Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review
Wolfenstein: Youngblood starts strong, opening at the dawn of the 1980s on B.J. Blazkowicz's ranch in Texas where he and his wife are raising their twin daughters, Jess and Soph. America is now Nazi-free thanks to Blazkowicz's efforts, but Europe is still in their grip. The elder Blazkowicz's have trained their daughters to be guerilla warriors with the goal of shipping them off to France to aid the resistance fighters in Paris. The game assumes that you've played through the Wolfenstein series up to this point and are intimately familiar with its story, so if you've never played a Wolfenstein game before this will all be a bit confusing to you.
After the story's opening cutscenes, Jess and Soph are sent to France and we catch up with them again after they have infiltrated a Nazi zeppelin in the skies above Paris. This opening level delivers the kind of gameplay that series is know for. You'll make your way through the zeppelin using a mix of stealth and gunfire, there are multiple paths in, out, and around the zeppelin, you'll face some Nazi super soldiers along the way, and it all culminates in a boss battle against a laser-armed, supersuit-wearing commander. After the intense boss battle, the zeppelin comes crashing down and you'll join the French resistance headquarters in the catacombs beneath Paris, at which point the character of the game completely changes and not for the better.
After a strong narrative opening, the story almost disappears completely, leaving you with a few weak, disjoint, and confusing touchpoints that try to tie your Nazi-killing forays into the streets of Paris into something more than a series of Nazi-killing forays. Your overall goal is to take out the three "Brothers", bases from which the Nazis maintain control of the cities, and the primary missions are a series of steps required to gain access to a Brother, followed by an assault on the base itself. Interspersed among those missions are a number of minor missions and objectives that can appear at random while you're on the streets of Paris.
The format of all of this is more like what you would find in an online shooter like Destiny than in a typical shooter or in what you've seen from Wolfenstein before. The primary missions that have you making your way to and into the Brothers can be too high of a level for you to take on, which means that you'll have to take some time grinding through the side missions to build up your character level. You don't even need to have a mission objective to do this as there are always Nazis patrolling the streets of Paris and you can find plenty of opportunities for firefights if you stick your head out of the catacombs. Experience can also be gained by accepting and completing the daily and weekly missions available at the catacombs base. These missions are of the kill this many of that enemy variety, although some are a little different in that they have you doing things like destroying a given number of fire hydrants. Come to think of it, that's just another destroy this many of that thing objective.
Paris is divided into a number of zones which you reach by fast travel via the Paris Metro tunnels. Each of these zones is further divided into a few open avenue areas interconnected by alleyways and building interiors. On the one hand this level design and layout makes you feel like a resistance fighter, popping up to engage the Nazis and then disappearing into a building only to emerge to strike elsewhere. On the other, trying to find your way to your next objective can be a nightmare. There's no in-game map to reference, only a radar showing your immediate vicinity, so you have to find your way to the next objective with an on-screen marker that indicates the objective's direction and distance. Those indicators are based on how the crow flies, which doesn't do you much good when you have to navigate a labyrinth of streets and alleyways. You can literally be a few feet from your objective only to find that you've reached a dead end because it's sitting on the other side of a wall, and that you'll need to backtrack and find another way around. And since the enemies will respawn, you'll have to fight your way back through the same buildings that you just fought through to reach the dead end.
You can play as either of the game's twin protagonists - both are the same from a gameplay aspect so the choice comes down to whether you want to play as a blonde or a brunette. The game supports online co-op play, allowing you to have a friend or a stranger take control of the other twin. You can play solo as the AI controlling your twin sister is fairly competent, you sister will always be there when you need to perform dual actions such as lifting gates together or operating switches on the opposite side of a room. The one thing that the AI doesn't do well is recognize when the time has come to beat a strategic retreat, and as you are trying to bug out of a room your sister will often remain standing and fighting. This can be troublesome because the game has a "shared life" system in which the two sisters share the limited number of lives that you have. The sisters can revive each other, but if one bleeds out then a shared life is lost. Lose all of your shared lives and the game will end, bringing you back to the last checkpoint, which if you're currently infiltrating a Brother when that happens it can be quite a way back.
The gunplay aspects of the game are as good as they've been in previous Wolfenstein games, and while the selection of weapons is limited, you can customize each one by adding attachments that will change some of the weapons' characteristics. Some weapons are more effective against certain types of enemies, which sounds like a better idea than it is in practice in the game. Outside of the basic grunts, enemies are bullet sponges in this game and picking the right weapon for the right enemy when you're facing a half dozen or more enemies isn't practical. It doesn't matter too much anyway, though, as the right weapon only seems to make an enemy slightly less spongey. The sponginess also means that you'll tear through ammo in the game, frequently running out of ammo for more than one of your weapons. The increased physical toughness in the enemies seems to have been accompanied with a decrease in their tactical prowess on the battlefield. The enemy AI is noticeably less intelligent in Youngblood than in recent Wolfenstein games, preferring to use their overpowered stamina to their advantage and banking on you running out of ammo before you can kill them.
Youngblood starts off great, but fails to keep that momentum going. The level-locked missions and daily grind required to level-up and advance just don't work with a Wolfenstein game, especially since it lacks all of the social and gear upgrade aspects of the online shooters it is trying to emulate. This also makes the game stretch out it its already thin story to the point where you'll barely notice it's there. Youngblood is a rare misfire for the Wolfenstein series, and you won't miss much if you sit this one out.
Final Rating: 66% - Grinding down the Third Reich in a battle of attrition.