Prior to zombies, Nazi soldiers portrayed gaming’s most popular enemies. They did so in first and third-person shooters centred around World War II, as well as in other genres; to an extent that many became sick of them. However, while the industry moved forward and shifted its focus to the undead, it never forgot about the Swastika-wearing evildoers it once loved to hate. Of course, it would’ve been difficult to have done so, especially since both Hitler and the war he played a vital role in were engrained in this medium decades ago, thanks to Wolfenstein 3D and those that came before it.
After resurrecting the iconic brand with last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, Bethesda and MachineGames have returned to the Nazi-heavy alternate timeline with a twenty-dollar prequel called Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. A standalone affair, it mixes retro mechanics with modern visuals and finesse, resulting in a fun but occasionally conflicted experience.
The Old Blood takes place just prior to the events of The New Order, a game that I found to be decent at best. I wasn’t alone in that feeling,and went into this campaign hoping that I’d enjoy it more than I did its predecessor. The good news here is that I did, although not by a large margin.
While The New Order sent American B.J. Blazkowicz into the hellish depths of General Deathshead’s compound, The Old Blood has him searching for its location. It all begins with discussion regarding the whereabouts of a map – which is conveniently tucked inside of a folder owned by a high-ranking Nazi named Helga – and ends by showing the beginning part of the trip towards Deathshead. In-between lays a wealth of action, be it infiltration, stealth or all-out gunplay, with the large majority of it taking place inside Castle Wolfenstein itself.
There’s just enough depth to the game’s storyline to make it feel vital and relatively interesting, although it generally takes a back seat to the action. Make sure not to go in expecting lengthy cutscenes and detailed characters like there were in The New Order, because that’s not what you’ll get here.
In total, there are eight chapters to play through, excluding the prologue. Combined, they offer several hours of gameplay – a total that is dependent upon player skill and the chosen difficulty at which one decides to play. I made the mistake of starting on uber again, and found that its cheap tactics and sharpshooting artificial intelligence made for a frustrating time. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the game had been balanced better, but it seems to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis like its predecessor did, failing to expertly mix its old-school homages with its modern and near-flawless shooting mechanics.
Chokepoints are a problem here, because they’re relied upon far too often. They’re made frustrating by uneven enemy AI, as well as reliance on having the player manually refill his health, ammo and armour by picking up med kits, flak jackets and bullets. When you have a ton of enemies shooting at you from all angles, it can be tough to properly defend one’s self, especially when their bullets take so much out of you. As such, I almost wish that the developers had gone with a regenerating health system, even though it would have departed from the series’ classic roots.
All of this really boils down to the game’s reliance on luck over skill during many points within its surprisingly robust and lengthy campaign. It’s too bad, too, because there’s nothing wrong with a fair challenge. Grenade-spamming enemies aren’t exactly fair, though.
After dropping the difficulty down to I Am Death Incarnate (aka. hard), I found more enjoyment, but still noticed the same faults during overwhelming chokepoints. That said, after its first half concluded, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood improved. That’s especially true of its fifth and sixth chapters, which are a heck of a lot of fun to play through. It’s there that a familiar type of Nazi is reintroduced, and things switch from a reliance on dodging bullets to a fear of the undead.
Despite its issues at perfectly balancing its stealth and action mechanics on higher difficulties, and its over-reliance on cheap chokepoints, The Old Blood manages to be a relatively enjoyable game. Not only that, but an unexpectedly robust one given its very affordable price tag. In fact, you’re essentially getting a full retail shooter here, albeit at only one third of the normal price. The amount of content that is packed inside of this thing is really impressive and somewhat staggering, and the return of The New Order‘s fantastic perk system is greatly appreciated.
What replay value-seeking gamers will appreciate is that Wolfenstein: The Old Blood quietly jams two campaigns into one title. How so? Well, in addition to its hidden letters and pieces of gold, the game also features discoverable nightmare levels. Each chapter has its own hidden sleeping bag and pillow combo, which act as doorways to the world of Wolfenstein 3D. There, one must battle archaic-looking soldiers while searching maze-like levels for keys that unlock exit doorways.
The nightmare stages are repetitive and archaic, but they’re still somewhat fun. They’re not alone in acting as the game’s unlockable bonus content, however, as all of its referenced chokepoints also become score-based challenges once completed. It’s a nice touch.
Presentation-wise, things are a mixed bag. Yes, The Old Blood looks and sounds alright, but it’s not an award-winning beauty queen. Some bland textures, a slightly dated-feeling engine and a dull colour palette hold it back, as does weak sound mixing. The latter makes it difficult to tell where exactly enemies are shooting from, creating unnecessary and frustrating confusion during challenging shootouts.
In the end, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a solid, enjoyable and content-packed game that could’ve been better had it been altered and refined in various places. It’s another above-average, yet unspectacular outing from MachineGames, who need to realize that having to press a button to pick-up ammo and health is a nuisance in this day and age.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game.