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When Youngblood was announced, I was super excited and pre-ordered it as soon as I could. I’ve really enjoyed these latest entries, including Wolfenstein II. That’s right, I like Wolfenstein II. It’s not perfect but you get to kill Nazis and that’s what this has all been about. Killing Nazis. I’ve also enjoyed how MachineGames has developed the iconic B.J. Blazkowicz into more than just a Nazi killing machine. Now he’s a humanized Nazi killing machine. Developed by MachineGames with assistance from Arkane Studios, and published by Bethesda Softworks, Wolfenstein: Youngblood was released for PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in July, 2019. One of the main draws of Youngblood is coop and for this review, I played through the PC version solo and teamed up with Jeremy in the Switch version. The game’s Deluxe Edition includes a Buddy Pass which enables a player who doesn’t own the game to download it and play it with you. Unfortunately, the physical Switch version doesn’t actually come with a cartridge. Only a download code so you may want to keep that in mind.
The story is primarily set in 1980. Most of the world has been liberated from Nazi control and B.J. and Anya have raised two twin daughters, Jessica and Sophia. When B.J. disappears, the sisters and their friend Abby, Grace Walker’s daughter, go after him and meet up with the French Resistance in Nazi occupied Neu-Paris. That’s basically the gist of it. And of course, they get to kill a shit-ton of Nazis along the way. There’s several major cut scenes peppered throughout the campaign that actually progress the story and other than the sisters and their friend Abby, there’s not many new important characters introduced here. You will see some familiar faces and the voice acting is excellent. Brian Bloom reprises his role as B.J. and does a great job. Valerie Lohman and Shelby Young voice Jess and Soph respectively and I enjoyed their performances. Their banter is often humorous and they remind me of Beavis and Butt-Head except they’re girls. Sadly, they don’t rock any awesome band t-shirts.
You get to play as either Jess or Soph and they both play exactly the same. Before you jump into the action, you have to choose your character, starting ability or skill, pep signal, starting weapons, suit appearance, and helmet. It doesn’t matter which ones you select since you can acquire everything as you progress through the game. Both girls can walk, run, sprint, crouch, slide, jump, lean left and right, perform a melee attack, perform takedowns, tag enemies, and whip out their flashlights to see in dark areas. They’re equipped with power suits which allows them to power jump or in other words double-jump. The movement and jumping does feel fluid which does help to enhance the gunplay. Pep signals are gestures your character can perform, resulting in a boost of some sort for you and the other sister. These boosts include things like granting health and armor, brief invulnerability, damage increase, and other things along those lines. Pep signals can be lifesavers or just help you during battles and it’s best if each character has a different one. You can replenish your health and armor from health packs, food, and armor items found throughout the environments. When a sister falls in combat, the other has to revive her before she bleeds out. If she bleeds out, both sisters lose a shared life. You get three shared lives and if you lose them all, you’ll have to start over from the beginning of the map which can mean you may have to trek quite a distance to get back to where you were. Shared Life crates grant you lives and are not hard to come by. These crates, along with many other things, require both sisters to be opened. The girls need to interact with things together in order to progress.
As you kill Nazis and complete missions, you’ll gain experience. Earn enough experience and you level up and each level increases how much damage you inflict. Leveling up also grants you an ability point. Ability points can be spent to unlock new abilities or skills. You start the game with either Crush or Cloak. Crush allows you to sprint into enemies and break objects and Cloak lets you turn invisible until your energy is drained. Whichever one you start with, you can acquire the other later on. Skills are split up into three categories – Mind, Muscle, and Power – and they all prove to be beneficial. You will start out feeling pretty weak but as you progress through the game and level up, you’ll become more powerful and I always felt like I was getting stronger. By the end of the game, I was obliterating Nazis without too much of a problem. Enemies do level up with you and any enemy with a skull above their head instead of a number means they’re too high of a level for you and can take you down easily. As you level up and progress, you’ll engage higher ranked enemies and the higher the rank, the tougher they are.
