Wolfenstein: The Old Blood offers a nice distraction for fans of The New Order, but lacks some of the elements that made last year’s game a masterpiece.
It’s always wonderful to see a single-player focused shooter come out and blow you away. Last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order did this to great success, while conversely, this year’s The Order disappointed a hundreds of thousands of gamers earlier in 2015. Now, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood takes aim for your shapely dome, in an effort to do what its predecessor did, all over again.
Priced as a budget title (you can acquire it for between `1,500 and `2,000 on PC, PS4 or Xbox One at retail or digitally), and released as a standalone expansion/prequel/DLC (the Internet cannot make up its mind with these terms, and neither will I), The Old Blood is better summarized as “five hours of mostly enjoyable Nazi killing, and then some”. It isn’t a game that has set out to displace the original as the definitive game in a series that has been rebooted more times than a superhero movie franchise, nor is it making any kind of statement with its budget pricing and standalone format. It’s a game that’s merely inviting the player to jump in, be stealthy until all hell breaks loose, unload magazine after magazine into easy-to-hate enemies, and grin stupidly while doing all of these things.
Last year, MachineGames gave us a shooter that was as much about its characters as it was about the shooting. Be it the resistance movement, Anya, Fergus, Wyatt or protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz himself, there seemed to be so much going on under the action. The relationships felt real, the characters seemed to have emotions and motivations, they cried when things went bad and you cried with them, they cheered when there was a victory and you did the same. It just doesn’t seem plausible that The Old Blood was the journey that got B.J. to where he was in The New Order. This doesn’t mean that there are no emotional moments in Old Blood—it will unexpectedly bludgeon your sensitive side when you least expect it, but the experience is filled with so much urgency that you’re more worried about finding ammo, armour pieces and health packs.
Set in 1946, it appears that the war is still on, and the Nazis are on the verge of winning it. You’re tasked with turning the tide, obviously, and this can supposedly be achieved by finding the location of General Deathshead’s compound. The co-ordinates are located in (surprise!) Castle Wolfenstein. Break in, steal stuff, and break out—easy as pie, yes? It’s only when things go expectedly south that Wolfenstein: The Old Blood shows you what it’s all about. As much as it is a callback to the stealth/action gameplay of The New Order, The Old Blood will remind players of a time when a certain game called The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay was widely regarded as something that belonged in your library. Honestly, Old Blood is the closest thing to it, both from a gameplay and “mood” standpoint. There are no fillers—just gameplay. Fortunately, the foundation laid by its predecessor facilitates this approach. Like The New Order, there’s a Plan “A” and Plan “B” in The Old Blood. The former involves stealthily eliminating targets of priority using knife and pipe takedowns (the newly added melee weapon of mass destruction), while the latter involves a poorly executed Plan “A” and quite literally pulling out the big guns. Dual wielding assault rifles, pistols and shotguns never gets old, and MachineGames have been nice enough to add a few era based weapons into the mix (this is a prequel set in the forties, after all) including a precision rifle with a scope and a flare gun/one-handed grenade launcher.
There’s more stealth in The Old Blood than in The New Order for a large portion of the game, and the change in scenery from Moonbases and Nazi installations to a big castle, idyllic Bavarian village and dark crypts is quite refreshing in an odd sort of way. Familiarity comes in the form of our good old Nazi foes, and others of the supernatural variety (if you turn the clock back a few years). The New Order helped us forget the old days of mediocre Wolfenstein reboots, but The Old Blood reminds us of them in an interesting sort of way; a tip of the hat accompanied by a point to prove. This isn’t to say that The Old Blood is not enjoyable, but it’s a clear case of “two steps forward and one step back” for the series. Having said that, let’s be clear that Nazi zombies weren’t as cool back in 2003 as they are in 2015.
The New Order’s formula remains unchanged in this newer adventure. Health regeneration is limited once again, so you’ll have to collect med packs and pick up armour pieces to guarantee your survival. Even at the game’s default “Bring ‘Em On” difficulty setting, it can be quite unforgiving—particularly during bullet sponge boss and mini boss fights. While you’re unlikely to run into ammunition limitations, it always helps to keep switching your weapons based on your reserve ammo as well as combat scenarios. I found the new weapons to be quite powerful, so you might
want to conserve their ammo for the harder fights.
Level and environment design feels retro as well, with cramped corridors, short archways, and elevated areas with single access stairs which results in blind spots from where you can be shot. The enemy AI is better than you would expect from other shooters — soldiers flank, toss grenades without mercy and move in for the kill at every given opportunity. Of course, once you start encountering enemies of the non-human (ex-human?) variety, it’s more about getting rushed in hordes — so much so that it’s actually advisable to avoid an encounter or two. The outcome of skirmishes is often a result of you outthinking your enemies as much as outgunning them — which isn’t to say that gun-skill counts for nothing. If you’re a good shot with the new bolt-action rifle Bombenschuss (German for “Thunderbolt”), you can one-shot most enemies and do a significant amount of damage to the bullet-sponge baddies by hitting their weak spots. Capping off the old-school-ness are Easter eggs littered throughout the game. Expect to find collectibles from other Bethesda titles, older id games as well as beds to sleep in and have nightmares about being stuck in 1993 (those who’ve played The New Order will remember these levels fondly).
If it was never about the destination, it’s always been about the journey and The Old Blood does little wrong. It’s a solid enough experience that’s worth sinking a few hours into, but it’s the invariable comparison to last year’s original that could potentially leave you disappointed. The character development, cut scenes and narrative style of the original were very progressive, and yet, it’s completely missing from this year’s avatar. The set pieces aren’t as cleverly designed, with MachineGames choosing to overwhelm you with foes instead of testing your ability to solve small environmental puzzles, which elevated the original’s skirmishes from being “good” to “great”. More than the zombification of Wolfenstein enemies, I found the general lack of creativity and the final boss fight in particular to be underwhelming.
The highlights come in the form of stealth focused gameplay, wonderfully designed levels and their settings, solid gunplay and a couple of good nemeses whose skin to get under. Having said that, there’s more on offer in this little standalone expansion than most DLCs in other games.
There’s replayability both in the form of timed challenges (replay levels and kill “X” enemies on a timer for points) and higher difficulty levels. The stealth sections are dynamic enough to warrant a second play-through.
Alternatively, test your resolve by going in all guns blazing all the time. Despite its linearity in game progression, there is enough wiggle room which guarantees that there’s more than one way to play Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. You won’t be disappointed.
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