A collaboration between Wolfenstein’s recent stewards MachineGames, and Arkane studios – best known for Dishonored and Prey – Youngblood is a co-op focused shooter with one foot firmly planted in the first-person shooter’s past glory and the other placed to incorporate more modern elements from it’s contemporaries. Based on my short preview time, this concoction is looking quite promising.
Zooming forward significantly in time from the ’60s where Wolfenstein last left us, the preview placed me and another player in the shoes of BJ Blazkowicz’s twin daughters Jess and Soph during the early 1980s. To begin with, each player chose some starting abilities to best suit our intended gameplay style (My partner went sneaky stealthy, while I decided to give the brute force focused options a try) and then it was into the game. These initial character customisations were a small taste of the possibilities that opened up as we played through the demo.
Boarding a flying Nazi vessel, we had our first taste of combat in Youngblood with some stealth kills, easy enough. I soon found out though that a pure stealth approach was never going to be totally effective and that we’d need to get dirty in some gunfights sooner rather than later. It was in this moment I discovered a neat little throwback to the genre’s past in the life system. Whenever one of you takes too much damage you’ll be downed, crawling and desperately calling out to your partner to come and revive you. Should they not come in time (or should you decide to just give up), you’ll need to use one of the lives from your shared life pool.
Exploring a little after the firefight I begun to find small coins hidden around the place, these are the secret to unlocking further character customisation beyond those you start with. Using these coins you can customise your weaponry to behave according to your preference as well as make little cosmetic changes to make them feel more your own. Exploring between fights is encouraged, if not absolutely required since you’ll also find ammo, health and armour pickups to help you survive the next encounter. In another nod to shooters’ past, health doesn’t regenerate after a period of inactivity – you need to actively seek pickups to heal up.
Well, that’s not entirely true – there is another way to heal up using another of Youngblood’s new features. The Pep system allows you to choose a particular Pep ability when you initially build your character. At any point during the game as long as your partner is close you can give them a Pep. Your character will make a supportive gesture to the other and give them some sort of boost like a quick heal or armour boost. This is an essential skill to keep an eye on, as you’ll really need those boosts during the more intense skirmishes.
Communication and co-operation too will be essential to your success in Youngblood. Along with sticking together to reap the benefits of a quick Pep – knowing where your teammate is in a fight and knowing when to call out for help is an important skill to keep at the ready. Additionally, some enemies have been designed to encourage teamwork, such as one of you drawing fire and attention while the other sneaks up behind to severely damage the enemy by destroying a volatile tank of fuel on their back. Based on the short preview area we got to play, this is not just regular Wolfenstein with two people. Youngblood’s levels and encounters take advantage of the co-op dynamic. That’s not to say the game is impossible to play solo, as it’s been confirmed that if playing alone, an A.I. partner will join for you, and MachineGames have stated the game won’t give solo players a second-class experience. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is true, I can’t imagine having anywhere near as much fun with an A.I. partner rather than a co-op friend.
The section we played during the demo was quite linear in structure, moving from firefight to firefight to movement puzzle towards a climactic end-of-level event. We were told that beyond this initial area the game will widen to more resemble an open-world game rather than the traditionally straightforward style of other recent Wolfenstein games – but I guess we’ll have to wait and see exactly what this means.
I left the demo event wishing there was more to play. The game was challenging, but constantly encouraging you to try again after an initial failure with new knowledge of enemy behaviours and positions. It’s hard to judge how impactful weapon customisation will be in the game over the long term but the initial taste seemed like it would give some satisfying player choice and progression. It is yet to be seen how Wolfenstein gameplay will be transformed into an open-ended gameplay style, but based on this early demo I’m extremely keen sink my teeth into some satisfying gunplay, co-operatively, in Youngblood when it releases.