Demo Disk is a series of first impressions posts for new releases and quick opinions.
“The following is a contributor post by the Slipstream Mage.”
Whenever I dive into the current Wolfenstein series, I always marvel at the way the game’s artists make use of brutalist architecture and design to hammer into your mind that “this is not normal”. In this alternate ‘we lost WWII’-universe, German efficiency and practicality took a distinct dystopian turn as their war-machine rolled over Europe and turned to the United States at the end of ‘The New Order’. The way Nazi barracks, secret police headquarters, and other military structures are forced into their native surroundings serves as a stark reminder of the failure of the Allies to beat back the forces of fascism. Everything the Nazi occupiers have built-in their New Order is designed to support and aid in their hold on conquered territory and suppressing the local populace.
That reminder is made even more clear in the latest entry to the popular Bethesda first-person shooter series, Wolfenstein: Youngblood. With the action now set in 1980s Neu-Paris, in the heart of conquered Europe, the brutalist and spartan aesthetic is in true juxtaposition with the City of Light’s ornate boulevards and bridges, palaces and palisades. America has been liberated (per The New Colossus). But now with the series protagonist (the nigh-unkillable ubermensch, B.J. Blazkowicz) gone missing in Nazi-controlled Europe. And so it falls to his 18-year old twin daughters Jess and Sophie to track him down while supporting the French Resistance along the way.
To do this, you’ll be infiltrating a variety of Parisian neighborhoods and Nazi bases to gain intel, with the faux-option of stealthing or shooting your way as you see fit. I say ‘faux’ because, unlike Bethesda’s ‘Dishonored’ where you could truly stealth your way through the game, Youngblood typically devolves its way towards high action quickly. That’s ok in my mind, because this game is best played with a bit of stealth here and there, followed by a raucous fire-fight with copious amounts of overkill and double-wielding. Yes, one of the new abilities is cloaking, but at least initially, it’s only helpful in a spot here and there. That may change as you further expand your powersuit’s abilities. The movement controls (in particular, the new powersuit double jump) feel more accurate and tight than that of past games. The leveling system in place for Youngblood is expanded from previous games, leaving you with more options to customize your skills for the game style you prefer to employ.
The initial weaponry available for use seems somewhat reduced from that of previous games, and most guns here are just modified versions of past firepower. And none feel very powerful, at least until you start leveling them up and gaining mastery damage bonuses. To be clear, the smoothness of gunplay in any Wolfenstein game will never be mistaken for that achieved in a Destiny or Halo, but it’s competent enough, and doesn’t hold you back. Some may be frustrated by the addition of enemy life- and armor-bars, making bullet sponges of some enemies you come across. I dismiss this complaint as a failure of the player to actually use the appropriate weapon needed to shred the enemies armor and put them down. I like the idea that the game makes you have to change weapons occasionally to be effective.
So do these Youngblood ladies effectively carry the torch for the Wolfenstein franchise going forward? The saying ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ comes to mind. Many initial online reactions to this game have claimed it’s a betrayal to its predecessors. I just don’t see it that way, at least not in my first 6+ hours of play. The biggest change present is the inclusion of 2-player co-op. The aesthetics and overall art design is true to form. Gunplay feels the same. The over-the-top action set-pieces are still here, as is the gore. The Blazkowicz twins bring a goofy, sometimes even annoying tone to the narrative, but it is clearly intended to provide high contrast to the ‘strong, silent’ archetype of their father. I’d also criticize that there is no real well-defined foreshadowing of a singular antagonist (outside of the Nazi threat in general). No Frau Engel, no Deathshead. No shocking upfront life-or-death consequential decisions upfront. All we get is some rather impotent foreshadowing of a ‘General Lothar’. So the Youngblood story itself feels like it has less gravity than past games, despite the elephant-in-the-room-sized fact that the most legendary resistance fighter on the planet is missing. But it seems clear that this game was intended to be a slightly ‘lighter’ Wolfenstein, if such a thing can exist. There are plenty of tweaks and changes here, but in the end, it still feels and plays like Wolfenstein. Is it good enough to be considered the best of the series? Clearly no. If you are a fan of the series, I think it’s worth playing if for no other reason than to experience the expansion of the lore and alternative universe Bethesda has created with the series. But if you haven’t experienced these games yet, Youngblood is not the place to start – go to The New Order (and read The Bizzaro Mage’s excellent long-form review) first to really see if this series is for you.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is available now on PC, PS4, Switch, and XB1
The Slipstream Mage has been a gamer for over 35 years and got his start begging for quarters from his parents at a hotel pool game room. Racing games are in his blood and shmups are etched on his soul. Find him @JTorto40 on Twitter.
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Categories: Demo Disk