Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Review – The Lesser Evil

Posted May 10, 2015 by Sean Mesler in Video Games

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

Developed by: MachineGames

Published by: Bethesda Softworks

Available for: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, Windows PC

MSRP: $20

Last year, MachineGames and Bethesda Softworks scored a sleeper hit with their update on the classic Wolfenstein, with Wolfenstein: The New Order. Blending new mechanics, graphics, and good storytelling with decidedly old-school gameplay, it wound up being one my favorite games of the year.

Just under a year later, MachineGames has released a stand-alone, digital-only prequel, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. Sticking mostly with the formula from the first game, while adding in some new wrinkles, The Old Blood is a worthy follow up, even if it lacks some of the things that made The New Order such a pleasant surprise.

The story takes plays days before the initial events of The New Order and follows B.J. Blazkowicz as he attempts to infiltrate Castle Wolfenstein to retrieve information regarding the location of General William “Deathshead” Strasse’s compound. The location of the compound is in the charge of Nazi archeologist Helga Von Schabbs, who is in command of the castle. Naturally, things don’t go as planned, so Blazkowicz has to employ stealth and full-on bloody assault to escape the castle and pursue Von Schabbs, who has nefarious plans of her own. Unfortunately, Deathshead “appears” in name only, as this is really about getting to Von Schabbs to kick off the events in The New Order.

It’s fairly straightforward, and due to the shorter experience, the narrative suffers as most of the slower, character moments of the previous game have been stripped away. None of the supporting characters are around long enough for their respective fates to illicit an emotional response. It even retreads some beats from the first game with much less success–mostly because the writing just isn’t as sharp, and because Helga Von Schabbs is no Irene Engel, whom Blazkowicz faces off with through most of The New Order. The game also lacks the giddy, out-of-left-field sci-fi heights of The New Order. Despite its best attempts to incorporate aspects and tropes of the horror genre, it doesn’t have the intended impact, mostly because it lacks any explanation or even an attempt to offer one, and it’s also fairly rote. I will say that Blazkowicz seems to have more personality and a sense of humor this time, and that is refreshing.

Castle Wolfenstein

Without the well-written story and memorable characters, The Old Blood has to rely on gameplay. Thankfully, if you enjoyed the shooting and surrounding mechanics from the previous game, you’ll find much to enjoy here. It still feels great, offering the palpable, visceral thrill of gibbing the Hell out of Nazis with gleeful aplomb. As this is a prequel, weapons/tools like the LaserKraftWerk are understandably absent. The Old Blood works around this by giving B.J. a drainage pipe which can be used to pry open vents and doors or split apart into climbing sticks for specific walls. Yeah, it’s not nearly as cool as the LaserKraftWerk, but I do appreciate the time-appropriate workaround. The Old Blood takes place days before the beginning of The New Order, after all. The game also throws a few new elements into the mix, especially in the early portion of the game where stealth is mandatory. Using levers to shut down hulking electric-powered enemies so they can be stealth killed is immensely satisfying and tense, given the timing required to execute the two-tiered attack.

Level design is the first thing that takes a noticeable hit. Far more linear in execution, especially in the first half of the game, levels lack the verticality of The New Order’s combat arenas while also feeling smaller in scope. Each encounter feels good, but never achieves greatness, which I feel permeated the entirety of The New Order. Taken on its own merits, however, it’s still a lot of fun to use cover, stealth, and a decent array of weapons against waves of Nazis.

The second half of the game takes a weird turn that will either please players for its randomness or make them shake their head in disappointment. I fall somewhere in between. On one hand, I do appreciate the sudden appearance of horror elements being inserted midway; on the other hand, the new, scary enemies don’t really offer much after their initial surprise reveal, as they’re a fairly common enemy in video games these days. I won’t spoil what they are because I was genuinely surprised when I first encountered them, but I will say that it’s interesting and fun to watch them turn against the Nazi’s as well. They create some very dynamic situations.

The second half of the game also opens up more in terms of areas and level design. It even comes close to leaving me as impressed as I was with The New Order’s approach. There are more paths to take, and there are more options in how you tackle encounters. As a big fan of the way MachineGames handle stealth, that is always my first option. Taking down all of the enemies without being seen is immensely satisfying.

Gibfest The Old Blood

I should mention that I played The Old Blood on Über just as I did with The New Order, and I can say that, for the most part, the difficulty is on par with my previous experience. However, there are a few sections in the game that feel like an exercise in masochism. One particular area has you fighting a large group of enemies, two mini-bosses, and a final group of enemies all in a row. Poor bullet management and a bad checkpoint left me stuck in a Groundhog Day-like loop of trial and fatal error, so I had to restart the level.

There are a couple of true boss fights in the game that offer a significant challenge but also require some guesswork and experimentation to get past. The first boss is a pretty good in-world encounter that allows you to employ a variety of tactics used to fell other enemies and feels intelligently designed. The second (and final) boss, however, comes so far out of left field that I felt like I was in a different game altogether. Neither good nor bad, per se, but it truly makes for a head-scratching addition to the already weird goings on. This boss is fairly simple once you figure out the pattern, but I will worn you: It suffers from my least favorite boss design decision ever–minions. You know, where during certain moments in a boss encounter, you not only have to deal with the boss itself, but other enemies as well? It feels like it’s fabricating the difficulty for the sake of it, rather than truly letting good design shine through. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so if that doesn’t bother you, you’ll be fine.

As with The New Order, there are plenty of collectables and perks to be unlocked and discovered, either through exploration or through killing enemies and reaching the criteria set forth by the game. None of the requirements for the perks are obscure, and they provide a counter for you to track your progress. Pro-tip: getting to Health Upgrade III and Armor Upgrade II as quickly as possible will help immensely on the higher difficulties.

Oh the Humanity The Old Blood

Once I wrapped up the game, I took on the newly added “Challenge Maps.” These maps are basically the exact same scenarios in the game only with point multipliers added in. I stayed up for hours trying to beat one in particular, getting within mere points of the gold medal. They offer a ton of replay value and come with their own leaderboard. And since the combat is so fun and visceral, I can see myself playing this for a decent amount of time trying to better my score. The game also has “Nightmare” sections in every chapter which require Blazkowicz to take a nap at certain areas. Once resting, Blazkowicz is transported into the old school, pixelated Wolfenstein. It’s a fun diversion and a great juxtaposition to how far we have come in terms of video games–narrative, graphics, sound design. It also shows how well MachineGames pulled off having essence of the original games in  a prettier, deeper experience.

While the combat scenarios and production value are on par with Wolfenstein: The New Order, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is still a lesser game. From the level design to the writing to the climax, everything feels like it was made by the B-team, and the overall product suffers for it. Perhaps it’s lacking the surprise factor or expectations set forth by the previous game; because while The Old Blood is good, it only glimpses greatness. It gets by on how fun it is to play and the amount of content and replay value for the cost, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan or are even remotely curious about the series on current gen consoles.

A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

About the Author

Sean Mesler

Sean is a semi-retired hardcore kid, semi-grown up and transplanted from his original home of New York to Los Angeles. A lover and critic of movies, music and video games, Sean is always quick with an opinion, a heaping dose of snark, and a healthy dose of pragmatism. PSN & Live Gamertag: N2NOther