Last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order stunned many with its superb action, and wacky, but deeper than expected, plot. Having garnered significant critical acclaim, developer MachineGames is back with a standalone prequel, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.
Once more unto the breach
This new chapter in the Wolfenstein story sends the heroic B.J. Blazkowicz back into action against a powerful Nazi force. Taking place in 1946, this alternate history sees the Nazi threat not only still present, but actually winning the war. This is in part due to their stylishly steampunk technology, but also thanks to secretly embracing the dark arts.
Broken into two parts, Blazkowicz's latest mission has him first breaking into the eponymous Castle Wolfenstein's prison to steal vital intelligence about the evil General Deathshead’s plans. Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan and this soon turns into a rescue mission that has you sneaking your way through the dungeons and gunning down anyone who gets in your way.
Escaping the castle, the scene shifts to a nearby town. Here Blazkowicz must try to stop the occult archeologist Dr. Helga Von Schabbs whose research is about to uncover a powerful, artifact which could further strengthen the evil army.
At around eight hours in length, there is certainly enough bang here for your buck – but it lacks the novel appeal of the alternate 60s setting, falling back on an older template for the franchise.
The industrial machine
Given its throwback setting it is perhaps appropriate that Wolfentein: The Old Blood feels more traditional than The New Order. While the combat puzzle of eliminating officers silently to avoid reinforcements remains in place, the setting and pacing feels more like an old-school first-person shooter. This is a hard thing to quantify, but it just feels more rigid and less exciting – and not only because the setting feels more one note.
Blazkowicz weapon selections feels similarly dated. From the shotgun to the Lugar pistol, each gun is well redesigned to fit this altered history, but they do little to differentiate themselves from the classic weapon line up. Each part of your arsenal also seems to have a distinct lack of impact, even when dual-wielding. This leaves the vicious one hit melee kills feeling like the most efficient and impactful way to kill, even if they do get a bit too vicious at times (especially when attacking the dogs).
On the plus side, The New Order was always an impressive looking game, and that remains true here. The heavy-duty robo-Nazis and their armored dogs have a grim functional look that set a suitably foreboding tone. Human characters also have a sturdily chucky stylization that gives the universe its own unique flare.
This creates an odd situation because The Old Blood does look good, but struggles to stand up to the almost tongue in cheek 60s future of the original that had you meeting all kinds of Fascist perversions of pop-icons. By comparison, the medieval castles and 1940s city look depressing and drab. This makes the hard hitting action feel all the more gruesome in a way I found a little too oppressive, even with the occasional splashes of color the game throws in.
Get ready to reload
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood suffers from the imaginative excellence of its predecessor. Its unrelenting bleakness becomes wearing and too easily lays naked the sneak, combat arena, repeat structure of most of the game. It still plays incredibly well, and if you enjoyed the shooting and sneaking of The New Order then this truly is a bargain. If, however, it was the world and story that hooked you, it may be worth playing through the original again and making a few different narrative choices.