Nazis are my favourite video game enemy. It’s just a shame they’re based on an actual ideology. Or maybe that’s not a shame because it makes them even more fun to shoot in the ideology processing center of their brain. They’re a complicated subject, and I don’t think there’s a best approach to addressing them. My favourite is making them look evil and foolish, which is why Wolfenstein clicks with me.
When Machine Games decided to take a crack at the series, they chose the best direction. Not only did they incorporate some classic FPS design that was dropped by the wayside in the rush to either be Halo or Half-Life, they also chose to take Nazis and make them even less human and more killable. There are some decent themes buried in the neo-Wolfenstein titles, but they don’t matter because they made the most hateable villains in gaming and gave you the opportunity to shoot them in badass ways.
When I played Wolfenstein: The New Order, I was taken aback by its prologue. Set the year after World War 2 was supposed to end, it incorporated a lot of designs that were completely unique, then forgotten about after the timeline skips ahead. I feel like the standalone expansion, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was necessary for a few reasons, not least of which is that it capitalizes on a flavour left in your mouth after tasting the first game.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is both a quasi-remake of the original Wolfenstein 3D and a prequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order. Set in 1946, it tells the story of what happened just before the prologue of The New Order, while also tying in themes and settings set by the original games. So, you have the concept of Nazis exploring the occult alongside a plot that builds on its predecessor. It’s a really neat way of doing things. I’m a fan.
Because of the tweaks to the setting, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has its own distinct flavour. While much of the gameplay, and even its manner of storytelling, hasn’t changed from The New Order, its continuous timeline and focus on the supernatural ensure that it stands apart. Atmospherically, it’s still underlined by brooding melancholy, but the sterile architecture of alternate history has been replaced by the crumbling ruins of the old world. It makes what could have just been a mission pack feel like a part of the extended series.
KILLED YOUR FUCKIN’ DOG, RUDI
The gunplay, on the other hand, is intensely familiar. Stuck somewhere between Doom and Call of Duty, the newer Wolfenstein games present a mix of old standards and new mechanics. There’s iron sight aiming, and shooting Nazis in the head is still an effective deterrent, but if you can’t get a fix on grey matter, you can pick up a second gun and just put more lead downrange.
The mechanic, where many encounters have the presence of officers who call in reinforcements, is a nice touch. It provides an incentive for you to sneak in and take them out first before dealing with their lackeys, but if you want to just light the place up, it’s not going to judge. I usually made a token effort, but the moment anyone spotted me would just start feasting on a buffet of Nazi meat. There are some sections early on where you’re forced to sneak, but it’s more to teach you the takedown mechanic. It gets out of your way quickly, which is nice because some of us are only here to invoke the spirit of a combine harvester.
MY FATHER USED TO CALL ME BILLY BOY
True to Wolfenstein 3D’s narrative, the story in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is just kind of there. It tries to do those tense moments that essentially every title in Machine Games’ interpretations of the series does. A big bad will act threateningly in front of B.J. Blazkowicz, and get right up in his face. They’re just not built up that well here. Rudi Jager harrows you in the first half and isn’t bad, but Dr. Schabbs isn’t enough of a presence. She’s supposed to be the biggest of bads in Old Blood, but in actuality, she’s constantly overshadowed by the antagonist of New Order, Deathshead, who doesn’t even appear.
The second half of the game feels a bit rushed overall. Not that the quality dips to any major degree, but rather, you’re just kind of sped through it. Actually, escaping Castle Wolfenstein is given a lot of love, but after that – the part of the plot that is supposed to be the focus – it kind of just happens in fast-forward. On one hand, it feels like it should have gotten more love; on the other hand, it could have been balanced out by abbreviating the first half. It’s nothing too damning, but it does give The Old Blood a lopsided appearance. It betrays the fact that it isn’t a full production but just an expansion.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING BREADSTICKS
That’s nothing terrible in itself. I think what bothers me most about the half-measures in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is that it still feels like required reading. Whether you play it before or after The New Order, it still feels like an inextricable part of the series. The fact that it doesn’t quite reach its full potential is a bit disappointing.
That said, it’s still the same Nazi-slaying gameplay I love about its mainline siblings. But it’s got its own style and personality, which means rather than just being the same, it also offers something new. That’s what makes Wolfenstein: The Old Blood worth playing. It’s what makes it more than just an expansion pack. It’s the breadsticks that come with the pizza. Uggh… Breeeadsticks!
This review was conducted on a digital PC version of the game. It was paid for by the author.
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