In Wolfenstein’s alternative 1980s, Nazis remain a brutal force of evil and oppression across Europe, even after Hitler was murdered by the main character BJ Blazkowicz. That’s how the Nazi killings continue as the Blazkowicz twins, Jess and Soph, pick up where their parents left for a spinoff in Wolfenstein: Youngblood – a brutal cooperative shooter driven by an unashamed, youthful demeanor. It may not reach the exact narrative heights as its predecessors or bring out every idea in its new approach; however, Youngblood hits where it counts. This is our Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: MachineGames, Arkane Studios, Panic Button Games
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Genres: First-person shooter
- Release Date: July 25, 2019
Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review: Gameplay
Introduction to Jess and Soph shows how their parents, Anya and BJ, taught them the means to survive on their rural Texas farm. There is a tense tone of protective parents who have gone through the worst and prepare their daughters to handle the same thing, which is quickly alternated with the twins’ carefree plenty when they are alone together. Bring in the best friend Abby, daughter of Wolfenstein 2’s Grace Walker, and you have a trio that brings their unique swagger to the name Wolfenstein.
Their personalities immediately come to life. Jess and Soph are boisterous and, at times, tired, like many teenagers and young adults, and it gives them real characters that usually just come out cool, especially with great voice actors. They go back and forth over their favorite super-spy novel series Arthur & Kenneth and even introduce themselves as their beloved in-fiction duo. They hint at things their parents have done, hype each other in battle, and just go crazy in the elevator loading screens to the melody of ’80s synthpop background music, and breathe new life into the Blazkowicz family.
It doesn’t take long before they make a turn for the absurd; now that BJ is missing, they discover clues to his disappearance and take matters into their own hands. But they don’t exactly sneak out of the house or secretly take their parents’ car for a ride. They make a military-grade helicopter to Nazi-occupied France to find their father and murder the Nazis. As Jess or Soph and outfitted with high-tech Da’at Yichud battle suits, join a French resistance movement in Neu-Paris, which quickly amounts to your robbery of Nazi outposts and strongholds.
Since Jess and Soph are inseparable, co-op is at the heart of the experience, and luckily, online collaboration is a breeze. As a host, you can let friends (or randoms) jump into your session seamlessly, and without interruption, the AI will take control until a player connects and immediately when a player leaves. If players have identical missions in the mission log, completing them will record progress for both players. And if you’d instead do it alone alongside a decent AI companion, it’s just as much an option for the entire game.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review captures that familiar Wolfenstein feels of bringing an automatic rifle to a Nazi soldier, melting a harness-wrapped super-soldier with a laser gun or zapping a horde with a light coil, and what a powerful feeling it is. What’s new is that challenging enemies have one of two armor elements that are weak for corresponding weapons, encouraging you to juggle your varied arsenal actively. Plus, a slightly more diverse weapon upgrade system helps work out some well-known firearms to make them work the way you need them to and breakthrough enemies more efficiently.
Light RPG elements also find their way into the character progression system; you gain XP and dump upgrade points in new abilities and perks, such as increasing health/armor caps, extending cloak times, saving heavy weapons, and much more. Enemies enhance to your level, and only a few sections are defended early on by nearly impossible enemies. It’s a simple system that helps to facilitate stable unlocking, making you feel more and more devastating but never overwhelmed.
Solid gun battles and some neat mechanics wouldn’t mean much without the right combat encounters to complement them, and Youngblood delivers. You will often find yourself pulling out all the stops to complete battle scenarios or realizing that you have to back off and rethink your approach. A completely unobtrusive approach isn’t as attainable as in previous Wolfenstein games, even with the new cloaking ability. Still, it’s an excellent way to thin out the opposition before taking out firearms.
It can get overwhelming when super-soldiers, massive mechs, and a bomb-strapped panzer dog land on you, but then Youngblood is at its best. Intense gunfights can break out anywhere with little warning, and the main missions manage to maintain a consistent action-packed moment throughout. In battle, partners will frantically try to breathe new life into each other or fall back on shared experiences that go on as an instant and take the place of a traditional checkpoint system.
