Wolf in Cheap Clothing
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus was dead good. The B-movie vibe and weirdly veering tonal shifts set the title apart from other mainstream shooters, the shooting was solid and when the bullets are directed at Nazis it’s all the sweeter. The setting and characters may have been out there (INSERT JOKE HERE ABOUT HOW NAZIS BEING IN CHARGE DOESN’T SEEM THAT FAR FETCHED NOW ACTUALLY), but the mechanics were that of a no-nonsense blaster with a no-nonsense protagonist.
The decision to change some of this up is a reasonable one from Machine Games here. The rebooted Wolfy series is known for it’s mid-step instalments, so having a stopgap that introduces co-op play, RPG elements and protagonists who are definitely pro-nonsense rather than no-nonsense should be a nice change while retaining that core message; shooting Nazis is fun, do it lots.
Indeed, while many reviews have been harsh about Wolfenstein Youngblood, I don’t feel that strongly about some of the missteps here. Sure, I could do without some of it and would love more of the same following The New Colossus, but I assume we’ll get that when the trilogy rounds out properly. Machine Games have tried something different here, and I can’t be too down on them for that.
The new protagonists are a sticking point, however. Much like real teenagers, I’m never quite sure whether they’re energetic and entertaining or just annoying. Twins Jess and Soph begin the game seeming quite serious indeed, getting trained up by their dad, the one and only B J Blazkowicz. Let loose when pops goes missing, things quickly get a lot sillier. Some of this is understandable, such as the giddy mixture of nausea and hilarity they experience when popping the head of their first far right-winger, but other times they come across as unfocussed and immature, given the circumstances.
What’s more, it appears that their dialogue was not written by fellow teenagers. It’s stilted and forced, especially compared to something like Oxenfree which nailed the tone of the ‘young people’ perfectly. Admittedly these are teenagers in the 80s, but still. I also found the use of the word ‘slay’ in the millennial usage quite jarring, but then again I suppose picking fault with period-incorrect slang in a game where there are 12 foot robot dogs is probably pedantic.
The other characters don’t fare too well, either. Being set in Paris but made by Americans, you of course get thick, unintentionally comedic accents, with the odd word of commonly-known French appearing out of nowhere, like it’s ‘Allo ‘Allo or something.
The dodgy dialogue isn’t the only think to make you grimace here. The game is sadly hindered slightly by more than a few glitches. I had to abandon one attempt at a mission because I got stuck in a wall, and let me tell you those checkpoints are waaaaaaay back, son.
The upside of Jess and Soph’s introduction is that it provides for the co-op gameplay. Not only does this afford you the usual features of online matchmaking (there’s no local co-op sadly), but the Buddy Pass system allows you and a friend to play with just one copy of the game, a nice concession that will no doubt help Bethesda’s sales here. The downside of the co-op system is that if you don’t have a buddy online, the matchmaking with online randoms is dogshit, with most attempts booting me back to the menu screen with an error message about the lobby being full. This drove me to having matches using mostly AI support for the majority of the time, which is as useful a killing partner as a pacifist earthworm. One memorable mini-boss battle involved me inflicting all the damage while Jess or Soph (could have been either) just shouted encouragement about how I was “killing it”, literally in this case, without firing a single shot.
There’s been precious little done with the possibility of having co-op partners, however. There’s some uninventive scenarios where you both have to pull levers at the same time to open doors or crates, but other than that there’s minimal use of the extra body besides the added firepower. Even with a human controlling your twin, the pacing of the enemies is a little odd. Even early on, I frequently found myself in bottlenecks and looping restarts to the extent that I had to bump the difficulty down to actually get anywhere. I’m not exactly e-sports when it comes to gaming ability, but I’ve been playing long enough to recognise when something is needlessly difficult to pad things out a bit.
What works as a good introduction to the series is the RPG elements. Once again, this is nothing new in the grand scheme of gaming, but some of the new actions definitely feel cool to use. Charging at enemies to shoulder-barge them to the ground John Cena style is a great bit of punctuation to the shooting, as is the Mario-esque butt-bash move (they don’t actually use their butts, but you get the vague idea). This comes by way of skill-trees and points you’ll be more than familiar with if you’ve played one single game in the past twenty years. The downside of this is, once again, there’s no difference between which abilities each twin can learn, so there’s no real incentive to re-play with the other character unless you really want to experience life as a brunette or blonde.
The introduction of this is not only a strong counterpoint to BJ’s grunting and blasting, but also a show of the development in technology since the previous instalment, albeit in a world where decades prior a man was decapitated and had his head successfully reattached to a robot body.