I know there’s a lot going on in the world right now, but if I talk about it I may not be able to remain civil, so I’m going to talk about this instead. Also, happy birthday to me. 46 years old today. 👍
If you’ve spent far too long visiting this blog then you know I am a big fan of the Wolfenstein series of games. Having played Wolfenstein 3D back in the day, I fell in love with the aesthetic and gameplay of Return to Castle Wolfenstein and then fell head over heels for the aesthetic, gameplay and story behind the big three, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. For an FPS game Wolfenstein did something that nearly every other FPS game failed to do, and that was to rope me in to the story while creating characters I cared about.
The series is also based on an “alternate history timeline” in which the Nazi’s won the war, with much of the world being occupied by their forces. I love “A.H.T.” storylines.
The Old Blood had our hero, William “B.J.” Blazkowitz, making his way to Castle Wolfenstein to obtain information on the location of Nazi bigwig Wilhem “Deathshead” Strauss, thereby allowing the Allied forces the ability to hunt him down.
The New Order had Blazkowitz, successful in recovering the information needed by the Allied forces, heading up an all out air raid against the military stronghold and ends up with our hero in dire straits, wounded, and close to death.
The New Colossus, by far the most ambitious of the three, in which our hero not only recovers, but actually….well, I’d hate to spoil it, but lets just say it is the most “50’s sci-fi” of the three, taking players all the way to the moon to deal with space Hitler. The game also begins the revolution to liberate America. Crazy stuff! Top that all off with B.J.’s wife, Anya, being pregnant, apparently with twin girls.
I say apparently because shortly after TNC we got introduced to a new game. Set in an alternate 1980’s Wolfenstein: Youngblood introduces us to the Blazkowitz girls, Jessie and Sophia (Jess and Soph for short). By the time we meet them they are roughly twenty years old and well trained in the art of surviving, and they have to be, their father is one of the most notorious killers on the planet. Unfortunately, however, B.J. has disappeared, and the girls, along with their friend, Abbey, take it upon themselves to find him, their only clue being his last known location being in Nazi occupied France. After acquiring a couple of power suits and a silent FBI helicopter (Abby’s mother is director of the FBI) the girls head to Neu-Paris to find their father, and offer whatever help they can to the French resistance.
From what I remember the game was universally panned as being bad for a number of reasons, some valid, some….not so much. I remember people complaining about the look of the girls, but I think they look fine considering the reality they have grown up in. The America in the Wolfenstein timeline is overwhelmingly wastelands and the girls have grown up on what is essentially a family farm, learning to shoot and fight and survive. They are not supermodels, nor are they even model material. They look tomboyish because that’s what they are, essentially a caricature of the old “farmers daughter” trope (at least in my opinion).
Another complaint was the banter between the girls on or between levels. These two are talkative and their conversations range from the informative (whether about their backstory, what they know about their father or what they know about other relevant facts pertinent to the time period or mission) to downright silliness. Their dancing and quips toward one another are typical of what siblings do, and I wonder if the people who had written any of the original reviews I had read were maybe an only child. When I get together with my brother we talk dumb, act dumb and generally ARE dumb. The same thing goes for my sisters, even when they are just together themselves, sans us male siblings, they do and say dumb things, because that’s what you do with your siblings. There’s literally no filter because these are the people who you have been the most raw with in your life. Rather than coming off as annoying I find their banter kind of endearing, but more on that later.
Now that all of that is out of the way, lets talk about the game itself
Wolfenstein: Youngblood (Nintendo Switch, 2019)
Now you might be asking why I am playing this on the Switch and not my PC. I certainly own it on PC, but it was $6.99 on the Switch last week and I bought a copy for my son and myself so we could play it together. I originally purchased it on the PC a year or so ago so that my brother and I could play together, but he’s easily irritated over the steps it takes to play multiplayer games in modern times, so aside from playing it one time we have never played it again. Obviously there are going to be a few differences between the PC and Switch version of the game, and my review will concentrate on the Switch version. I’m assuming the only real differences between the two will be graphical fidelity, though I may be wrong.
The game is essentially a hub based shooter with some light RPG elements. It can be played solo with an AI controlled sister or via Betheseda.net co-op with another player. Once through the initial two levels, the first an assault from the inside out on a Nazi airship, and then through a river side area of Neu-Paris, players are dropped into the catacombs, from where they can visit any of the games locales in order to complete missions and level up. Along the way the story unfolds that will reveal the location of B.J., as well as what nefarious plans the Nazi’s may have cooked up.
