Fast-forwarding events 20 years beyond those of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Youngblood doesn’t waste time in placing you in the shoes of previous protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz’s twin daughters. Jess and Soph are far less experienced than their war veteran father, and at first, it looks like this will give their mission to track him down within Nazi-occupied 1980s Paris a fresh feel.
Every kill or collectable discovery is usually punctuated by a “Good job, sis!” or similar riposte being yelled, for instance, yet outside these brief soundbites, Youngblood fails to deepen either character beyond that of two gender-swapped dudebros. It’s in instances like this where a true, linear single-player campaign, complete with cinematic cutscenes, would have worked wonders – just as it did previously in this very series.
Jess and Soph’s journey instead boils down to what feels like a gauntlet of bite-sized missions, which ultimately struggle in their attempt to service the wider revenge-thriller plot. Wolfenstein: Youngblood seems more interested in stunting your progress rather than acting as a new entry in the Blazkowicz saga – the pure rinse-and-repeat formula of objectives is evidence of this.
Jobs are dished out from your catacomb home base following a bombastic prologue, with the twins being the lucky pair tasked with taking them on. From here, it’s all about running from one end of various open-world hubs to the other, pulling levers and rescuing hostages before returning to do it over again.
You’d think that the environments being more open this time around (thank you, Arkane Studios) would let you get more creative with killing, but action scenarios often just descend into all-out chaos. This is because enemies have an unprecedented ability to spot you from miles away, making the stealth option – easily workable in previous games – feel almost impossible to pull off.
A cloaking upgrade can be purchased from your skill tree early on to help remedy this, but it’s a patch to a problem that really needed to be solved much more elegantly if regular frustration was to be avoided.
Moving through retro-futuristic Paris also feels surprisingly bland, with the glitz and glam of Wolfenstein: Youngblood’s 1980s-injected marketing hardly anywhere to be found. Floppy disks and 3D glasses act as collectables, sure, but Nazi interior design seemingly hasn’t advanced much since the events of The New Colossus.
This makes getting around feel like a chore, especially when multiple objectives see you returning to the same locations over and over again, with the exact same enemies spawning where expected. It all feels procedural instead of authored, painted with a brush labelled ‘one size fits all’ rather than having enemies placed in spots where the choice of going loud or being sneaky can truly be yours.
On a more positive note, Youngblood manages to maintain the satisfying sound and general great feel of weapons. The shotgun, in particular, delivers an accurate bass-like punch when fired, and the subtle hum of laser artillery is still a great way to instil fear into any unsuspecting foes about to be vaporised.
Granted, getting to use most of these is staggered by the new Destiny-like upgrade system, which requires you to buy a power perk before you’re allowed to carry and then store any heavy weapons. All skills are divided into three categories – Mind, Power, and Muscle – and you do at least level up at a sensible pace. The guns themselves can be buffed individually, letting you extend magazines, add attachments, and so on.
Of course, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is entirely playable in both local and online co-op, but again fails to really capitalise on the concept – in some instances rewarding those who can’t coerce a friend into playing. This is because the AI partner is almost too good, always there to revive you should you be gunned down, or ready to ‘bamf’ to you from across the map whenever Jess and Soph need to complete an action together.
A nice touch is the ability to treat your partner to added health or armour using a hearty thumbs-up, but there always being two of you around makes failing levels incredibly unlikely. A real-life buddy would have been appreciated if enemies weren’t simply bullet sponges and required some degree of tactics. Alas, brute-forcing it through areas almost always works.
As an offshoot experiment of sorts, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a Nazi-killing simulator that somehow feels lacking on every level. The attempt at anarchy-fuelled, co-operative mayhem is admirable, but all too often, this comes at the cost of everything that made previous entries so unique against the wider landscape of gritty first-person shooters.
This, alongside the need to play co-op with a friend being somewhat redundant, sees Wolfenstein: Youngblood mark a new low for this once-great series.
Jess and Soph can carry a maximum of three shared lives, at risk of being lost should either of them fail to be revived when they’re downed. This raises the stakes during the heat of gun-fights, but the time it takes to revive each other is still extremely generous.
Gunning down Nazis with a friend in Wolfenstein: Youngblood is fun for a few hours, but little more.
Format: PS4 (tested) / PC / XBO / Switch
Developer: Machine Games / Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release: Out now