Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review – PC

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As we come to the end of the summer slump of gaming, Bethesda tries to get a head start on the fall season with not one but two new Wolfenstein games; Cyberpilot, a VR-only game that was a total flop, and Wolfenstein: Youngblood; yet another bold attempt at trying something different with the aging franchise. While Youngblood was slightly more warmly received by critics, fans of the franchise are bouncing off this game hard, and while I can understand their tepid reception I think most of the negativity is more of a marketing and perception problem. Personally, I love Youngblood and I’m about to tell you why, so if you came here looking for another review to back up your own negative feelings about the game…well…sorry.

First of all, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is not a sequel to the numbered installments of the Wolfenstein series. There is still an official Wolfenstein III coming, so please don’t mistake this spinoff side-story as anything more than it is. If anything, Youngblood exists only to maintain interest in the franchise by telling a fun story focusing on the teenage twin daughters of BJ Blazkowicz and their mission to rescue their dad from Nazi occupied Paris. The game starts off pleasant enough as we are transported to Mesquite, TX in the spring of 1979. Jess is out hunting with dad while her sister, Soph is practicing her fighting skills with mom.   Jumping ahead to 1980 the feds show up to inform the family that BJ has been captured and they are unable to do anything about it, whereupon the sisters commandeer the FBI chopper, which conveniently has a pair of power armor suits, and fly to Paris to join the resistance and save dear old dad.

There aren’t that many games out there, let alone FPS games, that support full cooperative campaign modes, and when they do it’s a tough act to balance when it comes to playing alone with AI or with another human. There is no drop-in/out co-op in Youngblood; you make a conscious decision how you are going to play before going into each session, but you are free to continue existing save games alone or with another player. Youngblood comes in two flavors; the standard package for $30 and the deluxe version for $40. That extra $10 will grant you a “buddy pass” that you can use to invite others on your Steam list that don’t own the game but have downloaded the demo to join up and pretty much play the entire game as long as they are playing with the owner of the deluxe version. It’s a brilliant stroke of marketing and a model that should be part of every game that revolves around co-op play.

Prior to starting a new game you’ll need to make a few decisions. First is picking which sister to play, which is mostly a cosmetic and personality decision. Yes, each sister has their own starting weapon which makes Jess great for sniping and Soph more of a brute with a shotgun, but each sister can easily add those weapons to their arsenal later in the game. The real difference between the girls is in their pre-game setup and how you develop them later using the skill trees. Prior to playing you’ll need to pick armor color and helmet design, choose your handgun and melee weapon, and pick your power and pep abilities.

Again, this is just your starting loadout and all of these components can be switched out later in the game. In fact the designers are counting on it; with a massive customization system that makes use of controversial in-app purchased gold bars to reskin your characters and weapons. The level of hatred by press and fans for this blatant attempt to drain your wallet is understandable from an ethical perspective, but you should know that buying gold with real money to buy skins in the game is not only optional, it’s not even necessary if you just play the game as designed. Everything that can be bought with gold can also be bought with silver coins that are generously spread throughout the game. Halfway through the game I pretty much owned everything I wanted and the silver still just kept coming in to the point where I was just buying new armor and skins, stuff I didn’t want and would never equip, just to spend it. If you spend money on gold bars in Youngblood you are either lazy, impatient, or both.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is more than your simplistic linear FPS. You are now playing in a more open world, albeit limited to only a few large levels set in the war-torn streets of Paris. Enemies have health bars and are gated by weapon types, upgrades, and even your character’s XP level. Missions will clearly indicate their intended level and if you are below that you’ll need to grind a bit in the numerous side-missions that will have you backtracking across familiar urban areas. To ease that feeling of grinding Youngblood has a generous supply of collectibles you can search for when you aren’t mowing down Nazi’s and their cybernetic toys. There are 34 floppies, each requiring a special computer to decode their contents which is usually a pin number for special locked containers scattered about. There are 80 pieces of concept art, 80 readable items like notes, documents, letters, etc. and 41 cassette tapes that you can collect and listen to in the menu screen. There are some really great tunes on these tapes. There are 72 pairs of 3D glasses that unlock 3D models from the game and 25 UKV movie covers with humorous titles and themes. As someone who has been gaming for nearly 40 years I can say without a doubt Youngblood hides their collectible secrets better than any game I have ever played. It reminded me of the original Wolfenstein game where you ran along the walls spamming the spacebar to find a random secret door.

I played 28% of Wolfenstein: Youngblood by myself and found my AI-controlled sister to be more than adequate in a firefight. She was quick to heal me if I went down, she made good use of the pep system, and most importantly, when she went down she would crawl to cover so I could heal her without taking damage myself. My only minor complaint is that there is no way to give her orders, like to stay in one place. You can mark targets and she will focus her attacks on that target, but there is no way to strategize crossfire attacks or setup ambushes, and boss fights are more problematic than they need be.

