Wolfenstein: The Old Blood – Review

Title   Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
Developer  MachineGames
Publisher  Bethesda
Platform  Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4
Genre  First Person Shooter
Release Date  May 5th, 2015
Official Site  http://www.wolfenstein.com/age

Almost two years ago, I boarded a plane with some friends to Germany with the intent of playing new games, writing kick-ass previews, and pissing off the locals with my B-grade GCSE German. While there, I had the chance to play a section from the beginning of Wolfenstein: The New Order. To be completely honest, I wasn’t all that impressed. It played like any other World War Two shooter, and the brief glimpse into its alternate 1960 wasn’t enough to get me excited for the game. Fast-forward a few months and the game releases to rave reviews. I eventually buy it, and discover it’s nothing like the build I played. It’s dark and tense, with some silliness thrown in so you don’t sink too deeply into depression. It’s got great gunplay and plenty to explore. And yes, the alternate history setting helped it out in a big way. You’d be hard pressed to find a reason for them to fall back to the 1946 setting, given that, by necessity, it would be held back from some of the more outlandish ideas presented in The New Order. But, what do you know, MachineGames went ahead and made a direct prequel anyway.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood acts as a set-up for The New Order, with B.J. Blazkowicz heading back to Castle Wolfenstein again to hunt down a folder that will reveal the location of General Deathshead, the main villain in the last game. Naturally, everything goes tits-up, and B.J. has to bust out of the castle, killing everything and everyone who stands in his way so he can retrieve the document. There’s some ridiculous occult storyline going on that I don’t want to spoil for you, but rest assured that you’ll be facing off against cyborg dogs, giant robots, and, of course, hundreds of Nazis.

One of the things I enjoyed so much about the previous game is B.J. himself, who became more than just a Nazi killing machine, thanks to his dramatic monologues, delivered in a beautifully sombre tone to remind you just how bleak things really were. It was interesting, then, that while B.J. retains this tone at times, he’s also given a more humorous edge, cracking jokes at inappropriate times and generally coming off as a bit more jovial than his previously broody performance. The rest of the cast are all superb as well, and it’s impressive that you create an emotional attachment to some of them in such a short space of time. The villains are maybe a little too campy, but are, for the most part, still very sinister and used effectively to create some tense scenes.

The story itself is a bit lacking, however. The plot described above really is about as deep as it gets, with no huge twists or turns to keep you invested much beyond a desire to keep piling up the bodies. You could argue that this is probably due to the B-movie tone that game tries to create, with its occult plot and stylised title text, but the overall tone in-game never really reflects this. It largely remains serious and po-faced, even with the odd joke thrown in to spice things up, so to pass off the story as silly B-movie fare seems like a cop-out.

Still, what we’re here for is the gunplay, and The Old Blood has it by the bucket full. As in the last game, there’s a mix of stealth and action, with most areas starting off with you trying to take down enemies silently before everything goes pear-shaped and you go out guns blazing. As it’s set back in the ’40s, there’s no futuristic weapons on show, but the pistol, machine gun, shotgun and sniper rifle variants still feel weighty and like they do damage. New to the line-up is a grenade-launching pistol, which proves invaluable against tougher enemies, and a painfully useless double-barrel shotgun that you’ll immediately ignore in favour of dual-wielding the other, bigger shotgun.

Also new is a broken pipe, which replaces the knife as your melee weapon, for the most part. The pipe has several uses, chief of which is letting you climb up certain walls, allowing access to new areas and alternate routes. It’s also used for opening hatches and propping up doors, which handily crowbars in more use of the sliding function that was all but forgotten in the previous game. But all in all, the pipe isn’t that exciting as a new addition, and the climbing sections only really appear to slow down gameplay and break up areas.

To be honest, the majority of your time will be spent crouched with a silenced pistol, with the bigger weapons only coming out when you absolutely have to fight. Stealth is as good as it always was, although the enemies seem to be able to spot you from a mile away and will raise the alarm as soon as they see a flicker of movement, which caused numerous retries as I was adamant I could clear an area without getting spotted. Eventually, however, it became apparent that reinforcements didn’t pose much of a problem, and running straight into the middle of a room with two machine guns blasting away is just as effective if you remember to keep moving and picking up health packs.

