you're playing solo, then co-op means having a CPU partner at all times, and like many recent CPU partners, they're wildly competent. Your partner is very good about knowing when to deploy perks so you aren't overcharging at the wrong times. They're also very good about helping during firefights, sometimes delivering the killing blow and making sure to call out grenades or other enemy activity. Your partner is also good about not getting in your way during shots, which isn't a big deal since there's no friendly fire. The only knock against the CPU is that it'll sometimes shut down on you; there were a few instances when the AI partner stood in place without firing a shot or refused to revive you until the very last second.

If you're playing online, then you get the benefit of having a more reactive human playing with you, along with the other benefits mentioned earlier, like shared XP. The online performance is flawless, but the real bonus is how the system is implemented. While you can play with others who own the game, the title takes a page from A Way Out in that you can gift other people a demo version of the game so they can play the whole campaign with you without needing the full game. The only drawback is it requires you to have the more expensive Deluxe Edition, but if you are aiming to play with friends instead of random strangers, this is well worth the extra cost.

With a change in eras comes a change to the sonic landscape. Particularly, the soundtrack for most of your battles is heavy on the synthesizer, similar to a decent amount of sci-fi films from the 1980s. For the sake of comparison, it's similar to what you heard in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, another title that tried to go for an '80s sci-fi soundscape. Outside of fights, you'll hear the game's signature treatment of popular songs on or near the era, which means loads of popular songs all remixed with German lyrics in place of English. The sound effects still kick on a good sound system, and the voice acting is wonderful. That last part is important, considering how often you'll hear the sisters' quips and Abby feeding you intel.

Graphically, Youngblood doesn't look to have changed much from the last entry. Environments still contain the standard level of debris, but the title lets you play in places with an equal amount of darkness and broad daylight. The texture work is great, with loads of details and little to no apparent texture loading. There's also no blurring in these textures, which a few games still suffer from. As expected from an id game, you're looking at some smooth animation work and a target of 60fps being upheld, with lots of great lighting and shadowing and a plethora of particle effects. About the only part that looks off are the faces of the Nazis you kill. All of the other faces you see are fine, but with so many Nazis in masks and other headgear, killing them to reveal their faces shows them sporting much lower detail than expected.

Even though the game already looks great, one thing that'll be disappointing to some players is the lack of RTX features. While the game is currently being bundled with the latest batch of Nvidia's latest graphics card series, the game at launch features no ray tracing, one of the bigger selling points of the RTX series of video cards. The support is coming on an undetermined date, so while that means that Radeon owners aren't going to be missing out on anything initially, those who ponied up for the latest in Nvidia tech are going to come away crestfallen for now.

Despite some big changes to the overall formula, Wolfenstein: Youngblood remains another solid entry in a very reliable series. The strong shooting mechanics are accompanied by co-op, which makes things a bit easier and retains the fun of the first game. The lighter story tone may not be to everyone's tastes, but when you consider how dark the last game went, the shift isn't too drastic. The more open approach may break the enemy AI in a few instances, but the newfound freedom over more environments is a fair trade. Shooting fans will like Youngblood, and the appeal only increases when you consider the dearth of co-op games in the genre.

Score: 8.0/10

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