As with any of the Wolfenstein games, ending Nazi’s is fun.
The game has a short list of firearms available to players in the form of two pistols, a sub-machine gun, a larger machine gun that can act as a sniper rifle and a glorious tri-barreled automatic shotgun that happens to be my most personal favorite in the game. These weapons can be outfitted with custom parts, purchased using silver you find throughout the levels, in a weapons sub menu that include the Receiver, Optic, Magazine and Stock. Each part has upgrades from three different manufacturers, each concentrating on a specific aspect (accuracy, power, payload), and equipping three or more parts from a single manufacturer will give the weapon an additional bonus to whatever attribute that brand boosts. Weapons are easily accessed via the Nobel prize winning, should be in every game Weapon Wheel during gameplay, and double tapping one of the face buttons (In this case, ‘X’) will quick swap your currently held weapon with the last one you had equipped.
Along with your standard firearms you have your melee weapons which consist of either a knife or tomahawk, which you select at the initial creation of your first game. You can carry 3 total of said melee weapon initially and its usefulness varies depending on where you are, and can also be used to break open wooden crates or destroy locks. If you can manage to sneak up behind an unsuspecting victim (usually aided by the power suits stealth camouflage) you can straight up silent murder someone with a click of the right analog stick. Alternatively you can throw your melee weapon from a distance, resulting in an instant kill no matter where you hit your target (which can sometimes be hilarious) or resulting in a Nazi who will wonder who is throwing stuff at them, possibly alerting them to your presence. During combat you can swing away and one-shot any enemies within swinging range, but getting to close results in a nice disarm/kill animation that ranges from grabbing an enemies weapon and turning it against them to ripping the brains out of an enemy robo-soldier, leaving it a crumpled hunk of scrap metal on the floor. The melee mechanic is almost cheating, to be honest. If you can sneak through a level you can literally murder a soldier standing next to another soldier and the one still standing will be shocked that his buddy just dropped dead, but so long as you aren’t seen he won’t actually do anything. In one instance I thought I would sneak up on an unsuspecting soldier coming around a corner only to find there were three soldiers. I took each one out quickly using nothing but melee attacks and no one was the wiser to us being there.
Lastly there are a set of heavy weapons that you find either mounted on tripods throughout levels or that are sometimes dropped by Supersoldoten, heavily armed super-soldiers that can be a bear to take down. When mounted you cannot move them, but they have unlimited ammunition. When picking one up from a fallen super-soldier you can carry it around until you drain it of ammo, albeit slower than normal. Eventually you will gain the ability to store these in your arsenal and upgrade them, and they are quite devastating. Your options include the Hammergewehr (a quad barreled shotgun that shreds everything in its path), the Dieselgewehr (shoots compressed fuel as explosive fireballs), the Lasergewehr (a high powered laser that can melt thin sheets of metal and creates lots of pretty sparks), lastly there is the Ubergewehr (fires an orb of charged energy + diesel fuel that vaporizes targets on contact).
Rounding everything out are a couple of smaller, more compact versions of the heavy weapons, the LaserKraftwerk, the DieselKraftwerk and the ElektroKraftwerk. These weapons can not only be used offensively, but are required to open certain doors and boxes throughout the game that are too tough for melee strikes.
Lastly you have your grenades, which you can chuck a fair distance, but there is nothing particularly special about them. You throw them, they go boom.
Weapons also benefit from a cover system that lets you hug up to the corner of a wall or crouch behind short objects, then peek out using the iron sights. This helps keep you from getting hit while still giving you the ability to hit targets.
Dispatching enemies is great! Soldiers come at you in force when they are alerted to your presence, and they exist in five tiers of rank, I, II, III, IV and V respectively (with their rank shown next to their name). As you level up the rank of the soldiers in an area will increase, meaning you never really get to simply breeze through an area, even one you have previously cleared. Its always advantageous to avoid detection if you can, but guns blazing is fast and furious.
