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'Wolfenstein: Youngblood' Has a Lot of Nazis to Shoot But Not Much to Say

Review: The newest ‘Wolfenstein’ game is a huge departure from 'Wolfenstein: The New Colossus.'

by Matthew Gault
Jul 25 2019, 12:00pm

Image: Bethesda

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a game that understands the simple joys of sneaking behind a Nazi super soldier and sticking the knife in their jugular. Whether sneaking through the streets of occupied Paris or smashing through the doors of a heavily guarded research laboratory, Youngblood is constantly moving, engaging, and full of moments that made me smile. It’s also very different from its predecessors Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus—it’s co-op focused, for one—but the departure mostly works.

Wolfenstein I and II leaned heavily on their narratives, telling the story of BJ Blazkowicz, an American soldier who wakes up in an asylum to learn his side lost World War II. Somehow those silly first-person shooters also had something interesting to say about fascisim, violence, and America.

Youngblood has a story but nothing to say. Much like the original 1992 shooter it's based on, it is simply a venue for killing Nazis. Stabbing them in the skull, evaporating them with lasers, and stomping on them like a way-too-real version of Mario jumping on a goomba.

And that's okay? It's disappointing that Youngblood isn't pulling on the same threads as its predecessor (maybe developer MachineGames is saving that for the inevitable third Wolfenstein) but its over-the-top action works well as something I and a friend could play over and over again.

Youngblood is essentially a cooperative shooter like Borderlands—but without the loot. The game takes place almost two decades after Blazkowicz liberated America. The meathead hero goes missing in Nazi-occupied Paris, and his twin daughters, Jess and Soph, hook up with the French resistance and shoot their way through a series of missions in order to gain experience and cash that unlock weapons upgrades and special abilities, and find dad.

Video games have long used Nazis as the antagonists in their stories. Some have even tried to remove German soldiers from their political context. The new Wolfenstein didn’t do that. The disgusting ideology of the Third Reich was always display and players always understood the stakes. Wolfenstein II released into a world where fascists have returned to political power and managed to tell an incredible story about fascism and racism in America. Youngblood, on the other hand, treats its Nazis like cartoon supervillains—literally faceless soldiers it asks you to slaughter with a friend. Whatever cultural significance Wolfenstein II had is abandoned in Youngblood in the service of something, quick, fun, and shallow. It's a good tradeoff that might not work for everyone, but still a game I enjoyed.

It’s also meant to be played with a partner. Even when you’re playing solo, a computer-controlled sister will follow you around the map doing your bidding, but playing with a computer is much harder than playing with a friend. This is a multiplayer experience where you can hop into open games, send out invites to your friends, or use a quick match option to help someone else out. You can play it by yourself, if you want, but it’s much less fun and much more difficult.

The Blazkowicz sisters share three lives. If Nazis fell a sister, the other can pick her up with no penalty. But if the downed sister bleeds out, both lose a life from the same pool. The sisters also have cooldown team buffs called peps. Peps let players share buffs like temporary invulnerability or damage increases through the magic of emotes. Push a button and the Blazkowicz sister gives a thumbs up or throws the devil horns and shouts words of encouragement. You can switch them up at any time and unlock more with cash you find in game. During my game, I had a late-game pep that restored the health of both sisters and my partner had a pep that restored our armor. When we got into trouble, we’d deploy both powerups and plow through more Nazis.

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Killing Nazis and completing missions earns the girls experience. When they level up, their guns do more damage and they earn points to spend on super powers. I spent my points on stealth and melee abilities while my partner focused on big guns and strength based powers that let him smash through doors and crush Nazis from above for massive damage.

The levels are static, a collection of Paris streets and Nazi bases I traveled over and over again with my friend. There’s four boss areas in Paris, and completing each area granted me a new weapon or power. Clearing out the Nazi robot factory earned me a dieselkraftwerk—a supercharged grenade launcher that let me blast open previously locked doors. Beating the Nazi factorie’s boss also unlocked new missions in the area.

The levels don’t change, but the Nazis within them constantly did. The enemy level and type scales as the Blazkowicz sisters’ power up. The patrols don’t stay in the same place, and often spawn in different locations. One trip to a quest objective might be light on enemies, while another trip through the same map an hour later will be full of fascists. Each mob has a commandant who calls reinforcements. Killing the commandant doesn’t stop the flow of Nazis, but it does lower the difficulty of reinforcements.

During the raid of the Nazi robot factory, my partner fought a huge Naiz mech—a boss enemy with lots of health. He got in the rafters of the factory, lobbing grenades and wearing down the mechs armor with a heavy laser while I crept along the floor, silently knifing the Nazi reinforcements. He kept the mech off of my ass, and I kept the Nazi soldiers off his. It’s these kinds of moments, where the furious action the series is known combines with this kind of teamwork, that make Youngblood special.

As the game progresses, the enemy types change and the Nazis begin to wear more and more armor. Efficiently taking down a group of Nazis means identifying which type of armor they’re wearing, matching it to the gun its weak against, and coordinating the sister’s special abilities to take down hard targets. As the stealthy sister, I could one-hit kill powerful Nazi super soldiers with a backstab while my partner unloaded a heavy laser into a giant mech.

The game doesn’t stop when the credits roll on the campaign. Some abilities, weapon upgrades, and missions didn’t unlock until my friend and I had defeated the game’s final Nazi base. The end-game feels light, especially without any kind of randomized loot. Killing Nazis feels good, but that only took me so far after the driving force of the main narrative fell away.

Youngblood is more like a spinoff than a sequel, even if it takes place after the events of the last two games. It has a different structure, tells a different kind of story, and barely worth playing if you're not playing with a friend. And it's packaged in a way that encourages that. It costs only $30, though a $40 deluxe edition allows you to share the game with a friend who doesn't own it.

But really, it's all just an excuse to violently kill more Nazis, and I'm not too good to say that it's enough for me.