With the exception of an ill-conceived entry back in 2009, the Nazi-killing adventures of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz have been thrilling gamers for over 30 years. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the first game in the series where players don't fill the standard army-issue boots of B.J. Blazkowicz.
With Bethesda at the helm since Wolfenstein: The New Order, the franchise has taken off in a new direction, extending the story away from being just another WWII shooter. Moving beyond the 1940s, the games follow an alternative history where the Axis powers won the Second World War.
Having previously followed the adventures of B.J. operating as a resistance fighter in the 1960s, Wolfenstein: Youngbloodjumps to the 1980s. B.J. is missing, believed to be in Nazi-occupied Paris. B.J.'s twin daughters, Jess and Soph, with the help of Abby Walker, steal a couple of power suits (like the one B.J. uses in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus) and head to Paris, France.
Unlike B.J., the Blazkowicz twins are new to the family business of Nazi-killing and take a more light-hearted approach to proceedings. This includes bantering and bickering between themselves in a manner that will be very familiar to anyone with siblings.
There's an absolutely excellent scene at the beginning of the game, where, after blagging that they are experienced Nazi-hunters to the France Resistance, they actually need to kill a Nazi. They make a mess of it, and one of the girls freaks out due to bit of brain in her mouth. It's funny and a little disturbing in a comically black way.
The deluxe version of the game comes with the ability to play the entire game with a friend that doesn't even own the game, via a buddy pass system. Your friend just downloads the game and off you both go killing Nazis.
The game is designed to be played co-operatively, with each player controlling one of the sisters. You can play solo with an AI sister, but it's pretty clear that the developers have not refined the game for Johnny-no-mates players (like me).
Playing solo comes as close to breaking that game as you can without actually breaking the game. Your AI compatriot is not as savvy as you'd like and it's easy to get caught up in an endless loop of incapacitation. As you share lives between the pair of you, you really need to make sure your sister doesn't bleed out. Lose a life and it takes you back to wherever the autosave was. Sometimes, rather frustratingly, the save point was right at the beginning of a level, some ten minutes of play from my point of death.
The game is skewed towards online play, so it doesn't allow you to pause the action, even if you are playing on your own. A nightmare if you have real life things regularly interfering with your game time.
The game opts for a more RPG feel. The characters level up and earn skill points to be distributed between different attributes. Coins collected during gameplay can be used to upgrade weapons and equipment. Weirdly, you can do this at any time during the game. It's a nightmare if your co-op colleague decides to step away from the action for a moment to fidget with their gun mods.
As part of this new RPG element, enemies now have health bars, complementing their augmented bullet-sponge attributes. A far cry from the run and gun tactics I enjoyed with B.J. in The New Orderand The New Colossus, taking out most enemies in Youngblood requires a bit of a war of attrition. Some may enjoy this - I did not.
When I lowered the game's difficulty and removed the combat tedium, it sped things up and allowing me to really have some fun with the girls' power suits. The level design promotes a bit of vertical gameplay, allowing for some crafty leaps onto unsuspecting Nazis and acrobatic jumps right over the enemies' heads, circle-strafing power-suit style.
The weapons allow for some typical Wolfensteinover-the-top carnage -especially once you've started upgrading them. The girls' invisibility attribute allows for some up-close-and-personal stealth melee action that'll likely bring a smile to your face.
The level design is also pretty awesome. Over the course of the game you revisit many areas more than once, but it never gets samey. There's always some new nook to explore or some out of reach place to get to.
Visually, Youngblood is a stunner on PC. I'm running the game at 1440p, and it's buttery smooth with a Nvidia Geforce RTX 2080ti. The lack of ray-tracing features at launch is a bit disappointing, especially if you've just picked up an RTX 2060/2070 Super. Even without the RTX eye-candy, the game looks incredible.
Wolfenstein: Youngbloodis going to be a divisive title. Whilst I congratulate Bethesda for placing the franchise outside of its comfort zone, they may have strayed a little too far.
The game has all the hallmarks of the main Wolfenstein games, and players should enjoy them, but the pretty-much mandatory online co-op is not going to please everybody. The levels and general gameplay are all very good, and if you overlook the faults, is still a lot of fun to play. It's an interesting experimental Wolfenstein spinoff that hits more than it misses.