Release Date: July 26, 2019Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PC, Switch, StadiaDeveloper: MachineGames & Arkane StudiosPublisher: BethesdaGenre: First-person Shooter
At first glance, the novelty of Wolfenstein: Youngblood is that it takes the frenetic, modernized gameplay from the MachineGames-developed titles in the series and adds co-op functionality. But what makes the game truly unique and memorable is the way the two-player co-op is seamlessly integrated into the game’s over-the-top, unexpectedly touching story.
The narrative follows Sophie and Jess, the twin daughters of “the man who killed Hitler,” BJ Blazkowicz, who are well on their way to becoming as badass as their deadly dad. BJ has gone missing, so the twins, guided by their family friend, Abby, dive behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Paris to find him. The way the story between the sisters is set up makes the co-op gameplay a lot more engaging than if the familial theme was absent.
Sophie and Jess (played by Shelby Young and Valerie Rose Lohman, respectively) are different in ways—Sophie is a little wilder and has a tendency to poke fun at her sister when she’s bored, and Jess is perhaps a bit more mature and high-strung. But what they have in common is that the only thing they love more than killing Nazis (and boy, do they love killing Nazis) is family, and they support each other physically and emotionally throughout the game, especially on the battlefield.
I was sort of blown away by how much the sisters’ in-combat dialogue added to the experience. They’re constantly giving each other positive reinforcement and laughing hysterically as they literally plow through hordes of Nazi officers and robots. There are even elevator loading screens that show security footage of the girls goofing off as they wait for the doors to open, which are genuinely funny and heartwarming at the same time.
All of these moments of sisterly love would mean nothing, of course, if the gameplay wasn’t up to snuff, but thankfully, Youngblood plays just as smoothly as its predecessors. The action is hard-hitting and chaotic, and to stay alive, you’ve got to move really fast and with a good amount of thought. Enemies typically take at least a dozen bullets to wipe out, so fancy footwork, positioning, and resource management are essential.
But what’s truly paramount here is teamwork, and this is where MachineGames and Dishonored developer Arkane Studios (they collaborated on this one) have done a fantastic job of evolving the already polished gameplay. When one of the sisters is incapacitated, the other has a window of time within which to revive her. If both are incapacitated, you lose a “shared life,” of which you have three maximum. This introduces a good measure of strategy into gameplay—you could split up to flank enemies, which could be effective, but if one of you dies, the other may not be able to close the distance in time to revive, or they may not survive the rescue run themselves.
The game can be played offline with an AI partner, but this isn’t ideal. In my experience, there were a lot of instances where my computer partner and I lost lives because the AI made stupid mistakes or, in the worst cases, simply refused to revive me. This happened more than a dozen times, and it was infuriating.
Playing online, however, is super fun. Moving in tandem with your partner as you blow Nazis to bits never gets old, and as you learn each others’ play styles, you get better at creating strategies on the fly, and it becomes a sort of dance. Reviving your partner with less than a second to spare is absolutely thrilling, which happened with me a lot and is a testament to how balanced the game is. The best thing is, the deluxe version of the game comes with a “buddy pass,” which allows you to play through the entire campaign with a friend who hasn’t purchased the game. This feature is almost too good to be true, and in the long run, I imagine it’ll only help the game’s popularity.
The game’s progression system is simple but just deep enough to compel you to pick up every coin you see to spend them on weapon upgrades. You, of course, have skill trees as well, and while none of the abilities are crazy spectacular, they’re all useful in combat. My favorite is the crush ability, which allows you to sprint into enemies and tackle them to the floor, where they’re basically sitting ducks (or if you’re lucky, they’ll just explode into bloody chunks on impact).
On top of all this, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is significantly longer than its predecessors. It’s a full meal of a game, with fun co-op mechanics, engaging characters, beautiful, cleverly designed environments, and an addictive progression system. I can’t wait to jump back in.
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Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.