Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 11th August.
Playing With Others
MAKING the jump to co-op has come with some real challenges according to Tommy Tordsson Björk, the narrative designer on Youngblood. He told me:
“It’s been an interesting challenge. First and foremost you have to have the focus between two players and not be too intrusive with the story. So what we are trying to do is have a solid framework of story with cut scenes that frame the story. Beyond that, we have a completely open and non-linear game where we don’t want to take control from the player. But we do have a bit of banter between the twins to strengthen the bond between them. That has been the theme of the game, that sisterly bond.”
But striking the right balance between the twins was also very important. Tommy said:
“You don’t want to force a certain playing style but at the same time you want different personalities as you don’t want one to be more interesting than the other, so it’s a really interesting balancing act writing for them.”
But co-op has always been on the cards for MachineGames. Tommy said:
“It actually started with plans we had for a co-op version of Wolfenstein during the development of the last game. We thought it would be a good chance to have the daughters of B.J. Blazkowicz be the stars of that game and we just ran with it. We wanted your actions from The New Colossus to have an impact to the world, so 20 years later the Nazis have been pushed back to Europe having lost control of the rest of the world. It can be risky to do a time jump but for me the story is about the experience of the journey — even if you know how the story, you still want to know what happened during that journey. It’s like watching a movie based on a historical event — you know what happens but you want to see what the characters have gone through, not just know what happened.”
Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot (PSVR, £14.99)
WHAT happens when you get to take control of the machines of war that hounded you across the Wolfenstein series and turn them against their Nazi masters? Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot is what happens. A standalone prequel to Wolfenstein: Youngblood, it aims to fill you in on some of the background of the Nazis ruling Paris as well as setting you up for the main events in Youngblood. You play a cyberpilot hacker, tasked with taking control of a number of robots and mechs with one goal — stop the Nazis at all cost. This isn’t an epic tale, as you’ll be done in around three hours, but it’s an enjoyable journey.
There are four main missions, broken up by a bit of light puzzling between each battle when you’re back at base. If you’ve already played a few VR titles, there will be very little here that you haven’t done before. But the first time you get to take control of a Panzerhund is a rush as you breath fire and crash around the streets — but it soon loses that feeling and the same goes for the other bots in your control. Great at first, but a fleeting rush. The sentry stealth missions are a great example of what could have been tense but end up more of a pain trying to find out where you have to go.
Graphically the game is stunning, one of the best-looking PSVR games yet as it lifts some locations straight from Youngblood. Most of the story is handled over the radio and is well done if a little long-winded. If you’re a diehard Wolfenstein fan Cyberpilot is well worth a look — and at £15 it’s not a bank breaker.
The Youth of Today
WHEN making a game based on fighting Nazis there is always some controversy but Jerk Gustafsson, executive producer on Wolfenstein: Youngblood, feels politics should be left at the door and the adventure should be allowed to shine. He said:
“By making a game about killing Nazis that have taken over the world, of course it’s political and we can’t say it’s not really. We need to treat it with respect as it’s a serious subject but at the same time we are also doing an adventure game where you fight the evil of the world — and in our game, the Nazis represent that evil. So we can’t really say that it’s not political in any way but you play the game and its meant be an entertaining adventure for the player. Our vision is to make sure that the story you play gives you that feeling that you really want to liberate the world from that evil.”
But Jerk sees Youngblood as a breath of fresh air for the Wolfenstein series. He said:
“It’s a spin-off to the main series from The New Colossus and we do see it as a fresh start in that sense. And the title refers to that in many ways but even though it’s a spin-off it sits into the timeline that we are following with the lore and Wolfenstein IP in general. I can’t really say anything about the future just now and what we plan to do beyond Youngblood but I wouldn’t say that we will never see any more of B.J. Blazkowicz in Wolfenstein games.”
