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Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review – IGN

Most parents hope that their kids will one day overtake them, but failing that we will settle for staying out of prison and not asking for money too often. So if I were in the footsteps of legendary run-and-gun shooter protagonist William "BJ" Blazkowicz, I would not be mad about my twin daughter's debut performance in Wolfenstein: Youngblood

but I would be disappointed. The young Blazkowicz's approach to co-op is, on the whole, serviceable but does cramp the style of its inherited trust fund of combat and stealth gameplay. Without a similarly outlandish cast of characters to live up to the alternate-history setting in which the Nazis won WWII with the help of fire-breathing robot dogs, it's perfunctory compared to the extremely high standard set by Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus.Nearly everything about Youngblood feels like a step down from Wolfenstein 2's distinctive plot and satisfyingly energetic Nazi-slaughter action. Outside of a single reveal, this story – the daughters 'search for a MIA BJ in Paris, which is still lousy with the Nazis about 20 years later – has nothing surprising in its sleeve to add to the Machinegames Wolfenstein reboot series' collection of WTF moments . That's partly due to the minimal number of story cutscenes within the main missions, but it's because of a stark lack of interesting characters to fill the shoes of batshit insane companions like Super Spesh or Set, to name a few. Abby, the daughter of Wolfenstein 2's Grace Walker, is about as bland and a hacker helper character as you ever find, and the monotonously cackling villain is not fit to shine Irene Engle's jackboots. Admittedly, Wolfenstein 2 is a tough act to follow in those departments, but Youngblood barely seems to try

BJ himself is among the weaker characters in the previous two games (aside from those flashbacks to his childhood), and in that respect his apples have not fallen far from the tree. Soph and Jess 'defining character trait is a snort-laughing dorks together, who would be at least adorable except for their constant use of fist-bumping and horrible' 80s slang (like: "tubular!") Like gender-swapped frat bros. They're not unlike when they're chatting about memories of hunting with their father or writer aspirations in heavy Texan accents, but they're not exactly breakout stars I'd like to see more of either. They are … fine

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BJ has to work for in Wolfenstein 2 – most notably the double-jump – and earn a lot of upgrades from there. Youngblood's credit, there are too many upgrades to get them all without playing exhaustively, so specialization does matter, though not to the extent where I see opportunities for a lot of synergy between abilities. You can focus on buffering your health and armor maxims, intensify your melee damage, gain the ability to pick up and upgrade heavy weapons, and more. We also get pretty much the same arsenal of pistols, shotguns, SMGs, rifles, etc. that twins' father wielded two decades earlier (though annoyingly, only pistols can be dual-wielded), and they can all be upgraded with modifiers such as muzzles, sights, and stocks that increase their power as you go. It's the most visible representation of progress because these changes are reflected on the gun models you're holding.

The Blazkowicz twins are not exactly breakout stars I want to see more of. They are … fine


But the addition of a leveling system for both girls and the Nazis they fight does not do the fight any favors. For one thing, as a veteran of the first two games in this series it was jarring to see a name and number pop up over the head of an enemy when I aimed them to indicate how their power level compared to mine. More importantly, it messed up the balance of about two-thirds of the fights: when you are up against techno-fascists who are right at your level, combat feels just about how it should, but the enemies that are below your level are mere fodder and those above are annoying bullet sponges that reward you with just a little more XP. When you're dealing with heavily armored super-soldiers, that's not much fun.

This leveling system is in conflict with Wolfenstein's design: unlike in Fallout or Borderlands, there's no loot to make the potential reward worth the risk of taking on a bad guy several levels out of your league. Seeing one just means you should turn around and come back later, and defeats the purpose of the non-linear structure of Youngblood's missions. (19659009) Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Those zones are, I can go to zones in any order I want, but if they have a big burly bouncer at the door they can not be done in whatever order I choose anyway. adequate but similarly pale shadows of what's come before. The best example is seeing vestiges of a parade that immediately reminded me of Wolfenstein's 2 Nazi parade scene in New Mexico – which must be a deliberate callback – but without any of the liveliness. Beyond that, it is largely a collection of high-tech Nazi facilities and war-torn city blocks, distinguished mainly by the good use of multi-story structures to double-jump around and the lightest of Metroidvania design touches, asking you to use one of the three heavy weapons – a laser, an electric zapper, and a sticky grenade launcher – to blast open new areas