You’ll get to wield a few weapons at the start of the game and acquire more as you progress and if you unlock the appropriate skills, you can carry and store all of the heavy weapons that are dropped by fallen enemies or found in the environments. If you enjoyed the gunplay in the previous two games, you’ll probably enjoy it here. You can acquire and throw grenades which can be helpful and the more interesting weapons are the most devastating ones. These include the Laserkraftwerk, Deiselkraftwerk, and Elektrokraftwerk. The Laserkraftwerk is a laser weapon, the Deiselkraftwerk is basically a sticky grenade launcher, and the Elektrokraftwerk fires multiple arcs of electricity. As you use a weapon, you’ll increase its mastery level and every time it reaches a new level, it can deal more damage. All of the weapons feel satisfying to use and they can be upgraded with attachments and improved parts that do affect their performance. To upgrade a weapon, you need silver coins. Silver coins can be found everywhere and will be dropped by fallen enemies along with ammo. Silver coins can also be spent to unlock new pep signals and skins. However, many skins also require the appropriate amount of gold bars and that’s where microtransactions come in. You buy gold bars with real money.
The Catacombs is the hideout where you can interact with NPC’s, acquire missions, and travel to any of the game’s locations. As long as you’re not in combat and you’ve unlocked the metro for the particular area, you can fast-travel back to the Catacombs. The game does allow you to engage enemies quietly or go in all-guns-blazing. I found that being stealthy in the beginning of the game was more tedious than enjoyable but once I acquired the skills to move freely while cloaked and move faster while crouched, it was a lot more fun. If you’re spotted, an alarm will go off which means reinforcements are deployed. If there’s a Commander in the area, tougher reinforcements will be deployed. Almost every enemy in this game is a bullet sponge which can become tiring and we frequently witnessed them actually spawning in which can be immersion-breaking. There’s going to be times where it seems like enemies are spawning behind you or are at least coming from somewhere behind you so you always want to be alert. Enemies do have weak points and many have protective barriers which is basically armor. There’s hard and soft barriers and certain weapons are better against the different types. You’ll have to engage Supersoldiers which are big tough types that wield heavy weapons, Panzerhunds, robot Nazis which are quick and can cling to walls, drones, and exploding dogs, among other different types. If you’re not a high enough level, you need to watch out for the giant mechanical enemies. They’ll destroy you. The enemy variety is decent but you’ll probably see all variety there is before you reach the half-way point. Supersoldiers seem to be everywhere. I got tired of them after a while and they can be a real nuisance in the beginning of the game. Enemies do respawn in areas which I actually don’t mind because shooting Nazis is how you level up and I enjoyed the sense of progression. The enemy AI is not very bright. They either patrol around or just gun for you. They occasionally take cover but I never saw them do anything sophisticated. The friendly AI, on the other hand, I found to be rather good. Your sister will shoot at and kill enemies, revive you when you’re down, and activate her pep signal frequently.
The environmental variety in Youngblood is lacking. You’ll be travelling to the same handful of locations frequently and many areas look similar. You’ll traverse through several urban areas, numerous buildings, and the underground which is a sprawling network of sewers, tunnels, and Nazi bunkers. The Underground is dark so a flashlight will prove to be useful and I found the battles that take place here to be fun and somewhat tense because of the darkness. The level design is actually pretty good. A little confusing at times, but good overall. I like how the environments are basically open and encourage exploration thanks to plenty of branching paths, rooms, and areas. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out how to get to a certain location. For example, an objective marker may appear to be right around the corner or on the other side of a building or wall and you have to go some roundabout way to get there. There are shortcuts you can find and you’ll need certain weapons to gain access to certain areas. Even if I was in an area multiple times already, I would still struggle figuring out where to go. What the game really needs is a map to reference. You can reference your radar/mini-map but there’s no maps of the areas. There’s numerous collectibles to find like readables, concept art, cassette tapes, and more. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for floppy disks. These disks need to be decoded at terminals and reveal a code which will grant you access to something like doors to new areas, access to specific crates, or a code to power down drone dispensers. You’ll have to watch out for hazards like explosive objects which can be used to your advantage and auto turrets which can be relentless.
