When it comes to simulated Nazi killing, few games do it better than Wolfenstein.
MachineGames' reboot series of the classic shooter is known for its fast, fluid gunplay, ridiculous story beats and campy, curse-laden dialogue. So it would track that Youngblood, a sort-of "midquel" set 20 years after Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, would carry the torch. Well it absolutely does, and the work from MachineGames and Dishonored developer Arkane Studios certainly shows, even if Youngblood goes a step too far in trying to change the formula.
Youngblood follows Jessica and Sophia, the twin daughters of series protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz, on a search for their missing father. While The New Colossus may have hinted at the eventual demise of the Nazi regime worldwide (you know, with the death of Hitler and all), Youngblood makes it clear that the threat is still out there. Shortly after the game's intro cutscene, B.J. goes missing, and the girls head to the Paris Catacombs in search of clues that will lead to their (hopefully alive) father.
Youngblood isn't exactly like previous games in the series. For one, the main hook of its gameplay is cooperative multiplayer, a fresh and welcome departure. While the lack of local multiplayer is slightly disappointing, the co-op absolutely works, with seamless drop-in, drop-out, even if it does require both players to get through some mandatory cutscene and tutorial work before playing.
This cooperative experience is at the center of Youngblood, as players have to monitor health and "shared lives" of the sister they're not playing as, not to mention keeping navigating the doors and crates that require two players to open. The game is also completely playable alone with an AI-controlled second player, though it's a little less predictable. Thankfully, Youngblood sports a smart-enough ping system and hand signaling, which is useful in marking enemies and requesting a health "pep."
While previous games in the series have been held together by finely-crafted, linear level design, Youngblood takes a risk, opting for open-world style hub levels (We see you, Arkane). The Catacombs serve as your home base, just like bases have in the past two games, but Paris itself is essentially a large open space with corridors and crevices for you to explore as you complete main story missions and side quests. Doors will unlock, paths will open and places like the Underground will reveal themselves as you progress through the game and search for the mysterious "Lab X."
It's all tied neatly together by a psuedo-RPG system, including health, armor and weapon upgrades, level tiers for the playable characters and a few other neat little details to enhance the experience. Unfortunately, this also brings with it level-gated enemies with visible health bars, another departure from previous games in the series. It works, mostly, but you'll often find yourself trapped in an area with high-level enemies, or at one of the game's few "Brother" gates (which are basically strongholds with bosses). This can range from mildly frustrating, to just plain unfair.
Thankfully, the game's focus on co-op doesn't mean a lack of focus on the more impactful story beats like those we were given in previous games. Youngblood's writing turns its main characters and their incredible friend Abby into bonafide superheroes and still finds enough time to deliver intense action and insane story moments. Quips in combat and subtle character moments go a long way, even if there's not always a 20-minute cutscene in tow. The story also opens up some, let's say interesting, potential for what we can only be assumed will be Wolfenstein 3 -- and it can't come soon enough.
Youngblood is certainly an impressive package for the asking price. What originally seemed like a quick spin-off or side title became a 20 to 30-hour shooter that has a surprising amount of replay-ability. Even if you breeze through the main story, you can replay quests for experience and additional rewards, and there are a number of cosmetics to gain through spending in-game currency.
In an odd turn of events, though, the game does have micro transactions. While you can't directly upgrade your character using purchased currency in the form of gold bars, you can use it to buy "boosts" which can get you more experience and in turn lead to in-game ability points. You can also use the premium currency to purchase cosmetic items for your characters, which, in all honesty, don't feel totally worth it in a co-op shooter. None of it feels egregious, however, and the whole of the game can be experienced in good fun without spending any extra money.
While nothing revolutionary Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a great example on how to tide fans over for an inevitable sequel. Bethesda has done this plenty with its other titles like Dishonored: Death of the Outsider or Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, and it's nice to see it continue. With the story revelations dropped by the time credits roll in Youngblood, we can only imagine what's coming next -- and we cannot wait.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is now available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC. A review copy was provided by the publisher.