Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

HIGH The unexpected end of the cable car sequence.

LOW So they've gone from letting me play 2% of Wolfenstein 3D to including 15%? Why not unlock the whole game, Machine Games?

WTF I cannot claim to have expected that final boss.

Prequels are always a dangerous proposition, narratively speaking, since their very nature precludes surprise. At the outset of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, BJ Blaskowitz is assigned the task of locating Totenkopf's secret base so that a full-scale allied raid can wipe it off the map and finish the war. Given that The New Order begins with that raid already in progress, it's safe to say that the mission depicted in this title is going to go pretty well. The Old Blood can't offer the thrill of the unexpected the way its predecessor could, but it does bring back that game's amazingly high-quality gunplay and incredible level and character design.

Set over an absurdly long and eventful day in the life of BJ Blaskowicz, The Old Blood has the famous Nazi-killer returning to Castle Wolfenstein in the hopes of discovering Totenkopf's whereabouts, only to wind up stumbling upon an unrelated nefarious scheme that must be dealt with in goriest possible way. Unfortunately TOB's plot doesn't come close to living up to the example set by TNO. As an 8-hour budget title, it's not surprising that TOB lacks the scope and stakes of TNO, but it fails on a more fundamental level of missing out on the character and human drama of that game.

TOB's plot barrels forward at such a breakneck pace that there's no room to get to know any of the people at the centre of it. The villains aren't as interesting, the heroes aren't as sympathetic—this isn't a story that would interest me if it wasn't providing an framework for opportunities to blast robo-nazis to pieces. At its best, The Old Blood's story is serviceable, in that it ably moves the story forward from one action setpiece to the next, but even then, it relies a little too heavily on well-worn cliches. I counted three separate occasions (in a relatively short game) in which BJ is knocked out and has his arsenal stripped from him. Not really raising the creative bar there. When TNO asked the player to decide which character would live and which would die at the climax of its first part, they were making a snap judgement based on almost no information, and had no way of knowing the ways that decision was going to shape the rest of the game's story. That moment is aped here, but it occurs so late in the proceedings that the decision has no opportunity to resonate—and we learn so little about the two characters here that choosing between them may as well be flipping a coin.

On the upside, the failure of TOB's plot to live up to the best FPS story of all time is the game's only real flaw. The stellar combat of TNO returns almost completely unchanged, letting players choose whether they want to use stealth to carefully eliminate foes one at a time or just blast away at crowds of Nazis with a wide variety of dual-wielded weapons. The impeccably-designed levels work well with all play styles, while remaining gorgeous pieces of design in their own right. The settings may not have the huge variety of TNO, but as the action moves from Castle Wolfenstein to a nearby medieval village and then into the catacombs below I was struck by how much mileage the game gets out of such a relatively small number of locales. Each new level has a distinct look and feel, from the utilitarian concrete of a prison to the opulence of a high-tech castle to the crumbling stone walls of an ancient city under siege. Even the game's lighting is notably well-used to build a sense of place and time, with each new level taking place later in the day, moving from bright white morning to yellow noon and orange dusk before a midnight finale.

While most of the game's movement and shooting mechanics remain unchanged in their perfection, the developers have added one new element which does a great job of fitting seamlessly into the game. BJ's main melee weapon is now a piece of broken pipe—that may not sound impressive, but the game is endlessly inventive when it comes to finding uses for this multitool. Beyond simply stabbing foes with the jagged end, he can use the pipe to climb cracked walls, slide down cables, and disable heavy machinery. It's not a huge change, but it manages to make traversing levels feel novel and improvisational, even while the player is following well-proscribed paths.

The new foes are likewise a great fit. I can't detail too much about them without spoiling a few big reveals in the story, but suffice to say that halfway through the game new enemy types create interesting strategic complications. A third faction arrives that is hostile to both BJ and the Nazis, and while they don't appear in that much of the game, they require such vastly different tactics than most of the game's enemies that things feel fresh and new leading into the endgame. There's even a cleverly-designed final boss who manages to buck the series trend and be something other than yet another guy in a suit of power armour or giant magical Nazi.

In my review of The New Order, I suggested that the game's initial 1946 setting was such a captivating creation that an entire game could have been made exploring the setting. The developers at Machine Games have now proven that theory true. While it lacks the depth and resonance of TNO, The Old Blood is still head and shoulders above all of its competition when it comes to pure shooter design. Sprinting and sliding through levels, beheading Nazis with point-blank shotgun blasts, tearing heavy machineguns off of their mounts and using them to slaughter hallways full of foes, all of these things are just as thrilling now as they were last time, and almost none of the game's combat and level design feels like the developers are just rehashing old successes. Even if it can't reach a state of perfection the way its predecessor did, The Old Blood is still an incredible game which deserves respect from anyone with even a passing interest in FPSs. Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to single-player modes, and the game was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, strong language. While there's considerably less drinking, sex, and genocide here than in the last Wolfenstein game, I'm still going to recommend that you keep your children far from it. It's just as excessively brutal as the last game in the series—if anything, the stealth kills are even more unpleasant now. There are even a whole set of foes who can be best killed by smashing their heads in with a pipe. So yeah, no kids.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You're going to have some challenges. Hearing the approach of enemies is important during the steal sequences, since the game doesn't offer any of the enemies on minimap/you can see through walls shortcuts that have become so standard in games these days. When people are shooting at you, you're only going to know when you start getting hit. Other than that, though, all the dialogue is subtitled, so you won't be missing out on any of the plot.

Daniel Weissenberger
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