Youngblood comes with multiple difficulty modes and on Normal, the game can pose a decent challenge. In all honesty, playing this with a buddy is the best way to experience the game, if only because you get to kill Nazis with a friend, but it’s still an enjoyable single player shooter. Other than making sure you’re both not under heavy fire and draining through health, I can’t say there’s any need to communicate any type of strategy, especially since the enemy AI isn’t very bright. Once an alarm goes off, they all know where you both are and then it’s just shoot to kill. In fact, most of the game is basically shoot-to-kill but you may want to sneak up on them if you can. I would say falling during combat is the only major reason you would want to communicate. Your radar/mini-map shows you where enemies are and you won’t be able to get too far without the other sister because most doors require both sisters to be opened. There’s plenty of missions to complete and most of them can be completed whenever. Most objectives have you going from point A to B and doing something specific like interacting with something, killing an enemy, or retrieving an item. In the Catacombs, you can talk to Abby who will let you activate daily and weekly challenges which are just basic tasks that reward you with experience and silver coins upon completion. As you work your way towards an objective, Abby will contact you with actions that can be completed. These are optional bonus objectives like planting a bomb on a car, rescuing civilians, or killing a specific enemy, among other things. You are rewarded for completing these and you don’t need to worry if you miss one because complete it or not, it will come up again.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood looks excellent. Even the Switch version which is noticeably downgraded compared to the PC version looks quite impressive. The game has plenty of color, the textures are sharp and crisp on PC, animations are solid, and there’s a lot of detail packed into everything. The outdoor environments are full of vehicles, dead bodies, garbage, debris, and rubble. You have full body awareness. Parts of the environments will break apart from gunfire. The particle effects are excellent and explosions look glorious and leave behind clouds of smoke. Headshots look brutal and the more devastating firepower can turn enemies into bloody chunks. The Elektrokraftwerk will not only electrocute enemies but also set them on fire which is awesome and satisfying. Blood will splatter during combat, pools of blood will form under dead bodies, and the takedown executions certainly look painful. The visual and gore effects help to enhance the gunplay, making killing Nazis a very satisfying experience, and it looks and feels great. The Switch version is not quite as crisp and looks much blurrier overall. There’s also a lot of noticeable pop-in in this version. But we think it looks excellent for the hardware it’s running on and the upside is you can play it on-the-go. The music is alright. There are some tunes that certainly sound like they came out of the eighties but I can’t say the audiovisual presentation give off that stereotypical eighties style and vibe. Although, if you really want to get into it, the game takes place literally at the start of that era and this an alternate universe. The tone feels different than that of its predecessors but that’s to be expected due to the different protagonists and time period. With that said, the game does feel like it fits into a future version of the world or universe MachineGames has created. So that’s pretty cool. The sound effects compliment the action nicely with satisfying weapons fire, booming explosions, and Nazis speaking and shouting in German. On the technical side, I had a very smooth experience playing through the game on PC. I think I encountered one or two frame rate dips and I saw an enemy go through a wall but I didn’t encounter any major problems. The Switch version struggles to maintain the thirty frames it’s aiming for and noticeably dips when there’s a lot of action on-screen. Jeremy and I played through the game together in the same location, with our Switches docked, connected to the internet via wire, and on the same network switch. It’s a shame the game doesn’t support LAN. Anyway, the player who wasn’t hosting appeared jittery, we lost our connection a couple of times, the game sometimes crashed on us, and Jeremy briefly lost sound effects at one point. Also, the load times are significantly longer on Switch.
Ultimately, we had a great time with Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Does it have problems? Absolutely. It can certainly feel repetitive, most of the enemies are more or less bullet sponges, and the game feels more like a beefy expansion than anything else which I believe is how this started anyway. And it sells for less than sixty bucks. I beat the main story and seventy percent of the side missions in about eleven hours and that was my solo playthrough. In our coop playthrough, it took us around nine hours and thirty minutes to beat the story and about forty percent of the side missions. There is a decent amount of content to keep you occupied, I enjoy the sense of progression, and the replay value is high. Wolfenstein is all about killing Nazis and while I do enjoy these latest story-driven entries, Youngblood feels like a nice change of pace. It lets you enjoy the combat and gunplay without the plot getting in the way. Sometimes I just want to fuck up some Nazis and that’s exactly what this lets you do and you can do it with a friend. More weapons, environments, and enemy variety would have been nice but I feel like this is the most replayable entry as far as the MachineGames titles go. Even after you beat the story, you can still revisit each location, maybe you want to try and find the rest of the collectibles, you can still level up, collect more silver coins, and work towards buying all the upgrades and/or unlocking all the abilities.
I would absolutely recommend Wolfenstein: Youngblood to fans of the series or shooters in general. It’s a fun shooter that be enjoyed with a friend. It poses a decent challenge, the replay value is high, the environments give you plenty of reasons to explore, and the gunplay is fun and satisfying. I would only recommend the Switch version if you don’t have the other consoles, a powerful enough PC, or just love the idea of playing it on-the-go. The Switch version is certainly enjoyable but the experience isn’t as smooth as the others. If you’re hoping for another story-driven Wolfenstein experience, you’ll have to wait for the next major release because Youngblood is all about killing Nazis and having a good time while doing it.