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Wolfenstein: Youngblood Preview – Let’s Shoot Nazis Together
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 12:01am 12/06/19 | Comments
Ahead of E3 we had the chance to go hands on with Wolfenstein: Youngblood the new co-op adventure starring B.J. Blazkowicz's daughters. And plenty of Nazi killing action.

The roller door, as a concept, wasn’t something ever envisioned as requiring two people to open. They’re designed with a handle located somewhere in the centre. And thanks to what scientists refer to as physics, don’t require the strength of two people to lift. In the co-operative videogame a roller door always requires two people to open, and that both participants in the ceremony stand on either side, crouch, look at each other, count to three, and then lift.

Amid the gleeful absurdity of shooting entire squads of high-tech Nazis high in the sky aboard a Zeppelin and again in the streets of occupied 1980s Paris, it was hard not to be reminded of this fact.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood, which is very much a brand-new Wolfenstein game full of excess and Third Reich hunting, initially feels a little weird played co-operatively. The reasons for this come with the source material, namely MachineGames’ first two releases - including the excellent Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. And that source material’s source material. The id Tech 6 engine and the focus on skill-based, precise, challenging, and tactical always-moving first-person combat.

Not meant as a slight on the co-op genre, but usually a shooter of this nature has you and a buddy standing there in a small area fending off waves of incoming attackers. In Wolfenstein: Youngblood you quickly realise that the only way to survive the chaotic nature of, well, Wolfenstein is to keep moving. Whilst working together.

It’s a tricky combination, and it works.

Although designed as a co-op shooter, Youngblood feels like the next game in the series. After a lengthy cinematic featuring a tender moment at Casa de Blazkowicz set decades after the events of New Colossus, you’re introduced to B.J.’s twin daughters Jess and Soph. Long story short papa goes missing and it’s up to his kids to track him down. Behind enemy territory, in the neon-streets of 1980s Paris. The City of Light, and giant swastikas. Because, yeah, those guys are still around.

That setup might sound like someone put Super Mario Bros. and any one of Liam Neeson’s dozen or so action films released in the past year inside a Story Blender 5000, but its execution is handled rather well.

And is very cinematic. Right from the beginning the series’ signature mix of character drama, gritty action, great voice acting, and weird Tarantino-style tonal shifts into outright comedy is here and very welcome. The first Nazi kill, a Blazkowicz birth right, is handled expertly here. And might require a mop to clean up the aftermath. Again, this all makes Youngblood very much a brand-new Wolfenstein game. Just one that MachineGames in collaboration with Dishonored creators Arkane Studios Lyon have designed to be played with someone else.

"Although designed as a co-op shooter, Youngblood feels like the next game in the series."

Just like that whole weird relationship between Sith Lords, there’s always two. There’s always a Jess and Soph. So, if you decide to play Youngblood alone, the AI will take over and help with all the door opening and the synchronised button pressing.

Okay, so that’s probably a cheap shot. For the most part Youngblood is rather lax with the restrictions it puts on players. Even when it comes to exploration. But especially when it comes to combat. In fact, most of the time it actively works to split you up – with Nazis coming in from all sides forcing quick movement, strategic “running away to safety”, and reacting before you have time to speak. Like that scene from that action movie we’ve all seen at one point, where one person is about to get shot. The sound of gunfire is heard but no damage is taken. Yeah, it’s the assailant that died and there’s your sis, the saviour.

Visually, and that’s in terms of both the underlying technology and art direction, Youngblood has the air of a standalone Wolfenstein II expansion and a for-the-fans Nazi killing victory lap. After its initial announcement, where news broke that players would take on the roles of B.J. Blazkowicz’s daughters in a co-op action shooter, we assumed it would be a far shorter and less ambitiously cinematic release than say - a Wolfenstein III proper. Turns out we were wrong. And even though what we experienced in our lengthy play session was mostly introductory levels and settings, we were told that in terms of size Youngblood would be the largest Wolfenstein game to date.

And that it will feature a large resistance base of operations in the heart of Paris that players will be able to explore and take on missions in a non-linear fashion.

So, even though there are some of the same Nazi soldiers clad in armour and pressed uniforms to blow away, and machinery and equipment that looks a little familiar, Youngblood is still doing its own thing. Perhaps the weirdest or potentially most contentious addition is the introduction of floating enemy health bars, highlighting the gradual depletion of a Nazi’s life essence before they expire. Even their level is displayed next to it, itself a nod to the new progression system where skill points acquired as you level can be spent on stuff. Health stuff, armour stuff, co-op bonus stuff, weapon stuff. It works and is implemented well – but still feels a little disconnected from the combat.

Which features the same spike in difficulty and pressure put on players that the series is known for. Wolfenstein combat always tends to go from manageable to outright chaotic in a matter of moments, and in Youngblood you can add ‘fucking’ in between outright and chaotic.

"The first Nazi kill, a Blazkowicz birth right, is handled expertly here. And might require a mop to clean up the aftermath."

These moments define the series, where a mix of physical tools and player skill are the best ways to manage any situation. Sometimes these moments can feel like outright bullshit on behalf of the designers, a sentiment that quickly disappears once you survive to the face the next challenge. In Youngblood there doesn’t seem to be an emphasis placed on levelling as the way to succeed, which is nice. The focus is still very much on combat, as highlighted by the expanded AI tactics that react and behave differently now that there’s two Blazkowicz to deal with. Often resulting in even more Nazi’s to kill.

The Revive Lest Your Partner Bleed Out system helps manage some of the sheer difficulty, but regardless of that Wolfenstein: Youngblood doesn’t shy away from being tough. Super tough. Thankfully each player has their own difficulty setting. And the ability to pull off a Pep ability that can buff their sister with health or armour via the power of a thumbs up or devil’s horns hand gesture.

With its launch around the corner, Wolfenstein: Youngblood joins a very busy year for Bethesda shooters. Very different Bethesda shooters. Where RAGE 2 presents a post-apocalyptic open world to explore and cause chaos in, DOOM Eternal the id Software shooter distilled and evolved into a thing of sheer beauty, Wolfenstein: Youngblood presents a new spin on digital Nazi maiming. With the addition of a Player 2 everything from the level design, to combat tactics, to gadgets and progression, to the opening of doors, takes the presence of an additional body clad in shiny armour into account.

The fact that it still feels like Wolfenstein is a good thing. Now we can shoot Nazis together.