Friday, August 5, 2016

VGR Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

The unexpected new entry in the Wolfenstein series (and a prequel to The New Order), which turned out to be a fun return to basics for the series.

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VGR: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
From MachineGames/id Software/Bethesda Softworks/ZeniMax Media
Played on PS4
Also available on PC & Xbox One

Type WWII/Science-fiction/Steampunk FPS
Year May 2015

Released about a year after the release of Wolfenstein: The New Order, MachineGames' reimagining of id Software's classic WOLFENSTEIN series, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood sees the return of B.J. Blazkowicz in all-new adventures! Well actually, old adventures if you want to be precise.

You see, the game acts as a prequel to the 2014 game!

The Old Blood was only released for PC, PS4 and Xbox One this time. It's actually a standalone expansion for The New Order.

This Wolfenstein game sees the return of another classic element of the series - episodes! This game contains two distinct separate missions, connected linearly through the plot - "Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves" and "The Dark Secrets of Helga Von Schabbs". The game also sees the very rare return of the actual Castle Wolfenstein in the German Alps and its nearby village.

Our story is set in 1946, as World Ward II was starting to drag on in this alternate history. Right before the beginning of The New Order.

You are back in the role of war veteran William "B.J." Blazkowicz. BJ (still fantastically voiced by Brian Bloom) and Agent One are trying locate Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse's secret base. They go on a mission to infiltrate the legendary Castle Wolfenstein where BJ hadn't set foot in years. And things changed a lot now that the castle's legitimate owner, Helga von Schabbs, is back in town.

What begins as a fairly simple infiltration soon uncovers an entire plot Helga had been secretly working on. She has the SS forces working on a nearby archeology site.

But first BJ and Agent One have to face Helga's lieutenant, Rudi Jäger, a huge sadist torturing prisoners of war in Castle Wolfenstein with his mechanically-enhanced dogs. Blazkowicz and Agent One are captured. They must Escape from Castle Wolfenstein!!

The second episode starts after BJ's escape into the local village of Paderborn. Blazkowicz meets up with the local resistance fighting forces. They discover the Nazi's secret experimentation. Helga and her troupes have been digging this underground site to access the vault of King Otto I (an ancestor of Return to Castle Wolfenstein's main villain). Blazkowicz disguises himself as a waiter and enters a Nazi tavern only to meet Helga face to face! Just when he's finally found out.. that's when the Nazi break into the vault and unleashes the forces of evil which reanimate dead bodies into zombies on fire!

BJ Blazkowicz is now forced to kill those damn' Nazi all over again, he must prevent Helga from reaching this giant "monstrosity" that had been asleep deep underground the town! 

This is it! After that one William Blazkowicz will lead one final mission and he will be able to finally rest...

Gameplay is mostly identitcal to The New Order's. With a few notable additions.

The game is played from a first perspective. Health and armor still regenerate up to a point. You can use melee attacks for stealth ambushes and avoid initiating combat as much as possible. Or simply jump into firefights if you feel like it.

Enemies start with these regular Nazi soldiers and a few robots, but the game later introduces those zombies.

Following the structure of the original Wolfenstein 3D, the game is composed of 2 episodes, comprised of 4 chapters each. It's a long-enough campaign although some of these chapters are pretty short.

All the weapons return for the most part, although there's not really any scifi steampunk weapons anymore. From the pistols to the rifles, you can almost dual-wield any weapon. There's also the addition of a double-barrel shotgun, the bolt rifle and a grenade launcher. The biggest new element of the game is easily the steel pipe which you can combine or separate in two parts, you can make some pretty creative gory stealth kills with it - as well as climb a few select walls!

The "old school" FPS cover system is back and put to good use if you wanna remain stealthy.

The "perks" system is back, upgrading your skills and abilities depending on a few tasks and collecting helmets as well. That can also unlock various collectibles from artworks to bios, notes, etc.

Development of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood began in 2014 immediately after the release and great reception of The New Order. 
At first this was supposed to simply be a series of DLC add-ons for the main game, until they later decided to turn this work into a separate standalone expansion. Which kind of explains the two distinct episodic nature of this game, since they had already been working on two separate DLC episodes before making it into one single game.
The game still uses the gorgeous id Tech 5, with some enhancements. Despite reusing a ton of assets from The New Order, the game offers much better refined concept art-like environments (the later cemetery is absolutely gorgeous to look at!). Which kind of explains why the game was only made available for "next gen" systems (and it helped the team stay focused on a single game instead of working on porting it down).
This time the game has a much more B-movie vibe and lot more dark humor as well. There's a lot more game and less story this time, less focus on cutscenes. You can immediately play and have fun with the game! The story is simply not the focus anymore, the game doesn't really use CGi cutscenes anymore and almost all the plot is explored with ingame dialogues.
Environments are much bigger and offer different routes for either combat or stealth.

