Review: 'Wolfenstein: The Old Blood'

Wolfenstein: The New Order was a surprisingly somber and bleak rendition of the traditionally bombastic series. Gone were the occult creatures, ludicrously silly boss fights and even it’s 1940s setting. MachineGames has rectified this with their latest standalone prequel expansion, The Old Blood. It might lack narrative gravity but The Old Bloodsuccessfully celebrates Wolfenstein’s campy roots while retaining the excellent gameplay enhancements of its most recent entry.

The year is 1946. Due to a number of technological breakthroughs, the Nazi war machine has not only survived but stands to win the second World War. Unable to match the scientific advancements of their enemies, the U.S. turns to espionage. Agent William B.J. Blazkowicz, a heavily muscled super-solider, is tasked with infiltrating Castle Wolfenstein and acquiring valuable information. With his cover almost immediately blown, B.J. must single-handedly fight his way through hordes of heavily armed enemies and prevent the Nazi’s latest evil plot.

Sadly, The Old Blood’s story never quite gels together. While blasting away dozens of Nazi soldiers, it’s easy to forget the significant narrative purpose of each mission. Dialogue fairs a bit better with characters briefly fleshing out their backstories and motives. These exchanges and monologues are given gravity thanks to The Old Blood’s adept voice cast and smart direction. The individual scenes are compelling enough on their own but rarely play into the larger arc. During the second act, supernatural monsters are introduced. This otherworldly twist is a welcomed deviation, but it never feels earned. Considering The New Order’s story was it’s finest achievement, The Old Blood will more than likely disappoint fans of last year’s title. Though really, who needs a reason to shoot a Nazi zombie?

The Old Blood’s gameplay is a blend of classic shooters and modern advancements. Cover-shooting and iron sights are paired with health packs and large, explorable environments. Early stages highlight the game’s mostly successful stealth mechanics, even if the initial do-or-die level design can become grating. Though nearly all stages include long gun battles, The Old Blood does a great job of diversify the experience with a number of unique environments and enemy types. B.J. will take on a squad of enemies suspended from a cable car, fight mechanized soldiers in an old German town and even pilot of bipedal machine through a zombie-infested graveyard. The gameplay transitions can be jarring at times but the overall pacing keeps players on their toes. Beyond shooting, you can never be sure what’s just around the corner.

Thankfully, B.J. is properly equipped for each situation. The Old Blood introduces a plethora of satisfying original weapons, each with a unique purpose. The Kampfpistol provides the power of a rocket launcher in a single bullet, the Schockhammer rapidly fires buckshot and a rusty pipe can silently take out enemies as well as climb walls. Silenced pistols, assault rifles and hand grenades also return unaltered from their New Order incarnations. B.J. can aim down his sights with a single weapon for precise aiming or have a gun in each hand for a chaotic barrage of bullets. Ammo placement often foreshadows the right tool for upcoming encounters, though conserving ammunition for more powerful weapons will eventually pay off. Taking out a group of enemies with a single explosion or picking off a far away sniper with a snappy headshot is consistently rewarding.

Enemies are equally prepared thanks to their intelligent A.I. Soldiers will quickly find cover before establishing a flanking position and hurling grenades. Armored shotgun enemies slowly march towards B.J.’s location, dogs quickly sprint for the jugular and chain-gun wielding behemoths will ceaselessly fire in Blazkowicz’s direction. Zombies are mostly limited to melee attacks, but they’ll often roam in packs. Many encounters require players to take out commanders before they can call in endless waves of reinforcements; this can be achieved through stealth or force, allowing players to customize their approach. Understanding and overcoming enemy methodology makes for an exciting campaign.

However, there are a few drawbacks. Utilizing the lean system around certain objects will force B.J. near a more vulnerable corner. Popping out of cover will often reset the deadzone, requiring players to readjust their aim. Basic enemies can occasionally return to the fight seemingly unaffected by their seconds-old bullet wounds and the underwhelming final boss encounter feels far too simplistic compared to the usually tense gameplay. Still, these nitpicks don’t detract from the excellent five hour campaign.

Achieving a preselected set of goals unlocks perks including more health and larger ammo clips. Once the war is won, players can replay battles from the story in score based challenges. Secret environments are littered around each stage with hidden items such as gold, maps and even dream sequences taking place in the original Wolfenstein 3D. Each enhance the gameplay experience and encourage players to deviate their play style and explore their environments.

The Old Blood keeps a consistent frame rate of 60 frames-per-second and a 1080p resolution on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Enemy Nazis are well designed and create a sense of strategic oppression, while the zombies’ animation displays unrestrained evil. Many locations come off as bland and drab, making it occasionally difficult to find the next exit or objective. But the intense visual effects of discharging weapons, far off vistas and burning buildings punctuate B.J.’s situation. A bar full of soldiers singing, a distant enemy firing a sniper rifle and a zombie bursting to life are just a few examples of the excellent audio. A lack of anti-aliasing keeps The Old Blood far from beautiful, but it’s use of lighting and varied environments help to distract from seldom inspiring graphics.

MachineGames have once again created an authentic Wolfenstein experience that will satisfy both long time fans and newcomers to the franchise. Singular story beats and stages certainly hold up better than the overall campaign, but given the exciting minute-to-minute gameplay, it’s easy to overlook The Old Blood’s shortcomings. Anyone interested in discovering the myriad of ways to shoot, stab or explode a Nazi will find plenty to enjoy about The Old Blood.