Wolfenstein The New Order was a huge surprise for me. Though I have played each entry, and enjoyed them to varying levels, I never expected the newest title to easily compete for my game of the year. It had a great blend of stealth, hardcore action and fun, interesting characters, all built within an industry-defying, single-player only experience. While our very own Nick Calandra, wasn’t quite as impressed as I, he still spoke positively of it. You can read all of his thoughts in the full Wolfenstein The New Order review.
“I hope you don’t mind the weight of the world on your shoulders, agent Blazkowicz.”
The Old Blood was a surprise announcement from Machinegames. It was looking to obviously capitalize on the success of TNO. Rather than act as DLC fodder, or an over-priced and rushed sequel, it was to serve more as an expansion piece in the form of a prequel. It would also be affordable at $20/£15. The Old Blood sets the tone for what is to come in The New Order, but it has trouble reaching those lofty heights in this truncated form. Still there is a lot to enjoy here for fans of the last game.
The game provides a slightly more recognizable experience than its predecessor. This is afterall, aside from The New Order’s introductory sequence, 20 years earlier. The technology of the Nazis is not quite as advanced, and neither are the weapons with which you fight them. Agent B.J. Blazkowicz is being driven by Britsh Agent One, Wesley, towards Castle Wolfenstein. Despite what some others have suggested, all of the Wolfenstein games do fit loosley within the same timeline — if this “return” and “escape” from the same castle breaks this, I’m not quite certain.
B.J. and Wesley, which sounds like a buddy-cop sitcom, are dressed as Nazi officers and are looking to infiltrate the famed castle and score some valuable intel. Their ultimate goal is to find the coordinates to Deathshead’s compound to initiate the fateful siege and attempt to assassinate the evil Nazi general at the beginning of The New Order. That is only part of the story however.
The game is split into two sections of five chapters each. The first, Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves, deals with the above mission — the infilitration of castle Wolfenstein, the taking of important information and then extraction. Of course, despite their best efforts, the two agents run into quite a bit of trouble; making escape their main priority. The second part titled the Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs deals with a huge seismic event, caused by Nazi excavations. A giant quake causes mass destruction, inadvertently saves B.J.’s life, and turns the Nazi thirst for all things occult into a new threat for all parties involved.
History buffs will know that the Nazis’ mythology has long involved talk of occult research. Theories have speculated everything from their attempts to unearth occult relics of power in order to help them defeat their enemies, all the way to hypotheses of Hitler’s “demonic” possession. The Wolfenstein series has always played on these mostly unconfirmed theories, along with the idea of advanced machinery and technology. The original Wolfenstein 3D featured mutant-soldiers, the victims of Nazi experiments, occult priests weilding fire, and of course generals and Hitler himself in mechanized armor.
“Sorry I couldn’t save you, pal.”
It should come as no surprise the new enemy-type that is revealed; I won’t go so far as to mention them by name, suffice to say that other games have introduced them as “add-ons”, whereas Wolfenstein has had them as part of their lore since the beginning. Fighting to the end and ultimately getting the intel to his old pal Fergus — snifff… snifff. :( — is B.J.s final task. He’ll go it alone and have to face highly uneven odds to do so.
That is the key to both TNO and TOB. For those that want a straight out action-fest, these games are unapologetically just that. This is simply the best dual-wielding shooter you can play. It feels heavily satisfying to rock dual SMG’s or dual Shockhammers, the shotgun-esque shrapnel launchers. It’s also still a blast to silently creep through corridors with dual silenced pistols, and the returning throwing knives, pegging enemies from a distance. Of course, getting up-close and personal to initate various, gruesome, knife executions for an ultra-stealthy experience is equally rewarding.
This was one of the large strengths of Machinegames’ first entry. You can play it strictly stealthy for the most part, or you can go out guns-a-blazin’. Most people will find themselves somewhere in the middle area. For instance, I love stealthing around. However, once something goes wrong, re-establishing stealth seems like a waste of time. It’s much easier to convert into full-on action hero. It’s a great balance which extends some variety to the gameplay of the Old Blood, a title that is much smaller in its scope, thus giving a more linear experience.