One thing that threw a lot of people off is the ‘barrier’ system in the game. One of the info computers you come across will inform you that some enemies have a barrier that must be overcome before you can do damage to them. This barrier is represented by lines or squares next to an enemies life bar, with corresponding lines or squares associated to certain weapons you are carrying. Pumping shots into an enemy with the incorrect ammo type will certainly do damage, but you will find that enemies go down considerably faster if you use the correct gun. This leaves players with decisions to make. Do you stick to one gun to mow down a few smaller soldiers while barely scratching the super soldier in their midst, or do you take out the super soldier first using the appropriate weapon and then mop up the smaller guys afterward? Maybe you just say “screw it” and unload your entire stock of ammo into whatever moves and hope for the best! It caused some reviewers to call enemies “bullet spongey”, and in a sense they kind of are, but simply paying attention helps to alleviate the problem and can actually be pretty satisfying.
Along with the soldiers you have various mechs like Drones, Panzerhunds, Robo-soldaten and Zitadelle. These cyber monstrosities can be some serious trouble and may require different tactics to bring down. The Panzerhunds, for example, have weaker armor plates on their sides than their front, so luring them after one player while the other chips away the plates can be beneficial rather than just going with a full frontal assault.
The girls themselves also have some additional functionality from their power suits, which you can strengthen by using points gained when you level up. Abilities are split into three classes: Mind, Muscle and Power.
MIND abilities include things like increasing maximum health, keeping weapons fully loaded while they are not in your hand or gaining increased health and armor when you recover from going down.
MUSCLE abilities include things like increasing maximum armor, gaining the ability to dual wield weapons or being able to one-shot stealth kill heavier soldiers.
POWER abilities allow you to dash, which you can use to knock over enemies or break through weak walls. You can also increase the amount of time you can stay cloaked here.
Along with these abilities you get Sisterly Pep Signals, little emotes you or your sister can activate that give a momentary boost. For example the old rock n’ roll Metal Fist will give you both a one time boost of +25 armor, while a Bruce Lee type Fighting Stance pep allows you both to do double damage for five seconds. All peps are on a cooldown so they can’t be spammed, but they can certainly be helpful in a pinch!
All of this stuff combined make for a fun gaming experience, though I’ll admit the sheer number of Nazi’s they throw at you can be overwhelming, and running out of ammo, or a certain type of ammo, can make things more difficult. Fortunately you don’t die right away when your armor and health are depleted but instead go into a wounded state. If your AI sister or your other player is paying enough attention they can run over and revive you by holding down a button for a short time, giving you a little bit of health and armor back, but sometimes there are so many enemies that coming back means instantly being shot down back into the wounded state. If you are both wounded or if either one of you bleeds out then you lose a shared life, of which you can hold three. If you know for sure your sister cant reach you then you can opt to just go ahead and bleed out by holding down a button, sacrificing a shared life, but putting you back on your feet right away.
Being on the Switch the graphical fidelity takes a pretty hefty hit when compared to the game on my laptop, and that is to be expected. That being said, its still pretty amazing that the game can run on Nintendo’s versatile little device, but I have to admit that at the time of writing this I have never tried to play it in handheld mode, which I know can be even more crippled than docked mode. My son was playing it in handheld mode while he and I were playing and I heard no complaints out of him over it.
I can promise that during gameplay you won’t really care much about the graphics because they do look really good for being on the Switch. The only real noticeable issue with this console version is that when soldiers get further away from you their movements get very stuttered and robot like, obviously to cut down on their detail since they are not up close. Amazingly enough you can still shoot them from a distance, but you will notice the difference in their movements as they walk away from you.
Another very obvious graphical issue is during cutscenes. Many of them are real-time and the drop in quality and smoothness during these scenes is instantly noticeable, but there aren’t a ton of cutscenes, so you won’t see those too many times. It will, however, remind you that you are playing on the Switch, if, indeed, you are.
Otherwise all the graphical bells and whistles seem to be in place! One of the things I love about the Wolfenstein series is the designers ability to create the feeling that the world you are playing in is a real, living place. City streets have store fronts filled with all manner of goodies like toys, clothing, electronics and food. Housing and living quarters have knick-knacks, books, records and furniture. Sewers are strewn with piles of trash, old shopping carts, crates and tires, while Nazi strongholds are clean, pristine bunkers filled with mechanical and scientific equipment. Things may not be as shiny and detailed as playing the game on the PC or even more powerful consoles, but it still looks VERY good and still gives that feeling of “Someone was living in this apartment just last week before the Gestapo came and took them away”! Lighting is spot on almost to the point of being too good. Staring toward a light or toward the sun can make it difficult to see and you may have to change position some to overcome the glare.