The game does feel a bit short, though, specially since it doesn't waste much time on side missions. The story only really covers the grounds of Castle Wolfenstein and Wulfburg, but you will explore caves, sewers and tombs. 

The game has a great pacing between stealth and action, even though it's a more linear experience. It's a really fun old school game, with a much more pulp feel, particularly in the second half.

While The New Order acted as a sort of reboot for the series, The Old Blood tries tying the series back together once more (which happens every time they try rebooting the series, just look at Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein (2009)). This prequel definitively takes place after those games, it's not BJ's first time visiting Castle Wolfenstein. I like how they took inspiration from RtCW's environments and expanded the location. While The New Order cut ties to past games, this time the game includes several nods and references to Return and Wolfenstein 2009.

It's a really great game made for fans. With fun nostalgic settings. The first chapter is a lot more stealth-oriented, in pure Wolfenstein tradition, while the second lets the supernatural loose and has you face hordes of monsters and even pilot a giant mechanical suit! The return of the occult and supernatural elements is a welcomed sight in the series!

Some of these aforementioned references include a main menu inspired by the box art of the Jaguar version of Wolfenstein 3D, various returning characters from Wolfenstein 3D, RtCW and Wolfenstein 2009. The defeat of "mecha hitler" at the hands of BJ is mentioned early on. The 2nd level "Escape from Castle Wolfenstein" is basically the plot of the original game. There's various links and ties to the story of RtCW. Rudi Jäger ends up using a robot suit of armor very reminiscent of Hans Grösse's in Wolfenstein 3D and Wolfenstein 2009.  And there's even a few allusions to other id Software titles like a Cacodemon from Doom in Rudi Jager's room, a toy based on Quake and even references to a few Bethesda games such as Fallout's Nuka Cola.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is an old school-style shooter. Perfect gameplay featuring a bunch of really fun-designed levels.

And even once completed there's plenty of challenges to explore.

The games offers two separate bonus modes - challenge arenas and nightmare levels. The challenge arenas are basically a survival mode, wave of enemies after wave of enemies.

Nightmare levels were easily the best surprise in the entire game, for me. Continuing the series of easter eggs first introduced in RAGE and The New Order, you can access classic Wolfenstein 3D levels through beds you can locate in every single level of The Old Blood. It's a big bonus hidden in secret areas, classic Wolfenstein 3D levels playable through the new gameplay. In fact the game includes the entire first "shareware" episode of the original game (playable up to the final boss fight against Hans Grösse, sadly no Mecha Hitler since he came in the later epsidoe). 9 "Nightmare!" levels. And those can be a bit tricky with these maze-like stages and limited weapons and ammo (I loved how it felt I was playing the classic Wolfenstein 3D half of the time!).

Finally the music in this game is a really fun score composed by musician Mick Gordon. Compared to his pop-influenced 60s music for the last game, this time he was able to fully embrace the WWII era atmosphere. Songs employ string quartets, piano and even some mandolin! And let's not forget to mention the amazing end credits song he composed with Tex Perkins, "The Partisan".

Overall, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is an amazing new entry in the Wolfenstein series. A classic id Software franchise that just keeps getting regular fantastic new entries over the years.

It's always fun how you can avoid entire gunfights in this game. Stealth was always part of the franchise since its beginning. It's a really fun game and fun gameplay. BJ has become such a fun likeable enjoyable protagonist over these last couple of games, he gets some great lines in this game!

It's a Must Play! The game is not perfect, depending where you stand with this series if The New Order was your first Wolfenstein game, you might not enjoy the entire game as a whole though. The first half is pretty close to that last game, it shines through its great pacing allowing you to remain hidden and be stealth or engage into action. A great mix of both worlds. But the second part is a lot more aggressive and forces you to ditch stealth for more action and gameplay additions. And I know some might not enjoy the supernatural elements as much as I did. I kind felt the weapons lacked some hi-tech/scifi additions.

But all these easter eggs and ties to past games really pleased me. And I really, really loved having the entire first episode of Wolfenstein 3D as a secret bonus in the game! Specially the return of the much-missed occult elements. I suppose newcomers to the series might not be particularly keen on that aspect, but I missed that in The New Order. It's always been part of the series, it's just not Wolfenstein to me if you don't get a couple of zombies and mutants in there at some point! 

Alright, I guess I'm up to date with my id Software reviews, finally! Next up, Doom 2016!
I give it:
2.5 / 3 Quacks!

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