After the critical success of MachineGames’ 2014 title Wolfenstein: The New Order, which took players on an alternate-history romp through a different kind of Nazi regime in 1960’s Europe, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood seeks to return the series to its roots of World War II. The standalone expansion has you play as series protagonist Agent William Joseph ‘BJ’ Blazkowicz as you, once again, fight through 1940’s war-torn Nazi Germany in an attempt to infiltrate Castle Wolfenstein and disrupt the plans of Nazi archeologist Helga Von Schabbs.
I should first preface this review by stating that I have not played Wolfenstein: The New Order, but it was the overall praise the game garnered which led me to purchasing The Old Blood. Although I will attempt to relate and compare The Old Blood to its parent game, my experience with The New Order is entirely secondhand. Many lauded both the narrative as well as the no-nonsense gunplay of The New Order that led to it being one of the standout games of last year, but does The Old Blood, as a £15 ($20 USD) expansion DLC, live up to this experience? Perhaps the first point of concern for many people is how long the game is and whether the price is justified, especially in today’s climate where some games are very short and downloadably content is abundant. Completing the game on the middle of five difficulties clocked me in at about four and a half hours, so those that are only expecting to pay through the game once may find the price a bit steep. However, if you factor in the harder difficulties, which garner achievements/trophies upon completion, the numerous collectibles scattered throughout each level, easter egg levels of the classic Wolfenstein 3D and separate wave-style challenge maps, there’s more than enough content in The Old Blood to keep you playing for 10+ hours. Despite this, the sentiment behind The Old Blood definitely appears to be quality over quantity.
The gameplay in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is, frankly, incredibly fun. All of the guns feel satisfying to use, the ability to dual-wield almost every weapon only serves to prove the sentiment that, at its core, Wolfenstein is a first person shooter; and first person shooters are all about gunning down enemies. Nothing is more empowering than dual-wielding assault rifles, even at the expense of accuracy. Although many other shooting series’, such as Bioshock or Shadow Warrior, seek to add other powers for the players to have at their disposal, The Old Blood keeps it simple. With no regenerating health and collectible armour, the game definitely harks back to its predecessors as a bare-bones fps. The dynamic cover system is also an aspect of the game to be highly praised; no longer are you simply glued to cover, you are now able to freely manoeuvre your aim as your lean in and out of cover seamlessly. Although stealth kills feel greatly rewarding, there are a number of sections throughout the game where you have the option of stealthily killing few enemies in order to not raise the alarm, silenced pistol ammo can become an issue in higher difficulties as enemies can take a few shots to kill. This is perhaps my only issue with the gameplay in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, because the enemy AI will always attempt to flank you on whatever difficulty you are playing on, higher difficulty can feel artificial as enemies just seem to take more and more bullets to defeat.
In terms of plot, The Old Blood is quite superficial. The Nazis are up to something suspicious and it’s up to BJ Blazkowicz to stop them and turn the tides of the war, it’s tried and true but, by no means, is it revolutionary. Despite The New Order featuring player choices and branching storylines, The Old Blood instead opts for a more linear experience. The game is broken up into eight chapters of two arcs, with the first concerning the infiltration of Castle Wolfenstein, a classic setting from the series. It has to be said that the environments in this game are absolutely breathtaking, with the prelude cablecar ride up to Castle Wolfenstein showing the structure as a terrifying, yet beautiful display of the Nazi’s power. Likewise, the quaint German Alps villages provide a cozy juxtaposition to the cold corridors of Castle Wolfenstein. The game runs incredibly smoothly, even with a number of enemies in combat at once I didn’t once notice a dip in the game’s performance. The only time the performance of the game seemed to lower slightly was during the short in-engine cutscenes at the end of each chapter, the transition between gameplay and the cutscenes (which are still from the player’s first-person perspective) is visibly a little jarring.
Although the friendly characters you meet along the way are likeable, you don’t actually see enough of them to really form any extensive attachment. Likewise, the two main villains in the game, Rudi Jäger and Helga Von Schabbs, are just as dislikable but they simply aren’t given enough time to develop into truly amazing antagonists. In many ways this is understandable, as The Old Blood is, in no way, the same length of a full-price game. It’s just somewhat of a shame that these characters were not given a chance to develop further. In the second half of the game, The Old Blood leans back towards the supernatural aspects of Wolfenstein that were present in the 2009 reboot of the game, and combines the industry’s all-time two favourite fps villains; Nazis and zombies. Despite what might seem like a huge cliché, The Old Blood still finds ways to make fighting the enemies feel unique. More often than not you will enter a room to find Nazis and zombies fighting away, due to the supernatural nature of the zombies, once killed Nazis may find themselves being instantly reanimated. Although it may sound insignificant these interactions, without needing the input of the player, make the game world and the sudden struggle against supernatural zombies feel much more real.
In an industry that is plagued with a multitude of minuscule DLC packs, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood may be one of those additions, much like Bioshock 2’s Minerva’s Den and Grand Theft Auto IV’s Ballad of Gay Tony, that may end up being one of the most acclaimed pieces of downloadable content from this generation of gaming. Much like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, The Old Blood can proudly stand on its own and be appreciated both in relation to its parent game and away from it. Those who are looking for a great, albeit short, fps experience in a classic setting, especially those that didn’t get around to playing The New Order, will find it with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.