Wolfenstein: The Old Blood on PC
Many moons ago, Wolfenstein 3D changed how we thought about videogames at the time. With what for the era was gratuitous violence along with the first-person shooter’s opening salvo on the gaming world, the game set development on the winding path upon which we find ourselves today. As the years went by, the much-loved Wolfenstein series fell off into the distance, almost disappearing over the horizon as progress drove gaming forward. That is until Machine Games were gifted the license and brought us the barn-storming Wolfenstein: The New Order. Now they’re back with its standalone expansion Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, opening the floodgates for our FPS desires to storm through once again.
In Wolfenstein: The Old Blood you once again take control of battle-hardened soldier B.J. Blazkowicz. You are not, however, retracing the steps of The New Order and running around an alternate-history 1960s world. As its name suggests, The Old Blood takes place before those events occurred way back in 1946. The game is beautifully presented in two distinct halves that create one meaningful story. Its first and perhaps most franchise-faithful journey is composed of a daring mission into the titular Castle Wolfenstein, while the second tapestry is rolled out through the streets of a Nazi-controlled hamlet.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood’s narrative beats deserve a look in their own right, but not before the glue that holds them together is given its time to shine: the shooting. First-person shooters can exhibit a narrative deeper than Mariana Trench only to struggle beneath the tide due to weak systems for putting holes into the various limbs of your enemies. What Machine Games have managed to do here though is perfectly graft the art of turning Nazi opponents into a concert of puncture wounds from The New Order with a sprinkle of fresh death-dealing actions.
Running down the corridors of Castle Wolfenstein, blowing chunks out of wall and Nazi alike is a hoot in a hand-basket. Hours upon hours could be wasted detailing exactly how the art of riddling opponents with bullet after bullet is so enjoyable in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood but doing so would rob you of experiencing it yourself. Suffice to say that every round that hits or misses feels like it is doing so fairly, never becoming a tiresome slog even as the majority of the game is spent with your finger holding down the trigger.
Or triggers if you’re a fan of dual-wielding monstrous assault rifles. If you aren’t, there are still enough weapons in The Old Blood to keep you entertained with the high caliber Bombenschuss and explosive Kampfpistole offering a more traditional shooting experience. Where proceedings slow down, however, come when you’re bereft of ranged weaponry and forced to use melee weapons and stealth to succeed. It’s not that these sections are inherently poor or anything, it is simply a little jarring to be thrust away from the fun of shooting with sneaking sections.
These silent approach areas are actually quite good fun on their own. New mechanics like the melee pipe, itself used for other actions like climbing or opening specific access ways, numerous power generators bring a fresh if unwanted aroma to events. However, while clambering up walls using an old piece of plumbing stays strong throughout the game, the intriguing arrival of super soldiers hooked up to electrical systems to keep them active becomes a fleeting memory after the initial stage. The game’s most interesting new mechanic then only returns at the very end, feeling more like a throwback to forgotten times than the intelligent use of a head-scratching foe.
As games have taught us since the beginning of time, combat should always come to an explosive crescendo in boss battles. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood however has been built otherwise. They are there, one at the game’s midpoint and one coming in for the final curtain, but their quality is far from consistent. Your first locking of horns with a boss is a difficult encounter where spacial awareness and effective movement are just as important as a good aim. The second is less so, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth with a combat situation that’s more suited to Borderlands or Diablo than the pseudo-historical Wolfenstein universe.
That’s not to say that Wolfenstein: The Old Blood fumbles massively in its closing hours. If anything, the final act feels absolutely perfect after chasing down the SS’s Paranormal Investigation team. We’re not going to spoil what actually happens here but it’s a bundle of fun wrapped up in excellent shooting mechanics. The latter chapters actually show that Machine Games aren’t afraid to focus on the fun rather than the fact. All through Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, the onus is placed on stretching a semi-psychotic grin over your face and not on creating a deep or thought provoking experience.
It’s not that this intention devalues the surrounding narrative, far from it in fact. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood’s tale grabs you by the throat and will not let go, dragging you by the neck through some joyous battles only to drop you on a somewhat unsatisfying ending after 6-8 hours. B.J. Blazkowicz has long been gaming’s most one-dimensional character after being presented to us only as a face way back at his first appearance. However in only a few hours, The Old Blood manages to help build the foundation for a character you care about more than in many other franchises.
Don’t be fooled by the outwardly short-sounding time-frame though, as it actually helps the game more than hinders it. Nothing ever hangs around long enough to feel laborious or overused. Those strong-arming stealth sections can be tiresome on their own, but you always know that just around the corner is a chaotic dance of bullet-infused excitement. Often the combat arenas that show themselves in Castle Wolfenstein can become nothing more than shooting grey shapes in a grey environment filled with grey smoke. Aesthetically pleasing grey, but grey shapes all the same.
Sadly it isn’t all singing and killing through. Great segments frequently come across as rushed while the corridors joining them together feel like the same ones you’ve walked down before. B.J. ends almost every chapter by being knocked out with falling rock ex machina, leaving you with the sour taste of a severely overused mechanic to end sections. It’s actually funny when you think about it after completing the game, just a shame that this humor doesn’t come across as you’re enduring it again and again.
The PC version of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood isn’t exactly a shining beacon for quality either. It’s entirely possible to get the game running beautifully, just at the expense of some extra work in the background. The texture streaming system used falters as often as it succeeds in presenting a good-looking game. Terrible vertical sync issues also plague the game, often leading to scurrying through information posted online about this game’s bigger brother in order to get everything working.
Sounds and conversations regularly miss the mark on even the highest specification systems out there without you having to take to fixing it yourself. Everyone should be able to enjoy Wolfenstein: The Old Blood the way it was meant to be played, rather than the need to enter the developer console or creating your own cache folder for the game. Even when the sounds all sync up properly, the weapons’ fire often feels like it’s got the resounding strength of a sneezing shrew. Odd really when the gun in your hand fires rounds bigger than most rodents.
All in all even with these issues, The Old Blood is a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. If you run through the whole game in a single 6 hour sitting, prepare to be shunted into what is at its core an Indiana Jones movie, but replacing Indy’s trademark bullwhip/fedora combo with a pair of automatic shotguns and cybernetic Rottweilers. Machine Games broke the mold when they brought Wolfenstein: The New Order into the world to be one of last year’s surprise hits, or so we thought. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood proves that a little new blood is what was needed to keep the Wolfenstein series alive for many years to come.