I’ll be honest, this has been a tricky Review to work on. Wolfenstein: Youngblood, thanks to collaborative talents of Arkane Studios and Machine Games, is a weird mash-up of video game ideas that I could have loved. However due to poor characters, bad gameplay mechanics and literally idiotic design choices around a reliance on Co-Op, I grew to seriously dislike this series off-shoot.
It’s 1980, roughly 20 years after BJ Blazkowicz’s last Nazi killing outing in ‘The New Colossus’. BJ lives in the free USA with his wife and two daughters, Soph and Jess, who are the two playable characters in Youngblood. With literally no explanation or fanfare, BJ disappears and Soph and Jess steal two power suits and head to Nazi occupied Paris to meet up with the French resistance to find Dad.
And……here is where we come off the rails, because that’s it, that is the story. Literally none of the refined narrative or well-rounded characters of the previous Wolfenstein Games feature here. In fact the total cut scenes for this ten(ish) hour game could be counted on one hand, even worse the characters are totally forgettable, and the playable protagonists Jess and Soph, are outright unlikable.
So, the characters and story are crap, but Machine Games and Arkane Studios know how to make shooters and clever action sequences riiight! Well yes, yes they in fact still do. Mercifully, the shooting is still beefy, the weapons are insane and the enemies are mere bloody messes on the floor, so YES, Machine Games know how to make a modern Wolfenstein game feel like a Wolfenstein game. In a new spin though, Arkane Studios (of Dishonoured and Prey fame) have added to the recipe with interesting FPS levels with verticality, secret pathways and clever RPG-lite skill trees.
So I hear you ask, “where is the problem then!?!”
Well, the bits for a master piece were there, but for so many reasons, it is one of the worst games I have played this year.
Youngblood is built around Online Co-Op, the Deluxe version of the game even has a way to invite a friend who doesn’t even own the title to play the full game. Awesome, right!? No, because the matchmaking is almost impossible to get to work. I had multiple attempts and multiple failures to get into a Co-Op match.
As a result I had to play this as a Solo experience, and part of me is pleased I did. Not due to some desire for self-flagellation, but because I would suspect many gamers will pick this game up on a whim and play it as a Single-player experience and then be faced with the same painful companion A.I and grindy missions I had the pleasure of being a crash test dummy on.
The overarching goal of the game is to open up three computer mainframes for the French resistance, who will then be able to locate BJ for the sisters. Each computer, or ‘Brother’, has an open world area of Paris that leads to the mainframe, very Dishonoured in feel and design.
But to have a high enough power level to attack said ‘Brothers’ I had to run repetitive ‘Resistance Missions’ through the maps over and over, to grind enough XP to level up. It was like repeatedly running a Destiny ‘Lost Sector’….in a Wolfenstein game!
The whole time my unoccupied Co-Op avatar was with me as an AI companion. Perfectly competent in low-level combat, but as soon as a Boss, or heavy enemy was in the mix the passable games wheels fall off. With a shared life pool, my AI buddy would be downed and if I couldn’t get to the revive, she would use up one of MY valuable lives. Even worse, if I was downed, maybe in a crucial boss fight in one of the ‘Brother’ computer raids, I would wait to be revived by my AI…which did happen…. until it didn’t.
My frustration was palpable, watching my Co-Op ‘buddy’ run around, ignoring my carcass bleeding out all over their ankles as I died, getting a Game Over fail state. But the insult to injury is still to come, you see on my Respawn I would appear at the start of the Raid mission or level, a some 20-30 minutes of progression gone. AND all the lives I had stored up, the heavy ammo types collected, all in preparation for said run at the raid mission…..all gone!
The game has collectables yada, yada, yada, and just like the main Wolfenstein games they all add to the sense of time and place, in fact if I had played a demo of this game. Say been dropped into a map, given a gun and played for 2 minutes, I would swear I was playing a numbered Wolfenstein Game. But the deeper game design choices show an attempt to try something different, which is admirable, but it in this case it has not come off at all well. I’m just pleased this wasn’t the next BIG Wolfenstein title, as the damage it would have done to the brand would have been serious.
Look, Co-Op is fun, because playing with other people is usually better and it can hide gaping holes in a video games mechanics and world design (just ask Destiny), but in this case it didn’t work. My concern is most gamers will likely grab this as a single-player experience, which it is not. Not in design and not in combat tuning. Youngblood is uninteresting, repetitive and horrendously frustrating when played solo, so make sure you have a buddy…… and pray to the matchmaking Gods when you load it up.