Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Review (PlayStation 4)
One year ago, Machine Games took hold of the dormant Wolfenstein franchise and revived the stale series in impressive fashion. Machine Games returned this week with a shorter installment which sets up the events of The New Order as BJ Blazkowicz must infiltrate the Nazi paranormal division to learn where Deathshead's compound is located. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood continues Machine Games' stellar approach to making Wolfenstein relevant again, even if it isn't quite as good as its predecessor.
The Old Blood splits BJ's mission into two key parts, which tie together seamlessly. The first half of the game is spent attempting to break into and then escape Castle Wolfenstein, which is under the careful watch of Rudi Jager. From there, Blazkowicz follows the trail of Nazi scientist Helga von Schabbs, as it's believed she knows the whereabouts of the massive fortress where Deathshead is located (and which you infiltrate in The New Order). Part of what made The New Order so interesting was Machine Games' approach to storytelling, and to an extent that continues here in The Old Blood. While there aren't quite as many liberties taken with alternate timelines or as many in-depth characterizations, the base plot points keep you invested and characters are developed enough to be more than one-note NPCs.
What really made Machine Games' take on the iconic franchise such a big hit was its incredibly solid gameplay and the many ways it allowed you to advance through Wolfenstein. Though there are some opportunities for stealth tactics in The Old Blood, the focus is much more on explosive set pieces and big shootouts. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as The New Order had its fair share of gunplay; however, The Old Blood is a bit disappointing as it doesn't offer the same freedom to carry out your mission the way you want. Levels feel much more linear this time around, and the stealth sections appear to have been included merely to break up the adrenaline-pumping action of the many shootouts.
This is particularly true during the later stages of The Old Blood, when there's nothing to do but shoot your way in and out of trouble. Now, understandably, there's going to be some shooting in a first-person shooter. And that shooting? It's great. The weapons are tightly balanced, and there's a distinct difference between each and every armament in the way it controls and deals damage. It's still a bit of a letdown that so much of the freedom you had in The New Order has been stripped away in this downloadable prequel.
Even though the adventure is a bit more narrowly focused this time around, Machine Games has done a great job keeping the environments varied. From the revamped Castle Wolfenstein to the little town of Wolfsburg, there are plenty of details to draw your eye and make this world believable. The developer even included a new traversal mechanic in wall climbing, which allows you to do things like pick off enemies from a windowsill or reach secret areas. It's not used very frequently, but it does spice up the level navigation without becoming overused.
To bolster the campaign, which lasts about 6-8 hours, Machine Games has included new Challenge maps. These score challenges are based around select sections of the story which were home to some of the larger conflicts you had to survive. It's a nice way to add replayability, though some of the original sections were incredibly frustrating firefights so you may not want to revisit them again once you've survived. Additionally, each chapter of the game houses a bed or mattress somewhere in the level where you can play through a stage of classic Wolfenstein. Dubbed Nightmare stages, the idea is the same as it was in The New Order, but now there's an actual level to finish (complete with trophy/achievement credit) in this old style instead of just providing a nice Easter egg for fans.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood might be a more compact version of its predecessor, but it's still just as enjoyable. Though there's a bit more linearity in the level design, the action is tightly wound and balanced well enough that it still feels really great to take part in all the combat. In a market rife with games that have built on the success of the Wolfenstein mold, sometimes the old ways are the best ways. Machine Games has given the franchise a tremendous shot in the arm, and even if you never played The New Order, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a game you shouldn't miss.
This review is based on a download code for Wolfenstein: The Old Blood provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.