It can be frustrating to take the last fight off the primary mission, run out of a shared life, and be sent back to the very beginning of the mission. But at least it’s a rough way to emphasize collaboration and tactical gameplay. In general, Youngblood leans more into an open structure by making Neu-Paris a group of separate districts where you find your missions. After a short introduction, you must attack three “Brother” towers, your primary purposes, on each hub area.
On the street, however, side missions and random events fill the spaces. They are conducive to collecting early XP, getting to know neighborhood layouts, and soaking up the atmosphere of an oppressed 1980s Paris, but these missions quickly feel like filler that bulk up your to-do list. However, the design of the neighborhoods is striking, and you can see hints of the influence of Arkane Studios; when I double jump and cloak to the rooftops and top floors of buildings, I am reminded of Dishonored, especially when looking for collectibles and chests full of money.
This approach also allows for more combat with some verticality and the ability to enhance the athletic skills of those slick Da’at Yichud suits. The Brother towers even have alternative access points that you have to discover for yourself or find through side missions. It’s a successful integration of that studio’s strengths, and the game is better for it. The Paris Catacombs act as your safe hub in Youngblood, and it’s where you’ll accept side missions from resistance members, stock up on supplies, or hit the old knock-off Wolfenstein 3D cabinet.
It’s not as elaborate as The New Colossus’ U-boat, and you won’t get much from the residents – they are nowhere near as involved as Wolfenstein 2’s supporting cast as they are just mission givers. However, Jess, Soph, and Abby are there to pick up the slack. They may be opposites to their parents, but it gives Youngblood its flair. BJ’s inner monologue and struggle that internalizes lifelong trauma are at the heart of modern Wolfenstein games, and Anya has seen firsthand the sheer evil of the Nazi regime over the years.
Of course, Jess and Soph have very different characteristics; they only know a post-war world and probably grow up in a stable household. They capture the spirit of a carefree childhood, but they share the same unbridled motivation to kill Nazis; it seems that Anya and BJ taught them well. The story does not reach the same highlights as the regular Wolfenstein games, namely The New Colossus. It is an incredibly difficult act to follow.
But other than a cheap plot twist and disappointing villains, most of Youngblood’s meager story is high-quality stuff. To that end, the game is less about a bold, elaborate story and more about bringing an infectious charisma into its star characters to match the over-the-top action and sow the seeds for what the future holds in Wolfenstein. Despite Youngblood taking place after events we haven’t seen in the main games yet, it leaves the door open for some exciting, wild possibilities for where the series could go.
During Youngblood, the traces of an ongoing game structure become more pronounced once you complete the main story. You can take on daily and weekly challenges as they enter the game, which provides some extra XP and currency to unlock remaining skills and weapon mods. What’s more substantial is the option to replay story missions about tougher difficulties for increasing amounts of XP and money.
While it’s a standard method of keeping the cooperative experience going, at least they provide an outlet to try out new tactics, as these harder modes can get pretty brutal. The endgame may not be extensive, but the ride was exciting enough that the content feels like little added value.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review: Conclusion
Wolfenstein: Youngblood has the series’ signature first-person shoot thrill that lets you shoot shots and lasers in the face of Nazi trash – and the ability to do it with a friend. It includes some new ideas that are useful for the most part; however, it hits more of the right notes in RPG elements and level design. It also knows that the resistance does not stop when one person cuts off the head of a monstrous regime; the struggle continues, sometimes into the next generation.
And the way this short spinoff broadens the saga with the Blazkowicz twins makes you wish there were more to see from this new cast of sweet knuckles. Jess and Soph – as well as Abby – learned from the best and embraced their new duty to free their world from tyranny while doing it cool. Youngblood is short, but oh so sweet.
It may not reach the exact narrative heights as its predecessors or bring out every idea in its new approach; however, Youngblood hits where it counts.