Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Review
Reviewed on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
May 8, 2015
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a strange beast. As a six-hour, stand-alone prequel to 2014’s excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order, it puts us through a grinder of tense, exciting, and memorable shootouts in some really great settings. But while The New Order shined brightest during its quiet moments of exploration and character development, The Old Blood never really gives you time to catch your breath during its descent to zombie-filled strangeness. That unrelenting pace makes it lots of fun, but not as thoughtful as its stand-out predecessor.
Taking place during the late ‘40s, The Old Blood once again places you in the blood-soaked boots of B.J. Blazkowicz, back before he saved the world from Deathshead’s alternate-history evil. The story this time around has you infiltrating mountainside fortresses, escaping Nazi prisons, and fighting waves of zombies, but nothing about the story ever really felt memorable. Like so many entertaining but forgettable shooters before it, The Old Blood comes across more like an automated shooting range, most notable for presenting you with diverse locations to shoot all manner of baddies in. From the torchlit halls of Castle Wolfenstein to cryptic caves underneath burning villages, you briskly move from place to place, and encounter to encounter. While this speed keeps the action hot, I really did miss New Order’s surprisingly effective detours into character relationships, non-combat areas, and story. That felt brave and bold in a way this doesn’t.
In place of those palate cleansers, The Old Blood uses stealth puzzles that act as nice buffers to the action. Many of these have you sneaking around rooms and turning off electricity to hulking, tethered mechs, taking out sentry guards in heavily fortified areas, and using your all-purpose pipe weapon/tool to climb up walls and jimmy open doors. These scenes turn down the volume, but keep the tension high, as many enemies are able to tear you apart extremely quickly if you get caught. While checkpoints are generally plentiful across The Old Blood’s eight chapters, there were a few tough stealth sections where I managed to remain hidden for well over 10 minutes, only to be spotted within sight of my goal and frustratingly forced to repeat the whole thing over again.
In addition to these scenarios, I really appreciated the various nods to other Bethesda-owned games peppered throughout The Old Blood. During my time in this alternate history, I spotted Fallout’s Nuka Cola, a Dragonborn helmet from Skyrim, and a pixilated model of Quake 3’s rocket launcher.
When you do find yourself in combat, which I promise happens quite a bit, the scenarios are by and largely satisfying. Arenas are multi-level, filled with cover points, and peppered with secret passages. Each weapon, from the precise Bombenschluss to the room-clearing Kampfpistol, has a balanced use throughout the campaign. Managing scarce ammo, knowing which weapon to use on which type of soldier, and constantly surveying the surroundings for cues make these fights more interesting and satisfying than the typical run-and-gun. But while the weapons all feel good in their own right, none of them really do anything unique when it comes to genre. Shotguns, sniper rifles, and explosives act exactly as you’d expect from a shooter in 2015, and while that makes for some fun encounters, they don’t really deliver any surprises. Apart from this, it was nice to see prototype versions of what would become standard enemies 20 years later in The New Order, like a janky version of the mechanical dog that stalked us back in 2014’s game.
That said, I’m disappointed that The Old Blood didn’t take the opportunity to fix some of New Order’s nagging issues, particularly the repetitive effort required to pick up items. I was already tired of hitting a button every time I want to grab health, armor, ammo, or a collectable when I got here, and Old Blood only exacerbates this problem by throwing even larger piles of items at you. There’s no reason you wouldn’t want to pick up everything, so the lack of streamlining this action definitely adds a layer of tedium.
The other weird issue with The Old Blood is the bizarre tone shift from Nazi-killing and espionage to apocalyptic zombie horror that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the campaign. It might’ve felt justified if zombies were something more than dumber, bullet-spongier versions of regular enemies, but that’s all they are. They’re not scary, they’re not interesting. They’re just…there, being dumb zombies. Strategy and excitement definitely takes a hit in the final chapters, but the variety and action carry this short shooter through to the end.
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