Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review – Taking Out Nazis With a Friend

    Title: Wolfenstein: Youngblood
    Developer: Machine Games, Arkane Studios
    Release Date: July 26, 2019
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
    Genre: First-Person Shooter

The Wolfenstein series has been around since the 80s as the first title in the long-running series was Castle Wolfenstein, a stealth-based action shooter developed by Muse Software. It’s crazy to think about how long Wolfenstein has been around. That said, many of us nowadays think of MachineGames’ Wolfenstein games, like Wolfenstein: The Old Blood and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, which is understandable given that they have risen to mass acclaim, and it’s not because they let you kill damn Nazis. The main draw with the more recent games in the series is that they have challenging gameplay, along with a delightfully bizarre narrative that you can’t help but be drawn to. 

The thing is with the latest Wolfenstein game, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, is that it isn’t’ like any other Wolfenstein game — it’s co-op focused looter shooter that focuses predominantly on two strong female protagonists. To put it simply, all of this, of course, could either be something you fall in love with or something that draws you away right from the start. For me, it was a refreshing take on the Wolfenstein series, and I simply enjoyed killing Nazis with a pal online or even with an A.I.-controlled companion offline. 

Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes place 19 years after the events of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Now, if you haven’t played New Colossus, no worries, you don’t need to in order to understand the story in Youngblood  — but really, you SHOULD play New Colossus, regardless. Anyway, in Youngblood, America in 1980 is free from Nazi control so B.J. Blazkowicz (the long-time Wolfenstein series protagonist) and his wife Anya can finally enjoy peace and quiet as they raise their twin daughters Jessica (Jess) and Sophia (Soph). However, Europe is still littered with Nazi scum, and out of nowhere, Blazkowicz mysteriously disappears. So, Jess, Soph, along with their friend Abby, Grace Walker’s daughter, venture out on a mission to find him — ending up looking around Neu-Paris, all the while working with the French Resistance to take down Nazis. 

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Right at the start, you are given the power to choose either Jess or Soph. It’s not a tough choice to make, though, as they each share the same skills, arsenal of weapons, stats, etc. — the only differences between the two are their appearance and personality. Jess is a cool, calm, and collected brunette, whereas Soph is a feisty and rather silly blonde. After picking whichever one suits your fancy, you’re then paired up with the one you didn’t pick (either with another player or with an A.I. partner, as I mentioned before). 

There are some two-player co-op games out there that skillfully utilize two characters to tell a captivating story, for instance, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, or the recently-released A Plague Tale: Innocence. Okay, yes, I know these games are very different games compared to what the Wolfenstein series is, but I mention these two games as they had two characters with unforgettable personalities and stories. Youngblood attempts to draw you in with its two female protagonists, but the problem is that it’s hard to really connect with them in any meaningful way. 

The reason for this is how Youngblood is structured. Basically, here’s how it’s set up: Big narrative cut scene occurs (lasting for quite some time) then you jump into shooting Nazis during a mission, after the mission is finished then another cut scene comes up — this loop continues pretty much over and over. During missions, the twin sisters will exchange quick bits of dialogue, giving a glimpse into each of their personalities, but there’s never a moment during missions in which all the action comes to a halt, allowing you to truly experience memorable scenes between them.

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It’s unfortunate because both sisters seem to be a fun combo, especially when you see them goof around with each other and be all dorky in after-mission cutscenes (I really loved all of Soph’s snorty laughs), but when it comes to missions, they’re basically two Nazi fighting machines. Speaking of fighting machines, while having both sisters be on the same level, in terms of gear and skill, makes it so that one isn’t ‘more superior’ than the other, I actually would’ve liked for them to actually be vastly different as this would’ve made them stand out from one another on the more gameplay side of things. 

But really, most of us want to do what Wolfenstein is really all about: killing Nazis, and I’m happy to say that Youngblood does a great job of letting you and buddy do so. With Youngblood being a co-op affair, as part of a two-person team, you mow down waves of Nazis that, if you didn’t know, aren’t huge fans of anyone that tries to resist against them. Nothing new here, I mean, this is Wolfenstein we’re talking about, right — what else did you expect? Well, Youngblood doesn’t follow the footsteps of previous Wolfenstein titles at all, instead, it’s like the developer decided to go on a field trip with The Division, Borderlands, and Destiny and afterward said, “You know, let’s make a game that’s just like them instead, okay?” It’s a direction that I never thought the developer would take, and surprisingly, it actually is pretty fun, especially when playing with a friend. 

