We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us.
Lt. Aldo Raine - Inglorious Basterds
The good Lieutenant would have loved B.J. Blazkowicz. Throughout the course of my time with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
, MachineGames' prequel to the outstanding Wolfenstein: The New Order
, I couldn't help but think that Blaskowicz would have fit right in with Raine's terror squad. Before every enemy was a zombie (more on that in a moment) or a member of some alien horde, Nazis were the chic enemies to be used in games because of the inhumanity they represented; they were human, yes, but they were also the cause of one of the darkest marks in modern human history. This lack of humanity had the goal of justifying the violence wrought upon them and absolving the player of the guilt of taking another person's life... back when those things were concerning, that is.
In many ways The New Order
and The Old Blood
are throwbacks not only to this dogma, but also to the type of games from which they spawned. It removes consequence and sympathy with the opposition, erases any notion of gray from a black and white scenario, stacks the deck against the player, and puts them on a course for open conflict. The Old Blood
's simplicity in story and design is both excellent and terrifying, and I couldn't get enough of it.
Nazis... I hate these guys.
Taking place before the events of The New Order
, The Old Blood
instantly feels familiar in look, tone, and mechanics. Tasked with locating a secret file that contains the location of Deathshead's compound, the first part of The Old Blood
has Blazkowicz infiltrate the eponymous Castle Wolfenstein. The second part takes place in the nearby town of Wulfburg which harbors dark secrets and powers of an ancient past. Since the Nazi war machine always loved the occult and craved supernatural powers
, you can imagine their interest in unearthing that darkness... and becoming zombies... yes, Zombie Nazis. While this is well trod ground at this point, the adding of undead status to Nazis is yet another dehumanizing tactic further separating an already evil enemy from the people they once were. That being said, this late game shift does add new/modified enemy types into the equation and spices up the combat scenarios in the game's second half.
On the whole, the story aims high but doesn't quite hit the mark on an emotional level. Stopping Nazis from obtaining supernatural powers is never NOT a good time, but the subtle care to emotional resonance that made The New Order
so outstanding is sadly missing from The Old Blood
. While MachineGames did an admirable job of trying to attach secondary characters to B.J.'s story, they didn't give the time or material for you to find the reason to actually care about them. In the end this is a story about stopping and killing Nazis and damn the consequences. The funniest part of the entire game is that there is even a moment when one of these underdeveloped side characters warns B.J. to avoid conflict and kill only when necessary, to which B.J. quips, "What's that? Kill as many Nazis as I can?"
Echoing the design of The New Order
, there are many ways to take on these two missions. The option to go in guns blazing is almost always a valid choice, but choosing to go in with a measure of stealth and tactical care is often times the more advisable option. This choice pairs with MachineGames' outstanding level and encounter design to create one of the most satisfying shooter experiences this generation. While there are some definite pinch points and forced stealth sequences where difficulty seems to spike, the odds never feel unfair. Furthermore, when failure does happen, the loading screens to get back to your last checkpoint are so mercifully short that there's not even the time to Google the translation of German phrases that accompany them.
The Old Blood Say guten tag to my little friend!
also introduces several new weapons to Blazkowicz's arsenal, the most notable of which is the new melee weapon, a pipe which can be split into two parts. In addition to being the implement of many amazingly gory executions
, the pipe is also used for the new wall climbing mechanic. When approaching a climbable wall, you're issued a prompt to climb, and then have to alternate pressing and holding the left and right triggers to control the half of the pipe in each hand. It's a small touch, but feels amazing as you plunge the jagged halves into the wall and ascend. In addition to the pipe, The Old Blood
also introduces the Kampfpistol which is what happens if a flare gun and a rocket launcher had a baby that spits up Nazi exploding destruction. Selecting weapons is exactly the same as The New Order
; holding down the right bumper pulls up a weapon wheel where selections can be made. Unfortunately, pulling up the wheel does not pause the action, which can make for stressful switching on the fly in the middle of a firefight, but otherwise works admirably well.
The Easter Eggs to other Bethesda published games are nice nods to their catalog.
If the rock solid game design weren't enough, The Old Blood
is one of the best looking shooters on the Xbox One. While there is a difference in the quality of animations when comparing the gloriously rendered cutscenes and actual gameplay, that difference is much smaller than other contemporary shooters. Those who have played The New Order
or id's RAGE
know that id Tech 5 can make shooters look amazing, but few have looked as good as The Old Blood
. It runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second at 1080p and I encountered no discernible technical hiccups or breakdowns.
Zee Castle has never looked more wunderbar.
Making another return are the nightmare levels that take gamers back to lovingly recreated levels from Wolfenstein 3D
. Each sequence is hidden somewhere in each level, provides a nice diversion, and issues a reminder to just how far the series (nay genre) has come. More retro-focused gamers can also take joy that each of these nightmare levels has an achievement tied to its completion, so there's an incentive to jump back to the old school roots.
Call Marty and Doc Brown, you're about to get into a DeLorean.
On the achievement front, The Old Blood
may be a bit more rigorous than its predecessor if only for the addition of challenge maps. Unlocked by completing combat scenarios in levels to which they are attached, there are ten challenge maps that you must gold medal. The only way to earn this gold medal is by playing the level on either I AM DEATH INCARNATE! or ÜBER difficulties and doing very well. On the bright side, popping the achievement for beating the game on ÜBER
is still unlockable by only completing the final level on that difficulty. Finally, there are achievements for unlocking combat perks, picking up letters
, and completing the aforementioned nightmare levels
Like Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon
before it, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
sets a new standard for standalone, downloadable content. At $19.99 (or your regional equivalent), it represents one of the best values in current games. Between the 8-10 hour campaign full of fantastic moments and scenarios, the challenge maps, and the nightmare levels there's a lot to love for the money. While the massive file size (over 37 GB!) may cause some internet connections to cry, it is well worth the space in your Xbox One's hard drive. The New Order
was one of the underground hits of 2014, and The Old Blood
has taken that torch and ran with it. Get psyched and consider it a must play.
- Amazing gameplay design
- Spectacular visuals and audio
- Fun, pulpy story
- Incredible value
- Periodic difficulty spikes
- Large download size
- Potentially a tough completion
The reviewer spent approximately eleven hours playing through the campaign, all nightmare levels, and a few challenge maps. He unlocked 33 of the 50 achievements, killed enough Nazis to make Aldo smile, and is wanting to brush up on his German. The digital copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.