Last year I was very pleasantly surprised at MachineGames reboot of Wolfenstein, delivering what turned out to be my game of the year. Having heard nothing from the developers for over 9 months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that was it, but no… there’s now a prequel to flesh out the adventures of B. J. Blazkowicz before the assault on Deathshead’s compound which originally kicked off the action. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a bite sized chunk of story driven FPS goodness, but will it be enough to fill you up?
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is split into two parts comprising 8 chapters (plus a prologue). The first part “Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves” pits you against a giant sadistic dog trainer as you infiltrate the titular Castle Wolfenstein to steal crucial Nazi intelligence that might help turn the tide for the Allies. B. J. and co, disguised at German soldiers, work their way into the menacing building, find the offices, get ambushed and captured, before things begin in earnest. The second part is “The Dark Secrets of Helga Von Schabbs” and moves the action to the nearby city of Wolfburg to resolve the mystery that’s started unravelling in the journey through the castle.
There’s a distinct feel to both parts, both aesthetically and in gameplay. Wandering around the massive Castle Wolfenstein is actually quite claustrophobic with the tight corridors and a focus on stealth. Starting out with no weapons and being pitted against the almost indestructible SuperSoldaten, you’re vulnerable and will find that no matter how hard B. J. is, he can’t stand up to a heavy machine gun at close range. It’s an unforgiving start and one that forces you into a playstyle that you might not expect, and might not even be comfortable with if it’s the first time encountering its charms. Fortunately it’s not too long before the weapons are loosed and the bloodshed can begin. Stealth is still optional though, and tackling some of the scenarios this way can make progression easier, if a little less fun.
Moving out into Wolfburg, things open up a little in the environment and the focus moves to assault over sneaking. Ammo, health and armour are always plentiful, and there’s no shortage of targets to waste them on. Helga Von Schabbs is unearthing something in the local graveyard, and (no surprise here) she manages to unleash a Nazi zombie horde. I’m equally happy and disappointed in this. It works in the context of the game, and taking shamblers out is a great change of pace from the cover seeking soldiers you’ve battled through the first half. However, it feels like the whole premise is simply MachineGames take on the genre and not overly original. BTW, I’m not chucking out much in the way of spoilers here – the appearance of the zombies is telegraphed from about 20 minutes in.
Mechanically, things are honed to perfection. There wasn’t much wrong with The New Order, and the prequel keeps to what it knows well. The cover mechanic is one of the best implemented in an FPS; simply dive behind an object and hit the aim button when the corresponding arrow appears, you’ll pop out and get a few shots off before the AI zeroes in. Peek is also mapped to work independently of cover, and ends up being widely used to check what’s around the next corner or for shooting kneecaps under tables. Dual wielding is available for a number of the brutal, chunky weapons, and most of them can be upgraded with perks that are awarded for completing various actions. Don’t forget the obligatory collectibles very well hidden in the levels too.
Something new with this game is a (and I use the term loosely) bonus challenge mode where you take on specific sections of the story aiming for high scores and fast times. It’s a diversion rather than something you’ll spend ages on, unless you’re determined to have the top spot on the leaderboards. Overall timewise, there’s a decent amount for the £15/$20/€20 you’re spending, with the main story giving up around 7 hours if you plough through on a moderate difficulty. Add extra time if you hunt the collectibles and the hidden nightmare levels where you Return to Castle Wolfenstein in glorious 90’s corridor shooter-style. Tack on even more hours if you want to punish yourself and go for Uber difficulty and like dying. Lots.
In reality, there’s not much different here from the main game that was released last year. That’s no bad thing, especially as this was originally planned as a few DLC packs. Selling them as a whole standalone campaign gives the adventure a more coherent feel, and is a great romp along the lines of a classic WWII adventure. There are sections that remind me of timeless war films such as Where Eagles Dare, and recent releases like Inglorious Bastards. It weaves a tale that’s dark, disturbing, sometimes harrowing, and even manages to throw some humour in to boot. The story also branches in two different directions at one point depending on your decision, not significantly changing the levels but giving an extra reason to go back and play again.
There’s a well crafted and polished game here that suffers only from a slight lack of unoriginality with the inclusion of the undead, though there is a nice twist in that live soldiers immediately turn when you take them out. As a separate piece of content though, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is great and well worth the investment. For once, the digital version is the same price as the disc too… if you’ve got the 40 gb of free space.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is available digitally on PC, PS4 and Xbox One now, and will be released at retail on the 15th May.