It’s hard to believe it’s only been a little over five years since MachineGames graced us with the excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order. What’s more surprising is the number of revivals and old-school style shooters that have popped up on the market since. Games like Rage 2, DOOM, and Titanfall 2 have all tried to leave a lasting mark on what was at the time a somewhat stagnant and saturated genre. While all these titles have achieved varying levels of success, Wolfenstein’s latest saga remains at the top when it comes to marrying stellar storytelling and high-octane gameplay. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the next chapter in that saga, with a fresh take on its tried and true formula, that’s executed well, but isn’t without its trade-offs.
Set 20 years after Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Youngblood takes place in a futuristic Paris that’s under the stranglehold of the Nazis. The story follows Jessica and Sophia Blazkowicz, the twin daughters of B.J. Blazkowicz who has recently gone missing. After following some leads, they wind up meeting and working with a resistance group situated within the Paris Catacombs, to push the Nazis back, and ultimately, finding their father.
If it sounds simple in premise, that’s because it is. Wolfenstein: Youngblood has a distinct lack of storytelling and cutscenes when compared to its predecessors, leaving a plot that feels largely unfulfilling in the grand scheme of things. Youngblood instead focuses on its characters and world-building, to varying degrees of success. Jess and Soph aren’t dull characters, but they lack the nuance and writing that comes with a protagonist like B.J., and the attempts to convey their quirky personalities often fall flat.
There’s a distinct difference between Youngblood and the previous games that can explain its weaker narrative, and that key difference is that the entire game is playable in co-op. You can opt to play with another player or have AI control the twin you don’t pick. While the game is comfortably beatable with an AI companion (despite the occasional mishap), you don’t get the full experience Youngblood has to offer. This title excels when you’re tearing through wave after wave of Nazis with a friend. There’s an innate sense of organised chaos that comes with working together to take down a large group of armoured enemies, especially when it feels as good as it does to pull the trigger.
Every weapon in the game feels great to fire, and there’s a vast array of enemy types that will test you as you attain more skills and weapons. While mission variety is limited, they’re short and sweet enough to ever keep you from getting bored. The title does lose some momentum in its final act, with a particularly anti-climactic and uninteresting final boss.
To accommodate for the lack of an evolving narrative, Youngblood employs simple yet effective RPG elements that fit within the design of the game. Earning enough experience by completing missions and killing enemies will level the girls up, which nets you skill points and in-game currency to spend on weapon upgrades and skills. They function similarly to the previous titles, with some skills improving maximum health and armour, while others allow you to store a heavy weapon in your inventory. It provides a strong sense of progression and leaves you with the feeling that no matter what you opt to do, you’re getting some reward out of it. Weapon customisation is also much more in-depth this time around with a plethora of attachments to purchase and equip on each weapon, alongside cosmetic items like skins. There’s plenty of room for player expression both cosmetically and gameplay-wise. While some facets of it aren’t as deep as others, it’s neat that the option is there, to begin with.
Youngblood also drops the mission-style structure of a traditional shooter in favour of levels that are all connected to create a larger open world. This is where Arkane’s influence can be seen; there’s a strong sense of verticality in most of the areas of the game. It’s level design that accommodates multiple stealth options or just vantage points depending on how you want to play. It doesn’t quite meet the standards of level design found in previous games, but it’s refreshing to have options when you’re visiting these areas multiple times. There’s plenty of secrets, hidden items, currency, and several collectables to find for the players who look for them.
Wolfenstein has always had stellar production values, and Youngblood is no exception to the rule. The game looks stunning and runs exceptionally well on a PS4 Pro, maintaining a smooth frame rate for a vast majority of its run time, only ever dipping when the chaos gets hectic. Voice work for the side cast is excellent across the board, but Soph and Jess border on being abrasive at times. The few cutscenes in the game are very well-written and feel very suited to the time and place that Youngblood takes place in.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is some of the most fun I've had with the new saga of Wolfenstein games, but that came at the cost of the hallmark storytelling that MachineGames has become synonymous with. It's a gratifying cooperative experience that I can wholeheartedly recommend if you have a friend to blast through it with, but I can't provide the same sentiment if you're a solo player. It suffers from a myriad of issues that keep it from being something extraordinary, but that doesn't mean Youngblood isn't worth experiencing if someone can join you for the ride.