When it was first revealed that a new Wolfenstein game was on the way, I had quite the grin on my face as I am a huge fan of the series and the last game ‘Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ was quite frankly one of the most fun, crazy and satisfying shooters in recent years. As more information about it was released and it was revealed that instead of William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz being the main hero you control, instead the story will time jump twenty years after the events that led to the Nazis being booted out of the US and will focus on his twin daughters instead and bring to the series something new….Co-Op!
There is a simple reason why this review is here a little later that others and that is because I wanted to avoid all the noise of its launch. Just the day before the game actually launched you could find multiple videos talking about how this was not the Wolfenstein game that they expected T experience. This was even before I had the chance to even install the game and the wave of negativity for the game could not be avoided. I gave it a bit of time to have some updates and a chance to go in for a fresh and clean experience and for me, there are good things and bad things about Wolfenstein: Youngblood but is it actually as bad as people have said?
Starting with the story which sees Youngblood continue the Wolfenstein story but now in 1980 which a now liberated USA thanks to the actions of BJ Blaskowicz and his allies. His wife Anya who was pregnant with twins during The New Colossus gave birth to two girls, Jessica and Sophia who over the last 20 years have been trained by both BJ and Anya to survive and to fight Nazis. Some time passes and a visit from Grace Walker, who now works in the reformed FBI, and her daughter Abbey we learn that BJ has gone missing with no clue as to his whereabouts. The girls along with Abbey, discover a hidden room in the attic of the house which leads them to believe that their father travelled to still Nazi occupied Paris France and all three steal the FBI helicopter Grace arrived in to go to Paris to hopefully find their father and perhaps kick some Nazi butt at the same time.
I do not want to go too much into the story simply because I really actually enjoyed it so don’t want to spoil it too much, well that and the fact the story is incredibly short and straightforward and would not take much to actually unravel it all. The story is told via the traditional cut-scenes following successful campaign missions as the twins, now aiding the French Underground Resistance, go out on missions whilst investigating what happened to their dad. Abbey serves as both the tech support as Abbey built the advanced power suits that the twins get to wear but also in the field support via comms. I really liked the story and though strange not playing as the one many army BJ, expanding the story this way with new characters and new country is a great step in keeping the series going.
What is very evident to me at least, is that Youngblood is really a taste test for new gameplay ideas to gauge fan reaction and to try out new ideas. This spin off instantly makes me think of how Ubisoft released similar spinoffs in the Far Cry series with Far Cry: Primal and more recently, Far Cry: New Dawn. Both serves as a shorter game experience but allowed for new mechanics to be tried out or just to get more out of a main series game’s story. Youngblood feels very much like that but with more emphasis on trying out new gameplay styles to see if it can land with fans. It would be fair to say that some new features did and others…need more work.
The obvious new element is that of co-op play and Youngblood really wants to be played by two human players. To this end you can match-make with random players or play with friends. If you purchased the deluxe version of Youngblood you can even invite a friend who does not own the game, to play the entire campaign with you, though they will not earn any achievements or trophies for doing so. In co-op each player will take the role of either Sophie or Jessica. Each sister can have a custom skin for their power armour in order to stand out along with their initial skill set being chosen such as the ability to use a cloaking device or the shoulder charge style ‘crush’ move. Once in missions the need to work together is the foundation for so much of the gameplay with doors that will require one player to remain at a code entry pad whilst the other goes and generates a code for the door which forces the players to be in two different locations. This continues as both players will be required to open large doors in order to progress further into the level. The strongest use of co-op other than working together to take down enemies is in the ‘shared life’ system. If one player goes down there will be a short time to give the other player a chance to revive them and if you fail, the twins have three shared lives which allows either player to bleed out and instantly revive to continue the fight. This is an interesting mechanic when playing with another human player but it can quickly turn into a real handicap if you try to play the game solo.
If you want to play Youngblood solo, you can but you will be forced to play with an AI partner and this is where Youngblood’s co-op system begins to crumble. The AI is as dumb as a bag of bricks and at the worse times it will literally ignore the fact it needs to revive you. Those worse times happen to be during a boss fight, when it is so important to be revived there were times when literally the AI would be standing right next to me refusing to revive me. Normally, the AI would get you up almost immediately but then in a boss encounter it seems to just forget it has to revive you and on the flip-side to that, the AI can be head right into the fight, often just standing there taking damage and when I was busy dealing with the larger enemies or trying to survive myself, the AI would go down forcing me to try to revive them and when you are already on low health can be very risky.
The risk comes in the form that for some unknown reason, should you die out right at any point of the mission you are on, you will have to replay the entire mission from the start. So, you can be five mins into the mission or you can be right at the closing moments of the final boss fight and should you die you will have to replay the ENTIRE mission and not only that, but all the ammo and live you used during that failed attempt, will not be refreshed either. The boss fights can be incredibly cheap as well, often having some enemies way above your level which make each encounter in the early stages before you can level up your abilities. It just adds a level of frustration where it doesn’t nee to be and I had hoped that with the game taking some updates since it released that the AI would be improved, but sadly no, the AI can be the biggest enemy in the game at times.
But there are things I definitely did like such as the more open world feel to the game and this is where you can really see the influence that Arkane Studios had in Youngblood’s development. As soon as you hit Paris and start doing missions both story and side missions, you can feel the Dishonored elements in the game with the power suits giving you the ability to explore levels more vertically as you super jump your way to higher places and explore buildings and rooms as you navigate around the occupied regions of Paris. For me this worked really well as it allowed different ways and methods to tackle a mission from all out guns blazing which is traditionally Wolfenstein or with a stealthier approach which is how I played Dishonored. It really suited the different playstyle the twins have and certainly opens up the gameplay more than you would expect.
I also really liked the new RPG style of unlocking new skills and abilities to craft your character around your chosen play style, it feels a little strange at first but once you start upgrading and adding new skills you can feel your character becoming more powerful throughout the game. You can also upgrade weapons using the in game “silver coin” currency which did feel strange just to find all these silver coins dotted around the map and in closed wooden crates. You can customise the weapons to have enhanced performance or to change how they fire, especially with the more advanced weapons. The coins can also be used to purchase new skins for your power suit and weapons which is where the real money micro-transactions come in which is rather distasteful and almost pointless considering how much of the silver coin currency you can earn throughout the game to upgrade and improve all your weapons and still be able to buy a skin or two if you so choose.
Overall, I did enjoy my time with Youngblood, for all its faults and shortcomings it still does enough to feel like they are trying new things to take Wolfenstein forward and there is certainly room for more games using the twins and more of the standard main Wolfenstein games as well. But the clumsiness in which this has released will be something the developer team will need to address should more adventures with the Terror Twins be planned. The AI partner if you play solo definitely needs to be reworked in order to prioritise reviving you when needed and every time you need them to whilst the lack of checkpoints forcing players to replay an entire story mission without the ammo you had when you started it is just stupid in my humble opinion. It would be nice to see the personalities of the twin evolve to being more than ‘frat boys’ as the scenes in which they interact are more cringe-worthy than anything comedic and their story would be greatly enhanced by having more bombastic characters to interact with rather than the soulless NPCs that just issue side missions to the twins to pad out what is a very short story campaign.
It is a shame that Youngblood released with all the issues it had because if they just paid more attention to the details and worked on polishing it far more, this would have been a far more intriguing and well received game for the series. Instead it is messy with a level of frustration that makes this a bargain bucket purchase instead of rushing out immediately to grab it. The simply fact that an update for the game has been promised just to add the ability to pause says far more about Youngblood than I could.