Now playing with another human is a different matter entirely. You can effectively co-op every element of the game from combat to collectibles. All assets in the game are shared so you don’t have to worry about greedily snatching up all the ammo, coins, and health and armor drops; you partner gets them all too. Human partners are also more efficient when it comes to healing and using peps. The pep system is very clever, and when you start out you can choose either health or armor peps with more to unlock in the upgrade menus…for a cost of course. It’s basically a buff on a cooldown timer that you can trigger when you’re in range of your sister to replenish health and armor with a fun hand gesture and verbal cue.

The twins also get to select a power, either a cloaking device for their armor or a damaging burst of speed and power-stomp useful for smashing open crates or charging into enemies to stun them and knock them down. These powers can be upgraded to increase the duration of stealth or damage of the smash attack. Personally, I found the smash attack more useful since there is very little use for sneaking around in a Wolfenstein game, especially if the other sister doesn’t have a cloak.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood evolves beyond the linear design of previous games once you get past the first two story-driven levels that end with the twins implanted in the rebel base deep in the Paris catacombs. From here you get to interact with a lively bunch of NPC mission-givers and choose your next op from the mission map before getting transported via metro rail to that part of the city. There are three primary missions involving the storming of three Brother Towers in your quest to find BJ. These are heavily level-gated, which means you get to do all sorts of side-quests until you are able to take on these main missions. The game even throws in optional objectives into the side-missions like planting a bomb, rescuing prisoners, or securing an Enigma machine.  Some missions are short and direct while others will have you traveling to multiple parts of the city before reporting back to base to cash in that XP.

Combat looks and feels great despite the enemies now having a definite bullet-sponge aspect to them. Even so, most enemies go down quickly, and a properly upgraded sniper rifle can still single-shot most. Enemies have health bars and also indicators for their level and the type of weapon you should be using. I am a big fan of the shotgun, especially in the later levels where you are going up against Terminator-style robots and Panzerhunds, and the laser weapon is not only great for melting doors to secret areas; it vaporizes humans and melts anything made of metal if you hit them long enough. Weapons have multiple components that are interchangeable and upgradable including flashlight attachments for those missions in the dark sewers and catacombs. The menus are totally intuitive and show the pros and cons of each statistic as you cycle through the upgrades. Weapons are chosen from a radial menu that unfortunately shares the same button as throwing a grenade, so if you aren’t quick to press and HOLD RB you’ll end up tossing a grenade instead of bringing up the menu, and usually alerting a dozen Nazis to your location.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood looks great in that classic Wolfenstein way. My RTX2080ti was running this game flawlessly at 4K/60fps in both single and multiplayer modes with everything cranked to Ultra. The net code is awesome with only one dropped session in over 20 hours of gameplay. Matchmaking and load times are less than a minute and have actually gotten faster with recent patches. There is currently no HDR support but you couldn’t tell from the graphics. Some of the lighting is just blindingly bright and there is rumored support for a ray tracing patch coming soon that should really enhance the lighting. Admittedly, Youngblood seems to be liberally borrowing assets from the previous game when it comes to enemy models and texture designs, but that doesn’t really take away from the overall game and level design or the challenging fun you’ll have when playing alone or with a friend.  There is also a great mix of indoor and outdoor areas that greatly affects the tactics and flow of the game.

The sound design is excellent with great weapon effects and impressive positional audio that signals enemy locations when playing in surround sound. Personally, I loved the cutscene dialogue and the goofy banter and words of encouragement between the two sisters. Even the silent elevator antics made me laugh. And kudos to the designers for including an excellent in-game chat system that works perfectly except during load screens.

By design, Wolfenstein: Youngblood requires a bit of grinding to reach an adequate level to complete the game, so expect 20-30 hours to finish the game and even more if you are going for 100% collectibles. The game is definitely more challenging if playing alone with the AI but definitely doable; although your real enjoyment will come when you share the experience with a friend. The twins have three shared lives that will spawn them back into the level if they are not revived in time and when those lives are gone and either sister falls you’ll be sent back to the beginning of that level. That’s some old-school difficulty right there. Thankfully, there are crates with additional hearts scattered about the levels for easy top-off. There are also boosters you can “purchase” that will grant you certain buffs for a short duration; very useful for boss fights.

I had a blast with Wolfenstein: Youngblood; in fact it’s probably my second favorite co-op shooter since The Division 2. I certainly enjoyed this more than either of the Destiny games. There is a good selection of missions, some perfect for a quick game while others can take upward of an hour to complete. Whether you are killing Nazis or collecting their various bits of hidden loot there is a whole lot of challenging fun to be had with Wolfenstein: Youngblood. I encourage you to look beyond all the kneejerk bad reactions from disillusioned gamers who didn’t know what this game was about. As long as you have someone to play with you are going to have hours of fun playing as BJ’s twin daughters blasting their way through the streets and sewers of Nazi-occupied Paris.