With it being a spin-off, Jerk also feels that the studio have room to break away from what they are best known for and to try different things. He said:
“We have been doing very heavily story-driven games for a long time, ever since we did the Riddick and the Darkness games back when we were part of Starbreeze Studios, which is basically about 20 years of working on those types of games. To be honest, we jumped at the chance as it was more in line with what Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was like. It has grown over time and when we got the opportunity to work with Arkane Studios we couldn’t say no. This opened up a lot of new opportunities and that’s where the co-op came from as well as the VR. We have always thought for a long time that adding another player into the combat would be fun and it’s been something we have wanted to do. Working together with Arkane and getting the opportunity to explore these new ideas made perfect sense.”
And Jerk feels that Youngblood is something totally new for even the most hardcore Wolfenstein fans. He said:
“I really can’t emphasise enough that Youngblood is very different from our past games. It’s not only that the game is co-op, which changes a lot in terms of things such as combat. There will be more enemies and the open-ended world will see you having some random encounters. The focus for us has been to really concentrate on the weapons and the upgrades and the change here is quite a large one really. In past titles we may have had two or three upgrades per weapon, whereas now I think we have 150 upgrades and there are a lot of ways to customise your weapons and your character to complement each other when you’re in combat. So in that sense the core gameplay feels like our past games, especially that ‘through the gun’ feeling but the combat has been worked a lot to focus on fun scenarios for co-op.”
Wolfenstein: Youngblood (Xbox One, PS4, Switch & PC, £24.99)
IT’S no secret that co-op makes things better, so when we heard the news that Wolfenstein was heading in that direction with a spin-off we couldn’t wait. But does Wolfenstein: Youngblood have what it takes to stand alongside the full-fat games in the series? Well it’s not just the game that’s getting in on the co-op action as series developers, Swedish firm MachineGames, have teamed up with Arkane Studios, the team behind Prey and the Dishonored series, to work on Youngblood and Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot too.
Youngblood shakes things up with a time jump some 20 years on from the last Wolfenstein game to the 1980s. So one-man Nazi-slaying army B.J. Blazkowicz is, well, no spring chicken and his twin daughters, Jess and Soph, are teenagers. That’s not all that’s changed — the Reich has been forced back to Europe after being defeated in the US and the death of Hitler while former freedom fighter Grace Walker is now head of the FBI. Blazkowicz goes “missing”, but Walker tracks him to Paris and the twins, with the help of Walker’s extremely dull daughter Abby, go in search of him. And at the same time, they try to help the French Resistance to take back control of the city, one street at a time.
If you’re here for the tale, beware. It takes a back seat a lot of the time and doesn’t have half as good a cast as the past Wolfenstein titles. But the gameplay picks up the slack. Moment-to-moment it’s a blast as you take on the Nazi forces along with the help of a buddy but there are a few new core changes that really impact the game. As you complete missions and dispatch Nazism, you level up and unlock new powers and upgrades — but what’s not great is that enemies below your level are all but cannon fodder whereas higher level ones are basically tanks. And to get all powers and unlocks it’s going to be a grind, with you having to replay a LOT of missions. This slows down the co-op fun. If you’re playing with a lower-level buddy, they’ll last about three seconds. That’s a pain as you spend more time carrying them through missions than enjoying the action together. And each weapon now has bonus damage against certain enemies. That’s great early on in the game when you need help, but it soon takes a back seat when you upgrade your arsenal, which is a shame.
All the series staples such as the power push and cloak are available which help spice things up as you can stealth your way through areas. Co-op wise, things run well with both friends and random players, though a lot of the doors and actions need both of you to open them — it’s no fun holding a door for two minutes while the random you’re hooked up with runs around like a headless chicken. Graphically, things look good and feel like a Wolfenstein game so fans will feel at home. It’s the same for sound, with Shelby Young and Valerie Lohman doing a great job as the twins. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a strange game. On one hand it’s more of what fans love, taking down the Fourth Reich with a buddy. But on the other, the story really lacks the charm and heart the series is known for. But if you’re looking for a fun, over-the-top co-op shooter, it’s worth the buy.
BUY the Deluxe Edition of Youngblood to get a free buddy pass, allowing a pal who doesn’t have the game to play if they download a special limited demo.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…