Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Review – Just Short of Grindhouse (PS4)
Wolfenstein: The New Order was a refreshing take on a genre that was getting quite stale. Not typically impressed with most first-person shooters, The New Order had all the right constituent’s to make a solid game and earn good marks from me. When I heard that a standalone DLC prequel was coming along, I had to take a crack at it. Even if The Old Blood was just more New Order, there’s nothing wrong with more of a good thing.
In terms of gameplay, anyone familiar with The New Order will feel right at home with The Old Blood. It retains the same style found in its parent game, albeit with slightly smaller environments this go around. MachineGames did a great job before, and they’re bringing back the smooth yet heavy Nazi shooting action, and as I said when I reviewed The New Order, there’s no enemy that most people want to shoot in a game than a Nazi — except perhaps zombies. Nazi zombies? They wouldn’t dare… or would they?
We Need a New Pacemaker
Pacing is key in games. You can have the highest quality parts making up everything — great gameplay, awesome story, fun weapons, etc. — but how these parcels are composed is what makes a game. Being a smaller title is perhaps The Old Blood’s biggest issue because the pacing definitely doesn’t flow the same way that The New Order did. Where Blazkowicz’s adventures in the first one were riveting, emotional, and full of great character moments, this standalone DLC failed to deliver the same impact. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just doesn’t leave the same imprint that the insurgence against Deathshead and the many implications it held for every character did.
The Old Blood is broken into two parts, giving you two distinct enemies to fight, but never full fleshing out either one. The first part — Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves — sees you infiltrating and subsequently escaping from Castle Wolfenstein. It’s obvious that this section is a throwback to the old Wolfenstein games, and it is handled extremely well, with the maze-like hallways hiding the possibility of Nazis around every corner. Jäger is an imposing villain, and along with his dog, Greta, gives that gritty, dark, Nazi-infested feeling that The New Order had. Aside from a bit of a slow start, this part was well-paced enough and led effectively into a pretty fun final encounter against that son of a bitch.
But that’s not all, folks! A rushed part two, titled The Dark Secrets of Helga Von Schabbs, throws pacing down the drain and leads to three chapters that fail to build tension, replacing the tension and character moments with loads of Nazi zombies raining from the sky that can somehow also burst into flames on a whim. Gone are any semblances of building the tension for the final encounter; these chapters simply shuffle you through the town of Wulfsburg, throwing you into a final encounter that feels a bit weird and outdated in its mechanics. Part two never quite achieves that grindhouse style that it was aiming for, but loses its way and doesn’t quite feel like Wolfenstein either. It straddles these two paths without fully committing to one or the other.
Light on the Narrative Weight
There is a major choice to make, similar to the first game, but The Old Blood does not capitalize on this moment as an emotional decision like in The New Order, and I personally completely missed it. Only on reviewing my trophies did I realize that there was another way to play out this part, further highlighting the lack of intriguing character development and story pacing for The Old Blood.
The Old Blood continues what The New Order started in giving you a choice between stealth and open combat, but the level and enemy design often tend to force the player down one path or the other. The opening portion of chapter one practically requires stealth, as you are armed with nothing but a pipe against tethered super soldiers, and any segment involving zombies is guaranteed to just be a firefight as swaths of zombies make their way to the meat grinder that is your arsenal.
101 Ways to Kill a Nazi
Arsenal? Yup, guns. Lots of returning ones, and a couple of newcomers, including my weapon of choice, the Schockhammer, and the fun — yet hard to find ammo for — explosive Kampfpistole. It’s visceral and gory, and even the simple pipe melee weapon had me eager to see what new way Blazko would take out the next enemy with. The combat is every bit as fun as The New Order, and despite lacking some of the better pacing and narrative beats that The New Order had, The Old Blood succeeds in satisfyingly letting us fill Nazis full of lead and hammer broken pipes into their skulls.
Nightmare levels return, and instead of just being a one-time Easter egg, there is one in each chapter of the game, effectively allowing you to play through the entirety of Escape From Castle Wolfenstein, up to and including the boss. Unlike The New Order, these are replayable, and a nice little nod to the throwback style that MachineGames was going for with this game. There are also challenges unlocked as you progress through the game which allow you to replay specific encounters for a high score on the leaderboards, just another piece to extend the replayability.
For a standalone DLC, I am impressed. MachineGames took the best parts of The New Order and gave us the moments leading up to its opening. While The Old Blood could have definitely either turned up the grindhouse factor in part two, or stayed more true to part one, it still had incredibly fun combat and satisfying Nazi killing. By itself, it could feel like it was lacking something, specifically in the character and story department, but Wolfenstein: The Old Blood performs as both a supplemental work for fans of the series and as a vehicle to introduce players to the world and play style of The New Order.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood review code was provided by the publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.