Weapon graphics are clean and clear, with weapons changing their topology with the changing of parts. Equip a heavy barrel on the shotgun and it will look different than equipping a tactical barrel. You can also slap weapon skins on them changing the color scheme and decoration, with my personal favorite being the Moon Fighter skin that looks very sci-fi retro. The laser weapons and fire based weapons still look amazing and cause all manner of sparks. Hitting an explosive cylinder will light up a room, momentarily blinding you while taking out nearby soldiers. Hit a fire extinguisher and a white cloud of flame retardant covers the area instead!
Despite the previous complaint about enemy movements the enemies in the game are highly detailed, down to the nuts and bolts! Shooting heavily armored targets results in plates getting blown off as they take more damage. They crumple from taking too many hits, or fly through the air from explosions with little giblets being flung everywhere along with various body parts.
Sound is pretty amazing as well, with weapon sounds being sufficiently beefy and loud, with the shotgun, to me, being the most satisfactory of noises. Enemies will have conversations while you sneak by, make remarks if you make too much noise (“What was that? Did you hear a noise?”) and even call out their tactics while engaged in combat (“You are in my line of fire! Move!”, “I need to change position!”, “F*ck, I’ve been shot!”). As stated before the sisters themselves will converse while you play, reminiscing over memories, talking about their parents, wondering out loud what has happened to their dad or just congratulating each other on an excellent kill. Other characters chime in from time to time with friend, Abby, informing the girls of nearby targets or sub-missions like planting a car bomb in an Ubercommanders ride, or planting a listening device in a room where bigwigs are about to make plans.
The soundtrack for Youngblood was composed by Martin Stig Anderson and Tom Salta, not by previous composer Mick Gordon, but its good. I haven’t listened to it apart from the game, and nothing really sticks out as memorable from within game, but I will admit that previous Wolfenstein games were the same way, I didn’t really notice the music all that much until I took the time to listen to them apart from the game. What are memorable, and a continuation from previous games, are the revised versions of popular 80s songs, written and recorded in a world where the Nazi’s rule. Along with that you get tons of audio logs and recordings pertaining to elements and events of the alternate world.
Controls are tight with everything being exactly where it needs to be on the controller. A word of advice, though, don’t start this game immediately after finishing DOOM Eternal or you will get some buttons mixed up and try to dash using the A button when it’s now the left analog stick button. If you play this game without gyro controls you are dead to me. Gyro controls on Switch controllers for FPS games are something every console AND PC should copy. You get all the convenience of having a controller in your hand and buttons at every fingertip combined with the precision of a mouse. YES, its that good.
Some would say I am giving this game too much credit. It was billed by many as a lame “girl power” game meant to bash on men and bash on Trump when it came out, but I find nothing could be further from the truth. I suppose the games writers could have given the Blatzkowitz’s twin sons, but there is nothing insidious about them having daughters, so far as I can tell. Some people would say that the previous game, The New Colossus, made B.J. into a weak man, and they are right. But if you play the game you realize he doesn’t stay a weak man, and the breaking of his body and character were needed so that the incredible (and somewhat laughable) could take place.
Personally I hold Youngblood to be on par with the other games in the series. Yes it deviates from the formula of the three games that came before it, but if they had just done the same thing then complaints would be that its just more of the same.
Is it a perfect game? No. It does have a real-money purchasing system in which you can buy “Gold Bars” to more quickly purchase upgrades or some exclusive skins, but I have no desire to buy any gold bars and I don’t think I will ever need to. Everything can be earned with the in game Silver, and if it takes an extra hour of play to get a weapon upgrade then that’s fine by me. The story so far is pretty interesting and I’ll admit I’ve been at one point for a while because I keep finding things to do. Every mission seems to have a side mission or two pop up, mostly the same missions, but they always offer a challenge and the reward of more silver and xp, so I take them. Its also fun to see how far I can get sneaking around, killing off bad guys without being found out.
Overall the series is 4 for 4 with me, and I’ll be happy to find out whether or not we are looking at a new chapter in the future. Lets hope so, cause America is big, and it needs a revolution, and I can think of no better family to start that revolution than old man Blatzkowitz, his two feisty daughters and the patriots he surrounds himself with.