Wolfenstein: Youngblood Hands-On Impressions: Shotgun Sister Uncertainty
I’m a big fan of MachineGames’ recent Wolfenstein titles and their unique brand of hard-hitting, story-driven FPS action, and yet, I’ve been a bit apprehensive about Wolfenstein: Youngblood. While the past couple of Wolfenstein games were strictly single-player adventures, Youngblood adds a co-op element with players taking control of B.J. Blazkowicz’ daughters Jess and Soph. The game is also co-developed by Dishonored creators Arkane Studios, and will reportedly have a less linear, more exploratory feel, which I’d usually be all for! But I’m not sure that's what I want from Wolfenstein.
Well, I got a chance to try out Wolfenstein: Youngblood at E3 2019, and my fears were largely, but not completely, allayed. The E3 demo began with Jess and Soph battling through the cramped quarters of a Nazi airship, in order to take out a Nazi general named Winkler. Once the boss and airship were taken out, me and my partner blasted our way through a short series of heavily-guarded streets and alleyways on the way to the Paris Catacombs, which will serve as your home base in the game.
The demo began with a loadout screen, a rather odd sight in a Wolfenstein game, which have traditionally focus on stripped-down, immersive action. I honestly didn’t spend much time fiddling with it once I made sure I had a shotgun to properly liquify Nazis with, but it does appear Youngblood will feature a certain amount of character building and customization, which makes sense. Unlike the past two single-player Wolfenstein games, somebody will actually be able to see you in Youngblood, so you ought to look cool.
So, the good news – shooting still feels great in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Controls are spot on and the game’s sound design is terrific, with ever machinegun or shotgun blast firing off with a resounding crack or boom. Youngblood isn’t a cutting edge visual showcase, but it moves at a silky-smooth pace and the action is as visceral and bloody as you could hope for.
Ah, but there’s bad news as well. In order to accommodate two players firing twice the bullets, enemies now have life bars, and some are definitely a bit bullet-spongey. Granted, there are still rank-and-file soldiers you can satisfyingly splatter with just a shot or two, but there are also lots of super soldier types that can absorb entire clips without going down. The idea, I think, is for players to team up on these tougher enemies, as they have weak spots on their backsides that are difficult to reach without help. That’s fine in theory, but I would often get separated from my partner and have to tackle these big baddies on my own, which could be a drag. Perhaps this will be less of an issue once I’m playing with somebody I know. Of course, the game can also be played solo with an AI partner, but I didn't get to experience that.
Speaking of teamwork, Wolfenstein: Youngblood’s co-op mechanics are fairly straightforward based on what I’ve seen. Players will occasionally have to team up to open doors or crates and can revive each other, which is important, as you both share a pool of three lives. Youngblood’s best co-op idea are its “Pep Signals,” which allows you go give your partner an instant boost by flashing them an emote. Shoot your sis a thumbs up or devil horns in order to boost her health or armor. Not exactly game-changing, but a cute idea, nonetheless. It may sound like I’m down on Youngblood’s co-op mechanics, and I was a little surprised by their simplicity given Arkane’s involvement, but mowing down Nazis with somebody else is just inherently fun. Again, I was playing with a stranger, and we were chattering, strategizing, and complimenting each other on particularly gruesome kills in no time. I imagine Youngblood will be an even better time with a good buddy or loved one by your side.
Unfortunately, my time with Wolfenstein: Youngblood was as much remarkable for what I didn’t see, as what I did. The demo ends when you reach the Paris Catacombs, which, according to the MachineGames dev on hand during my demo, is where the Arkane-Studios-developed sandbox-style gameplay starts to get folded in. Why wasn’t the more open-ended stuff shown at E3, I wonder? Maybe it just wasn’t suited to the show floor? Or perhaps it isn’t shaping up as well as the traditional Wolfenstein run-and-gun sections? Impossible to say right now. One thing I do know, is there’s still a lot of Wolfenstein: Youngblood left to see, as the game is reportedly 25 to 30 hours long. Here’s hoping MachineGames and Arkane can keep the bloodlust flowing for that long.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood felt great to play and teaming up with somebody else to unleash bloody carnage is inherently fun. And yet, some nagging questions still linger. Will the game’s co-op mechanics get deeper later on? How do the Arkane-developed sandbox sections work? It felt like the Youngblood E3 demo was specifically designed to keep certain parts of the game away from prying eyes. I’m still optimistic, and nothing I played was cause for any serious concern, but Youngblood still has a few things to prove to this Wolfenstein old timer.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood charges onto PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch on July 26. The game will also be available on Google Stadia.