Wolfenstein YoungbloodStars (of 4): 3Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PCRating: Mature
B.J. Blazkowicz found a second life thanks to MachineGames. The iconic hero of the “Wolfenstein” series was revitalized under the developer’s watch as the team brought a new vision with an alternate history — in which the Nazis take over the world.
The story line shifted the narrative away from B.J. Blazkowicz being a one-man army and changed him into a leader of resistance fighters. Not wanting to be complacent, the team took a new route for its third entry of the series with help from Arkane Studios, which moved B.J. Blazkowicz to the background and brought his daughters to the forefront.
By doing that, “Wolfenstein: Youngblood” further evolves the franchise with the introduction of multiplayer. The co-op game lets players choose to take on the role of Jessie or Zofia Blazkowicz, twin sisters who travel to France in search of their missing father. Helped by their childhood friend, Abby, the duo dons power suits and raise hell in Paris.
They join the underground resistance led by Juju Desjardins and help out the ragtag group. It’s a formula that will be familiar to fans as the sisters tackle missions from different members of the movement. The main goal, though, is for the twins to infiltrate and hack the main computers of three massive facilities called Brothers and unlock the location to Lab X.
In addition, players can tackle side missions and that makes the campaign more open-ended. The format goes hand in hand with the massive urban zones that MachineGames and Arkane Studios created. They are filled with vents, second-story windows and underground entrances that offer several solutions to problems that the twins come across.
Using the abilities of the power suits, they can double-jump and reach a balcony. The siblings can use their cloaking ability to sneak past foes. When one sister loses all her health, the other can heal her back up. Although Jes and Soph are powerful, “Wolfenstein Youngblood” is balanced so that they can’t just steamroll the Nazis.
One example of the challenge comes in the fact that two players have three lives to share between them. If they lose all three, they must start the level over. Elsewhere, enemies have shields that require players to fire at them with specific weapons. It’s a clumsy mechanic, but it forces players to be proficient with a wide array of guns.
This makes the learning curve steep initially. The first missions can be a roadblock for players, especially if they rely on a computer-controlled partner. Fortunately, “Wolfenstein Youngblood” becomes easier as players defeat Nazis, complete missions and level up. They earn upgrade points and silver coins that increase the abilities of their Blazkowicz sister.
They can boost a hero’s health and armor, increasing their chances of survival. They can give the hero the strength to handle dual wield weapons or knock down enemies by charging at them. On the offensive end, they can discover more powerful weapons like the lasergewehr during the campaign and upgrade the arsenal they have using silver coins.
In many ways, the setup reminds me of “Tom Clancy’s The Division.” Players will grind through missions leveling up their heroes and also enter some of the same neighborhoods to tackle side missions that come from inhabitants of the Catacombs Resistance base. They will also fight enemies that have respawned each time they visit an area.
For these challenges, players will rely heavily on their co-op partner, and this presents issues with “Wolfenstein Youngblood.” When players find a great ally, the game shows its potential as the second person introduces new tactics. One person can cause a distraction while the other flanks the Nazis from behind. Underground, one person may need to light the way so that enemies can be visible in the darkened tunnels.
Unfortunately, the co-op experience cuts both ways. If they’re stuck with a bad partner, it can be an exercise in frustration, and it’s best to play with an AI ally, although that in itself may present issues, too, because the computer-controlled sister may not always be helpful and sometimes it will outright ignore requests for help.
The co-op experience also clashes with the style of the campaign. The past few “Wolfenstein” titles pushed players to take a deliberate approach. It was a game in which players read and searched for collectibles. “Youngblood” has the same elements, but that often holds up an experience in which the partner player wants to move on to the next challenge. If players want to read all the text and sink their teeth into the atmosphere of this alternate version of Paris, it’s best to play with the AI.
Despite those flaws, “Wolfenstein Youngblood” still has a good core and a likable set of heroes. The Blazkowicz sisters are tomboys and have a wide-eyed wonder to the violent situations they encounter. They take it all in stride in an adventure that echoes 1980s flicks like “They Live” with a plot twist that can be foreseen.
It’s an interesting co-op experiment that shows how the series has one foot in the recent past and one pointed toward a compelling future.