Youngblood features a healthy array of missions to keep you and your companion busy for as long as you’d like. Similar to the likes of Destiny, Youngblood has a hub world chock full of characters that have missions for you to complete. While the characters aren’t all that exciting, mainly because they simply serve as mission givers than actual, fleshed-out characters, it was great to at least have the option to choose what I wanted to do, a sort of mission take-on-whatever-you-want-take-on buffet, if you will. 

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Taking on missions is where the real fun begins with Youngblood. As I mentioned before, Youngblood plays more like a looter shooter than anything else, but it’s important to mention that its gunplay is wildly smooth. Enemies don’t go down after just one or two shots as all enemies have a health bar, and at times, armor that needs to be depleted. Standing in one spot and blasting them is an option, however, that can very well have you dying in an instant as hordes of Nazis fire away at you from all directions. Rethinking your approach to combat, along with expertly changing weapons depending on the situation you’re in, are completely necessary, making for countless intense and riveting firefights throughout missions. 

When challenging enemies come into the picture, like supersoldiers that take what seems like hundreds of bullets without even flinching, you and your partner need to work together or else, you’re both as good as dead. Because of this, missions never fail to be full of action. Yet, there are times in which co-op mechanics occur, such as needing to open a door with your partner,  which slow things down to at least give you a quick breather. Being silent yet deadly lends itself to a slower experience in Youngblood, but since a slew of enemies have hefty armor, you can only get stealth kills every so often whenever there’s a weak, grunt-like enemy around. 

What also makes combat even engaging is the game’s level design. With Youngblood, co-developer Arkane Studios (the folks responsible for the Dishonored series) clearly put in their Dishonored level design flair to the game. Each area you set foot in isn’t just some one-way street or anything like that, instead, each area features immense verticality — giving you the chance to double jump up onto rooftops and higher levels of buildings that could give you the edge you need during a firefight. This mechanic especially proved to be helpful when I barely had any health to spare but needed to bring down this juggernaut of a Nazi soldier and was able to do so thanks to sniping my way to victory. To achieve victory, though, leveling up your character, whether it’s Jess or Soph, is a vital requirement.

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There’s a traditional character progression system that any looter shooter fan can be familiar with in just minutes. In a nutshell, you rack up XP, earn enough XP to get upgrade points, then use those upgrade points to get new skills and perks. This system isn’t revolutionary by any means, however, it’s pulled off well enough that it doesn’t become a hassle. In-game currency, which are silver coins, can be used to get cosmetic items like character skins, weapon upgrades, pep boosts, and consumables. Some of the skins can actually also be purchased with gold bars, which is a premium currency available for separate purchase. So, yes, there are microtransactions in the game. But to be honest, you rack up silver coins really easily, so unless you’re one impatient gamer, buying gold bars is not necessary. 

What’s also not a hassle is playing the game via co-op. Fortunately, it’s quick and easy to do so, so you don’t have to worry about waiting to jump into playing. You’re given multiple options to pick from for your Nazi killing extravaganza: Host a game for someone else to join, join someone else’s game, or play solo. When playing with another player, I never had any issues, and I really liked how other players can easily hop in and hop out at any time without any sort of problem. On the topic of problems, most shooters run into the problem of having A.I. companions that aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but thankfully, Youngblood lets you have a competent and skilled A.I. companion making for the solo experience to be worry-free. That said, how co-op comes into play during missions is a little barebones as it boils down to having your partner help you open stuff or help revive you — but hey, I’m all for co-op games and I think there’s a lack of them out there, so I’m alright with how Youngblood handles co-op.

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As far as looks go, Youngblood doesn’t follow the motto, “If looks could kill” but to no one’s surprise, it’s still a good looking game. Character models are well done and intricately detailed, and the world design has all the bits and pieces to immerse you. However, I found the enemy designs to be a bit repetitive as they often sport the same type of unusual, box-like armor that makes it so that each enemy type doesn’t stand out from one another. But on a brighter note, characters are all brought to life because of great voice acting, and the music along with the sound design ties everything together nicely. 

Through the end of it all, Youngblood is a fun co-op looter shooter that’s a great time no matter if you play with a buddy or simply just an A.I. partner. Sure, it’s lacking the usual suck-you-in storytelling that MachineGames’ mainline Wolfenstein games are known for, but Youngblood still has intense firefights, solid gunplay, and unique level designs that make killing Nazis a blast. While this may or may not be the Wolfenstein game that all fans want to play, I can easily recommend Youngblood to those that are on the hunt for a new co-op game to enjoy.

Score:
/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.