After MachineGames successfully rebooted the Wolfenstein franchise with the excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order it was a surprise to see a follow up arrive only a year later. Originally a download only title (I picked up the disc version), Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a prequel game that sends hero BJ Blazkowicz deep into enemy territory again to face off against the Nazi hordes during an alternate history version of World War II.
Broken up into two parts, the first is almost a call back to the first episode of Wolfenstein 3D as you’re tasked with escaping from captivity and rescuing your colleague. The second part takes a decidedly supernatural turn as BJ returns to his original mission to retrieve secret documents being used for nefarious purposes.
Playing through the game makes it pretty clear that these parts were intended to be treated as entirely separate episodes. Part one has a strong focus on stealth, much more than you’d expect from a shooter while the final part is all zombie survival with guns blazing and pipes swinging. In the game’s favour is that each episode lasts only a few hours so neither part’s gameplay styles wear out their welcome before they are done.
Even at the default difficulty (“Bring it On!”) the beginning of the game can be quite a challenge as you come to terms with your character’s strengths and weaknesses. As this is a game that is NEVER afraid to throw copious amounts of enemies and bullets in your general direction you quickly realise that BJ is no bullet sponge and that you’re going to need to be nimble in every gunfight. That can be intimidating at first as you are likely to fail often but once you begin to accrue an arsenal of weapons the balance shifts enough for you to feel like you are on equal terms with many of the foes you face.
For a game that encourages so much gunplay, there’s a surprising amount of opportunities for stealth, especially in the first part. Like in The New Order you have the opportunity to take out commanders in some levels which will prevent alarms from being triggered and stop you being swamped by soldiers. You can also sneak up on sleeping attack dogs before they charge after you which is always worth doing – in the middle of a fight dogs can lose you precious seconds and health when you need it.
If there is one aspect of the game that disappoints is that the narrative is not as deep as The New Order. It feels like a couple of short stories joined together in comparison to the previous game’s very heavy story and extended cinematics but it’s also worth saying that very few games could compare to what that game accomplished. The game is not afraid to call back to the original source material with some humour either – finding beds throughout the maps will allow BJ to have “nightmares” from back in the pre-polygon days…
Ultimately a game like this comes down to the gunplay and the game truly delivers in that respect. The guns themselves are front and centre in your field of view and deliver some serious punishment to anything that gets in the way. The amount of ammunition you are able to carry is limited and is clearly aimed at limiting the long term effectiveness of the more powerful weapons but the balance is good and encourages you to switch often and conserve the heavy hitters for when you really need them. In addition if the player completes certain objectives while playing, perks unlock that grant bonuses such as extra health or ammo capacities and its certainly an incentive to work through those. I’d guess most players will have a good chance to unlock most of them in a single play through.
If you approach it as a budget title, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a great way to be introduced to the alternate future world created by Machine Games and should lead you nicely into the more substantial content of The New Order. That it doesn’t repeat any of the content from that game lets it stand on its own merits and also means players aren’t going to feel short-changed if they eventually buy both. If you have a preference for single player shooters and are tired of the recent crop of titles with their future tech military themes this might just be perfect for you.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is out now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Reviewed on Xbox One. The next game in the series, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus arrives on October 27.