If you are looking to just straight-up destroy a ton of Nazis, then the new Challenge mode will be right up your street. As you progress through the game, you unlock maps for the mode, which allows you to go back to that area and focus on murdering as many enemies as you can, with points awarded for headshots and kills in quick succession. The only problem here is that any unlocked perks don’t carry over from the campaign, so you’re stuck as a basic Blazkowicz getting pummelled by a ton of enemies, with almost no end in sight. Survive it with enough points and you can earn shiny virtual medals, with higher difficulty levels allowing you to unlock better medals. It’s an enjoyable diversion from the main game, and will give you something to do once you’ve beaten the campaign, but it’s not likely to hold your attention for too long.

And for you retro-heads, there’s the return of the Nightmare levels, which are now hidden throughout the campaign. It’s a tad strange to be actively seeking out beds for B.J. to nap in, particularly when the stakes are generally quite high and time is of the essence, but I digress. Nightmare sections take you into a Wolfenstein 3D-esque level where you simply need to blast enemies and find the exit. Having never played the older games, I can only assume that this is what you did back in the day, and to be honest it’s not exactly making me want to check out earlier titles. As a brief diversion from the main game it serves its purpose, but don’t expect much more depth than that.

Really, my main problem with The Old Blood is just how shallow it really is. It would be unfair to expect as deep and involving a game as The New Order, but this just feels a bit weak. The tone is never particularly consistent – it’s silly without ever being totally silly, and still tries to crowbar in drama and tension. It just feels like a mishmash of ideas thrown together. At its core it’s still a very fun game, and when it commits to a narrative tone for more than five minutes it works wonderfully but, ultimately, it comes across as a bit wishy-washy.

Graphically the game is exactly the same as the previous one, with a great deal of darkness and shadows to sneak about in. It’s a drab, depressing world, mostly filled with stone buildings and only brief moments of sunshine, but it’s still beautifully detailed and a real treat for the eyes. There are some weirdly jarring cutscenes done from a first-person perspective that serve purely as bookends for levels, which don’t really add anything and just change the visuals to being slightly blurry for about ten seconds before reverting to normal, which makes you wonder why they didn’t just use the in-game engine to show them, but that’s maybe being a little picky. It’s a well-constructed, well-animated world that presents itself beautifully and feels almost completely believable, if you ignore the gigantic cyborg dogs and so on.

The music in The Old Blood is really quite underwhelming, though it’s possible we were spoilt by the German versions of classic pop songs in the alternate history of The New Order. Instead, there’s just the usual tense, orchestral score driving the game along which builds up and quiets down in all the appropriate places. The voice acting, however, is absolutely top notch, with B.J.’s newfound humour delivered perfectly, the various villains switching seamlessly between German and English, and not a poorly delivered line to be heard. The cast all do a wonderful job, and it’s almost worth buying just to hear the various monologues delivered throughout.

Hell, it’s worth buying full stop. There are some problems with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, and some of the new additions really don’t change things all that much, but is that really such a bad thing? At its core it’s still a very good shooter, delivered to an incredibly high standard for what is essentially just a throwaway game. It’ll take about four to six hours to beat the campaign, potentially longer if you’re interested in seeking out all the collectibles, and there’s always the Challenge mode if your trigger finger is still itchy. And it’s ultimately quite a shallow experience that never hits the emotional depths of The New Order, nor commits wholly to its rather ridiculous plot. But if you’re looking for a fun way to kill some time, and kill a shedload of Nazis, you really cannot go wrong here.

  • Tense stealth sections and fun, action-packed shootouts keep things running at a brisk pace
  • Visually stunning, with beautiful environments and horrifying enemies
  • A stellar cast of voice actors who deliver every line brilliantly
  • A much needed injection of overt humour to break from the bleakness of the last game
  • New weapons don't actually add much, and the pipe is annoyingly obvious in its pace-slowing purpose
  • Extra modes are fun for five minutes, but are unlikely to keep you hooked
  • Inconsistent tone that never really commits to drama or comedy

I went into Wolfenstein: The Old Blood expecting a schlocky, B-movie style game, and came away thoroughly impressed. It never quite hits the right notes for a B-movie game, instead sticking to its dramatic flourishes presented in The New Order, but it still manages to be an extremely fun, short, wonderful game that is well worth a look. The new additions don't make all that much of a difference, but if you were just looking for more of the same in a different location, then you should definitely pick it up.

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