No queue on the Western Front

Of course shooting Nazis until their faces fall down is only two thirds of the magic of Wolfenstein's previous success. The other is stabbing them repeatedly, occasionally while cupping a hand over their mouth and whispering "Ssssh, it will be over soon, you go-stepping douche" into their ear – then doing the same to about a dozen of their friends before you get around the shooting part. Naturally, Youngblood messes up this too. Its level and enemy layouts are simply not designed with stealth in mind, and trying to play it in the way I'd had success with previously almost always went poorly. Either you're spotted by a flying drone or there's no way to separate and pick up a group of enemies, forcing you into a noisy combat.

Instead, you're supposed to use the blatant design Band-Aid of the cloaking device , an ability so essential it is one of two you choose from when initially creating a character (and quickly unlockable if you choose the Crash ramming ability instead). Even before you upgrade it to last longer and let you move faster, it lets you walk right up to an economically anxious German, step around him, and stealthily ventilate his spleen. It feels like a cheat, probably because it's absolutely a cheat. The designers cheated not only the game, but themselves. They did not grow. They did not improve. They took a shortcut and won nothing. They experienced a hollow victory.

The cloaking device feels like a cheat, probably because it's absolutely a cheat


Co-op does not get a fair amount right. From the start, it's convenient and seamlessly drop-in and drop-out because your sister is always with you, controlled by either a friend, an internet rando via quickmatch, or a largely competent (because it cheats and warps around bigtime) AI when you're playing solo. Youngblood also has a good job of letting you play with anybody you want, regardless of your respective levels – when I was level 25 someone joined me with a brand new character and was able to hold his own, just with fewer abilities unlocked. His character even got to carry their progress back to single-player, which is always appreciated. That said, I had more than one incident where my co-op partner would experience an annoying lag between when they pulled the trigger and when the enemy they shot would actually take damage – and this even happened on a LAN, so it's unlikely to be connection-related

The co-op-first nature of Youngblood's design takes its toll on the single-player experience, as you'd expect. The first problem I noticed was that you can not pause, even while playing by yourself. You can go to the menu screen, but then you just get to listen as the Nazis and their suicide-bomber dogs.

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No matter if you play with a buddy or you can play it, solo, death is a lot harder to come in in Youngblood than in previous Wolfensteins because, as is standard in the co-op shooter world, it has a down-but-not-out system where you can revive each other endlessly, as long as you get to the injured person within about a minute. This is really unusually generous, because even if you're both downed you have a pool of up to three "shared lives" that one of you self-revives to get back on your feet before it's over.

Once that generous system runs out, however, the consequences of death can be, as they say in Germany, uber stupid. For example, the final battle in the Brother 2 Tower mission (there are three of these that make up the bulk of the 15-hour hours of the story) killed me several times – thanks for nothing, AI-controlled Jess. Every time, it booted me so far back that it took me about 15 minutes just to get back to the boss fight, including battling through or sprinting past several miniboss mechs and running through the longest jumping puzzle section in the entire campaign. Just as bad, Youngblood reboots you to the nearest checkpoint with the amount of ammo you died with, not what you had when you first reached it. And if you did not go down without a fight, that usually means your good stuff is depleted. That makes you spend a bunch of extra time scrounging for ammo, and it's actually worse when the checkpoint starts you right in the thick of the action effectively unarmed – as it does in the tedious final boss battle

There's plenty to do in Youngblood beyond the story missions, including dynamic "actions" that pop up and invite you to plant bombs or listening devices or straight-up murder some dudes "when you have a moment" en route to your bigger target, and tons of side missions you can take on talking to a handful of completely forgettable characters idoly standing around the hub area. That's arguably the meat of Youngblood and could carry you forward for another dozen or so hours of cathartic, justifiable homicide, but frankly I'd rather spend that time replaying The New Order and The New Colossus

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