Wolfenstein: Youngblood Is A Chaotic But Compromised Co-Op Shooter
Words: Mike Diver
You’re a teenager. Your dad’s out of town. What do you do? For most of us in such a situation, it means party time: work out some way to get mum out of the house, assuming mum’s still around; get some mates over with whatever booze they can nick off their folks or pick up from the corner shop that has a super flexible policy of checking IDs; and then desperately regret the whole thing a few hours later when gran’s ashes are inside the big lad who’s a second cousin of your old primary school bestie but simply had to come, otherwise his hives would flare up. Apparently.
This is not the attitude of the Blazkowicz twins, however. When slang-slinging teens Jess and Soph learn that their dad – BJ Blazkowicz, the protagonist of 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order and its 2017 sequel The New Colossus (and several Wolfenstein series titles before this sorta-reboot timeline started) – has fallen off the radar in the Nazi-occupied Neu-Paris of 1980, they immediately head across the Atlantic alongside their friend Abby, the States having already been salved of Nazi scum, to rescue him.
The trio runs into ‘Allo ‘Allo-accented resistance forces, holed up in the skulls-everywhere Paris catacombs, and they work together to both grind down France’s oppressors and get their pops back home. Abby’s a regular presence on the radio while you’re exploring overground, and every so often the resistance leader, Juju (aka the Blackbird), will call through to let you know you’re doing a great job. Cheers, I guess.
While The New Order and Colossus had heavyweight stories, albeit pulpy ones outside of the occasional emotional heave, Youngblood is a lot more streamlined: murder Nazis, get dad, help the French out where you can. It does the job, but don’t expect your heartstrings to be plucked at any time, even when the inevitable twist in the tale reveals itself.
The supporting cast never impresses as it does in this game’s bigger predecessors, even in the late game, but you’ll nevertheless get a kick – not to mention essential experience and upgrade-essential points – out of rescuing AWOL resistance members, Parisians lined up to be executed, and ticking off a variety of side missions and organic-feeling mid-mission extras. With these, Abby will call you while you’re doing something else, asking you to plant a bomb, or retrieve some information. It’s optional stuff, but completion throws more points into the experience bucket.
What could feel like padding never does, thanks to the fun of rushing around Nazi-occupied Paris of the early 1980s, full as it is of towering monolithic structures – three of these, the ‘Brothers’, must be taken as part of the main story – sky-piercing zeppelins and once-cute cafes and boutiques now smashed by fascist dickheads.
Youngblood’s setting is one of its greatest strengths, and each small open-world-ish area that you explore, zipping between them using the Metro, quickly reveals itself as a maze of secret passages, hidden chambers and resistance intel. And, naturally, there’s always a steady flow of Nazis to murder.
Combat is, much like The New Order and The New Colossus, as challenging as you want it to be. Setting Youngblood on a medium difficulty will present significant obstacles, and even dialing it down to easy can still put you in a pickle or two if you run into enemies that out-level you (yes, there’s a little RPG-ness to this game – opponents that are too tough to take on appear with little skulls above them, indicating they’re likely to kill you, not vice-versa).
It’s a little easier when you’ve a reliable human partner to play with, voice communication a must. Youngblood is engineered as a two-player experience, albeit online only rather than split-screen, and your AI-controlled sister isn’t always reliable when it comes to positioning, putting herself in the line of fire, and coming to save your butt when you’re dying on the ground.
The sisters share lives, and when three lives are gone, that’s game over (extra ones can be picked up from crates that require both sisters to open). Get your health reduced to zero, and your sister can revive you (and the same works the other way around, with you saving her) – and there’s a useful perk, too, that can be used from the beginning of the game, granting you an extra 50 health points during battle (subject to a cool-down period).
But there were a few times, pressing A to call Jess, that I bled out before she reached me. Not a deal-breaker, but if you’re approaching Youngblood solo, be prepared for the occasional AI gripe.
Your sister of choice, and her arsenal, can be upgraded as you play – weapons boosted by spending coins found across each part of Paris, and health and armour stats, as well as abilities like dual-wielding, by spending experience points.
It’s an unusual system that’s easy to forget about, as guns have to be upgraded for you to really dish out meaningful damage to the harder enemies. But little pop-ups appear on screen every so often, encouraging you to dip into the menu to tinker with your firearms. And it’s safest to do this in the catacombs, as out in the streets of Paris Nazis can attack even while your game is ‘paused’.
As you’d expect of a game co-developed by Dishonored makers Arkane Studios, alongside MachineGames, there are stealth options to Youngblood. Your sister can start the game with a cloaking device, that turns her invisible (thanks to a super suit sort of thing that both of them wear) for a limited period of time.
Initially, this can only be used when sneaking around, crouched down; but it can be upgraded to allow for sprinting while hidden from the enemy, allowing for some fun close-quarter takedowns. There’s little as satisfying in Youngblood as burying a hatchet into the skull of a Nazi who had no idea you were in their shadow. This is how I took on the entire first ‘level’, and it was a thrilling way to play.
That said, there are other moments where you’ll wish that the sisters had stayed home and partied. Youngblood aims high – as high as the games that came before it – and can’t achieve its every ambition. The RPG elements are kind of confusing, and there’s a degree of grinding necessary to level up before you begin to tick off certain main story missions. Environments are supremely detailed and full of traversal options from sewers to rooftops, but while they never became negatively familiar to me, I can see how repeat visits might become tiresome for other players.
Youngblood is priced lower than its main-series predecessors, but feels more substantial than the spin-off prequel of The Old Blood. But its asking price is indicative of a slightly less-satisfying experience, overall. The stealth that is here cannot be maintained, as alarms inevitably start blaring however hushed your stabby-stabby actions – which is disappointing, given how amazing it feels to silently decimate the enemy ranks.
Gunplay is expectedly frenetic, but due to every enemy having a level attached to them – and armour to chip away, which determines which firearm to use – you can pop off half a dozen headshots and still have a relatively ordinary officer coming at you with their own gun blazing. Heavy, ‘tank’-like soldiers are the purest bullet sponges, and their regular appearances soon transition from welcome challenges to annoyances.
It’s no low point for its series, at all, as there’s plenty to love about Youngblood, from its setting to the ‘dude’-like banter between the sisters and the potential for human-player co-op mischief. But don’t go into this expecting another New Colossus, otherwise you’re sure to come out the other side of some Nazi slaughtering feeling decidedly underwhelmed.