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‘Wolfenstein: The Old Blood’ review: we’re in the zombie Nazi killing business
Welcome back to the land of technologically advanced Nazi’s and cheesy American one-liners. Yes, that’s right. Our favourite Nazi-killing machine, B.J. Blazkowicz, is back at Castle Wolfenstein and as usual things take a turn for the brutally bizarre.
The Old Blood is a standalone expansion in the Wolfenstein series and acts as a prequel to the brilliantly epic Wolfenstein: The New Order. Though this title doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of game play its narrative is immersive and holds true to the “B-Rate” soul of the franchise.
Honestly, it’s just great jumping back into one of most action packed and thoroughly entertaining first-person shooters out there today.
The year is 1946. In contrast to official history, the powerful Nazi army has not yet been defeated and are on the brink of winning the war and taking control of the entire planet.
You play as O.S.A. (Office of Secret Actions) operative William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the one and only hero of the Wolfenstein franchise. You (accompanied by “Agent One”) are tasked to infiltrate Castle Wolfenstein disguised as Nazi S.S. Officers and retrieve a single file that will unmask the location of General William “Deathshead” Strasse, the main antagonist of The New Order.
This file is in the possession of the terrifyingly sadistic Helga Von Schabbs, commander of Castle Wolfenstein and head of the Nazi Paranormal Research Division. Her title alone will give you an idea of the enemies you will face in the duration of this game. Between you and her there lies a sea of various Nazi foes and machinery, including Rudi Jäger and his army of armoured dogs who have a particular taste for human flesh.
The infiltration has a tense and bumpy start but you manage to enter Castle Wolfenstein with your cover intact. But soon after shit starts hitting the fan thanks to bad intel and B.J.’s “atrocious” German, you both end up getting caught by Rudi Jäger.
With your cover blown and everything going up shit’s creek, it’s time to take your gloves off. You manage to escape your cell and so starts your blood-soaked journey through the immense confines of the Castle Wolfenstein, through the village Pandorn and all the way to King Otto’s vault, leaving a long trail of bullet shells and dead (and undead) Nazis behind you.
The linear narrative of The Old Blood, like its predecessors, is told through a progression of chapters and its conclusion takes place hours before the events of The New Order.
The storytelling has a distinctive B-Movie feel, littered with intense build-ups and humorously tacky one-liners like “Well, look at that. It’s raining Nazis.” Blazkowicz’s narration adds a deeper feel to the predominantly shallow narrative and, sometimes, can be considered poetic.
Along your journey you will meet a healthy variety of vibrant characters from nostalgic individuals from past titles to the entertaining village drunkard vocalising his misery in the new Germany. Each of them plays their part brilliantly, which in turn effectively strengthens the believability of the story.
The developer’s love for their craft is further reinforced by the vividly created in-game world, which adds a powerful sense of immersion to the experience. All around you there are conversations and events taking place, totally unrelated to main story, like a Nazi officer scolding a soldier for shaming his father.
If you take the time to scrutinize your surroundings you will see little details like Nazi advertisements, a plethora of strictly German products and many odes to the New Order. There are also interactive elements like being able to salute Nazi soldiers while you are still undercover.
One scene I found particularly entertaining was one taking place in a Nazi pub in the village of Pandorn. Here you find yourself among a crowd of drunken singing Nazis. The interesting part is that all the voices you hear are all members of the development team, on the request of the game’s audio engineer.
A few days before, the team memorized some German song lyrics and a few hours before the recording session they purchased a some crates of beer and proceeded to get absolutely smashed. Now that’s what I consider going beyond the call of duty.
The Old Blood might not have such a strong focus on narrative as the titles before it (probably due to its short campaign length) but it blends action and story so well that you don’t ever feel you are leaving the narrative. It just shows that there is still a place for story-driven shooters in our currently multiplayer obsessed gaming world.
At first glance The Old Blood might look exactly like the same beast as The New Order but after taking a closer look you will there are many new additions to the game play.
The most apparent of them will be the new metal pipe weapon, which not only serves as a melee murder tool but also as a necessary item that you will regularly use to progress through the game.
This pipe can be used as a whole or screwed into two parts, varying the various takedowns and stealth kills that can be seen in the game. Because of its hollow design you will also be treated to some graphic displays of blood spurting fountains.
Beyond combat this tool will be used to wedge open doors and vent covers, break down weak walls and reach high surfaces. One annoying aspect of it though is when it comes to climbing. With the pipe screwed apart you will be able to lodge it into certain parts of a wall and stab your way up to the top. Though this is an interesting addition to the game play, its actual execution is rather frustrating as the controls are too closely linked to how you would do it in reality.
I’m glad to see that one element that I’ve always loved about the Wolfenstein games has remained intact, the option of taking either a stealth or guns-blazing approach. This adds much depth to the game play and provides a fulfilling and challenging experience in both regards.
There is an abundance of nooks, crannies and hidden paths from where you can inflict a series of menacing assassinations or avoid conflict all together. But if head-on encounters are your thing, there are few games that can offer as satisfying an experience as Wolfenstein.
These nooks and crannies will become your cover from a massive host of enemies and, as always, Blazkowics has a gracious arsenal of death inducing weapons from silences pistols to dual wielding shotguns.
But timing and keeping a cool head is what will get you through this game. The Old Blood will constantly make you think that you are in control, and then almost instantly show you that you aren’t.
You will be more or less be facing the same enemies you saw in The New Order (minus the “Elite Guard”) such as the tenacious ever-present Nazi bastards and agile canines, and the more formidable Super Soldiers and “Panzerhund”.
One of the new addition will be the return of Nazi Zombies. This sequence was one of my favourite parts in the game. The developers pulled off with a with such terror (thanks to remarkable sound design and edgy moments) that I honestly think they should try their hands at a horror themed game.
You will also be treated to grandiose ending boss fight but, although this is a lengthy and taxing ordeal, I expected it to much more challenging as the conclusive battle of the game.
Expect for a constant stream of action and immersive storytelling there is much beauty to be admired in this game. From Caste Wolfenstein to the quaint village of Pandorn, you will be treated to riveting and entrancing visuals. Apart from for the small details I mentioned earlier, the overall atmosphere of the in-game world is absolutely amazing and some scenes will take your breath away.
The Verdict: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a visually striking orgy of perpetual action coupled with a brilliantly entertaining and captivating narrative. Its short game but the play duration makes it the perfect fit for those with little time but looking for a AAA fix. I think more serious gamers will not feel left wanting for more. It’s a welcome addition to the franchise and as a prequel to The New Order, it is a marvellous introduction and fills in many missing plot holes of its successor. It you are a fan of non-stop action, story-driven shooters and killing Nazis, then this title should undoubtedly be on your play list.
Release Date: 5 May 2015
Developers: Machine Games (Published by Bethesda Softworks)
Engine: id Tech 5
Genre: Action-adventure first-person shooter
Playthrough time: Around 6 hours
Platforms: PC (review platform), Playstation 4, Xbox One