Strangely, the attempt to give The New Order heart through a variety of interesting, amazingly well-voiced, and troubled characters, paired with a deeper sense of story was the thing that many complained about. I found it amazing that Machinegames could take a fairly one-dimensional shooter series (original 3D moniker notwithstanding) and give it depth and emotion. I have no problems admitting that I was touched by the stories of the characters, Tekla, not-Jimmy-Hendrix, Anya and B.J.. I found the ending to be quite emotional.
The Old Blood tries to do the same thing… and they get part of the way there. The character and story development here reveal the major flaw of the title. Though not a fatal mistake, the often-times truncated presentation brings to the forefront issues with pacing, and lack of advancement in the game’s design. A lot of this can be forgiven, as this is not meant to be a full a release. Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say that everything feels rushed — like thoughts abandoned in mid-sentence.
The one thing that isn’t rushed, is the beginning. In fact it’s probably my big sticking-point when it comes to pacing problems. The parallels to both games are interesting.They both begin with B.J. sleeping, head titled to his right – the first game in a plane, the second in a car. Whereas the New Order kicks us straight into action, Old Blood takes us into dialogue and then a slow infiltration sequence. A better idea here would have been to show Agents One and B.J. perhaps fighting for and obtaining their Nazi uniforms, and then moving to the infilitration. It set a much slower pace and tone than I expected.
The rest of the pacing issues point directly back towards character development. We are introduced to characters that B.J. obviously cares for, and so, naturally we begin to feel that as well. But the abbreviated game we have, removes these characters, fairly unceremoniously before they develop any real weight. We are meant to feel the build-up of despair, the hopelessness that B.J. feels which each loss. The weight grows, even as B.J. accomplishes his goals. It’s a heavy, sobering thought as we know what is in store for him in The New Order. However, the short time we have with these events, prevents the feeling from coming to full fruition.
The superb voice acting from Brian Bloom as B.J. helps to bring back some of that weight, and his monologues have the gravitas to back it up. The acting in general is of excellent quality as was its predecessor. Mick Gordon returns to provide the soundtrack work, and again this is some really impressive composing. The New Order had an interesting blend of styles, from the dramatic strings you would expect of a war drama, to folksy style rock pieces influenced by the 60’s and then on to grating rock tracks which drove action. The Old Blood continues this blend, albeit to a lesser degree. Gordon worked with a string quarter, to provide the sinister and ominous tones for this entry. The game closes with an amazing version of “Song of the French Partisan”, arranged by Gordon, featuring all of these styles mashed together, and vocalized by Australian rock singer Tex Perkins. I highly recommend this track, check it out below.
When I completed the game I had only discovered about 60% of the collectibles. If you’re into that sort of thing, that means there’s plenty of room to go back and explore. There are also, of course, higher difficulty levels to challenge yourself with. Speaking of challenges, the challenge mode extends the replayability of the game. There are 10 maps, each sections of the main game which provide you with a firefight that is scored. Enemy types, the weapon used and the way in which you dispatch them earn different points. Each difficulty level is also scored uniquely. The speed at which you complete these sections, paired with your point totals, are put on a leader board where you can compare them versus your friends or the world over. It’s a nice touch to add extra play time.
The Old Blood is an excellent follow-up piece to The New Order. It provides some of the backstory that brings us to the current state of affairs in the Wolfenstein timeline and gives us brief tastes of what has made the series one to take seriously again. Still, these tastes are like heading to the ice cream shop and being told that all they sell are the sample spoons. You want that delicious, sugary treat regardless… but you’re always going to want more. I think that the Old Blood could have easily been expanded into a full-fledged game, in order to more fully explore the intresting characters and unfolding story.
But as with any good thing, sugary or otherwise, too much of it is bad for you. I was happy to play The Old Blood, even if I wanted more, and I will be happy to wait for the next full-fledged entry in the world of Wolfenstein, which I hope is on the way. Wolfenstein The Old Blood is available now in North America for PC, PS4 and Xbox One and May 14/15, 2015 internationally.
This review was created based on a personal copy of the PC version of the game. A PS4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher.