Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes us to Nazi occupied Neu-Paris as B.J. Blazkowicz’s twin daughters, Sophia and Jessica, as they try to find their father when he goes missing. This spinoff to the main Wolfenstein games deviates from the main series in a number of ways, perhaps the most important of which is the fact you never play alone. But does killing Nazi’s with a partner make Youngblood worth checking out?
Set 20 years after Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Youngblood sees twins Soph and Jess fully grown and eager to hunt Nazis to rescue their dad. The story does canonically continue the story from the other games, but doesn’t contain anything that would spoil earlier entries. The game is also wholly designed around being played with a friend. Even when playing solo the game will take control of the other twin, which unfortunately leads to most of the game’s issues.
From the outset the game looks and feels like a modern Wolfenstein game with detailed, well-designed environments and fun, quirky references to the alternate timeline that Machine Games has put together over the course of the series. It’s all rather nice to look at and generally exploring the environments is engaging. Arkane Studios’ influence is visible here too as the streets of Neu-Paris at times feel like a Nazi-fueled alternate version of Dishonored’s Dunwall, with metallic features protruding from the ground and ominous glowing lights piercing through fog.
Arkane’s touch is also seen throughout the world as it is no longer a linear jog from A to B, but a more open affair. The maps aren’t as complex as something like their work on Dishonored or Prey, but there are plenty of alternate paths that allow you to play through areas in different ways; with enough balconies, vents and building routes for you to vary your approach.
Youngblood differs from the main games in that you take missions from the French resistance, go out into the different locations and complete them before returning to do more, with the overall objective being to take out three security towers known as the “Brothers”, before gaining access to Lab X. The open nature of this does make it feel a little different to other Wolfenstein entries but you still ultimately shoot a lot of Nazi’s and pick up collectables.
Progression is gated by your character level, with missions having a suggested level that you raise by completing missions, killing enemies and just generally doing stuff. Levelling up earns you points you can spend on a variety of perks, replacing the system from other games in the series. You can also spend coins you pick up to purchase weapon upgrades.
During my co-op playthrough I never felt like I had to grind side activities or missions to keep up with the main plot, although doing some more would definitely have taken the edge off some encounters. Co-op play works really well for the most part with some really nice features. The game uses a life system where once both players are downed a life is used and you continue on, these can be replenished by special crates that take both players to open.
There is also a Pep Signal system where you can throw a thumbs up, fist or devil horns on a short cooldown to give you and your sister a variety of bonuses, from health and armour to temporary invincibility or a damage boost. This, combined with the lives system, play really well together with downed players getting a brief moment to relax once saved. Throw each other a Pep Signal and you are back in the fight. The only issue I have with the system is that the health and armour options feel too good to give up for the other arguably more interesting ones.
Playing with another human player is a lot of fun, some visual oddities like takedown animations de-synching and the occasional animation not showing on the other players screen aside it works flawlessly, recovering gracefully from disconnects and generally just working as you’d expect. Coordinating over voice chat, either the in-game solution or an external one, to focus on Panzerhunds or other mechanical monstrosities brings a really fun element to the series.
Game length is also not so unwieldy that it’s impossible to organise with a friend to play it through in its entirety. That initial playthrough was just shy of eight hours to the credits with just under 50% completion, there is still a lot more game to play, a lot more side missions as well as daily and weekly challenges.
Sadly it’s not all roses as the game does have issues, especially when playing solo with the AI partner. The game, like its predecessors, gives you the ability to play stealthily, but unfortunately it doesn’t really feel like it was built for it. The sisters can start with a cloak which you can expand quite drastically, but in reality it often just lets you take out two or three enemies before the alarms sound. You have no real ability to discern who or what can see you until it’s too late.
As mentioned there are some odd visual issues that will probably get resolved in patches, but often when my partner performed a takedown the enemy would just freak out on my screen for a moment before appearing on the ground. Some animations would also just not be visible in one session but would be fine the next. These aren’t serious at all but were disappointing to see and pull you out of the moment whilst you laugh at them.
It’s the solo experience that pulls the game down due to the computer controlled partner. For most of the game she performs fine, she won’t engage until you do, she’ll hover in stealth a lot of the time and she’ll do a good job of shooting enemies. Unfortunately most of the issues come from the fact she can be spotted by enemies… most games with AI partners like Bioshock Infinite have them be either invisible, invincible or both. That is not the case here. The enemies spotting fuse is really short and some enemies can see a really long way, and sometimes when not stealthed your sister really likes to casually wander the environment.
This makes stealth pretty much impossible solo and pretty much ensures you’ll be playing all guns blazing. It also makes the boss fights really frustrating solo, as the AI likes to run in to the fight and stand still getting crushed over and over leading ultimately to you running out of lives. She doesn’t do this all of the time, but it’s often enough that it spoils what is otherwise a really fun game. The game is totally completable with the AI, but it has moments that feel like a slog rather than enjoyable.
If you can play Wolfenstein: Youngblood with a friend then that is definitely the way to play it, it’s a really enjoyable romp (the Buddy Pass system in the Deluxe edition that lets a friend play with you without buying the game is the cheapest and easiest way to do this). It’s definitely a harder sell if you wanted to play it solo as the AI partner can be really frustrating and truthfully when you hit one of those areas where they don’t want to cooperate it can sap the fun right out of it. If you are a fan of the Wolfenstein series though there is a lot to like and the story is worth experiencing.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
An interesting and entertaining attempt at bringing the main Wolfenstein series’ shooting mechanics into a co-op adventure that for the most part succeeds as long as you bring a friend. Solo play is disappointing but functional and fun times can be had regardless of how you play.