Wot I Think – Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a standalone expansion and prequel to last year’s alterna-history shooter Wolfenstein: The New Order. It came out earlier this week.

You almost never see BJ Blazkowicz’s eyes this time. Those tired, sad eyes gave last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order soul. Not a lot of soul in the grand scheme of things, but by the standards of games which are primarily concerned with gunning down hordes of baddies, The New Order was a big old bleeding heart. Standalone expansion/prequel The Old Blood is a perfectly decent man-shooter that’s in all other senses a step back into tradition. Maybe that’s why we don’t really see his eyes this time. They’d be too bright and cheerful. He’d be a maniac rather than a wounded soldier.

Accusing Wolfenstein games of being traditional is an absurd thing to do. It’s like complaining that houses have doors or cheese smells a bit funny. Wolfenstein is the cheerfully unreconstructed grandaddy of shooters: have guns, kill mens. Yet The New Order, despite retaining the intrinsic meatheaded appeal and freewheeling silliness of the ur-first-person-shooter, injected unexpected nuance into a protagonist who’d been a heroically murderous lunkhead for decades. Sure, BJ Blazkowicz’s journey of love, loss and regret was set against a backdrop of steampunk Nazi absurdity, but maybe that’s what stopped it from feeling inappropriately earnest.

The Old Blood hamstrings itself right off the bat by being a prequel, set decades before The New Order’s alternate future – BJ’s ‘just’ a near-superhuman US special operative at this point, yet to suffer the defeats documented in The New Order. Back in The Old Blood’s 1940-something setting, he’s Arnie-as-Moore-era-James-Bond.

Given we have cablecar gunfights, storming castles and assaults on picturesque mountainside villages, I’m fairly confident that it’s willingly descending into 80s blockbuster tropes rather than that someone’s simply forgotten to add-in the downtime and character beats. That said, there is an odd cramming of attempted character work towards the end of the game, but it’s not given room to breathe – you even get a room filled with half a dozen collectible letters which hastily provides an optional overload of backstory to otherwise one-dimensional supporting characters. Still, preferable to more cutscenes as far as I’m concerned, but I wouldn’t have minded another trip somewhere wild. There is a mid-game shake-up of sorts involving a new enemy type, which I’ll avoid spoiling, but it isn’t going to surprise anyone who’s played a first-person shooter any time in the last decade.

For a relatively straight-down-the-line and mostly spectacular-looking shooter, there’s not much to argue with here. It’s overly reliant on chucking waves of enemies at you instead of coming up with setpieces, the secrets are perfunctory, there’s a needless and annoying wall-climbing mini-game which keeps cropping up and there’s some lousy signposting of level exits at times, but, y’know: guns, Nazis, robo-Nazis, cablecar gunfights, option for stealth, not too heavy on the cutscenes. It’s a Full English if tasty junk is what you’re after.

It’s not a cursory affair either, having gone to the trouble of creating a huge new Castle Wolfenstein, towering through the clouds, filled with dark technology and darker magic, and mustering a campaign which for me landed around the eight hour mark. Others have reported that it sped by far more quickly, but it depends hugely on playstyle – I tried to stealth wherever I could, and my packrat tendencies forbade me from simply blasting through to the exit too. It’s substantial enough I’d say, especially at half the price of The New Order.

At the same time, it’s hard to make a case for buying this if you’ve played The New Order lately. It’s more of the same but slightly lesser, repeating parts of the experience without throwing in anything like enough ohmigosh moments to justify a seperate existence. If the long length, character-led cutscenes and sci-fi/fantasy deviations of The New Order sounded from afar like they were too far off Wolfenstein piste to you, then I guess there’s an argument to be made that this is closer to the formula laid down by Return To Castle Wolfenstein. Big Gothic castle, (mostly) period weapons, no trips to the moon, some occultism, go do your retro thing.

If you just want an excuse to fire thousands and thousands of bullets at things, it’s almost impossible to make a case against The Old Blood. Inheriting the meaty and surprisingly flexible gunplay of The New Order, plus bullet-sponge enemies designed to offer a robust challenge and with it a satisfying sense of victory against tall odds, plus the good-looking graphics tech of the Rage engine, and none of the death-by-cutscene hooray Henryism of recent CODs and Battlefields, this is probably the best singleplayer shooter since, well, The New Order.

There are some pacing issues, tedious boss fights and a sporadic sense of repetition, but The Old Blood is reliably decent. It also brings one welcome addition, in the form of Batman Arkham-style challenge rooms, which let you experiment more freely with its action/stealth systems in the pursuit of personal bests. Given how satisfying that side of New Order/Old Blood is, it just makes sense to have it available on tap, uncoupled from story and filler.

Even so, this just feels so hot on the heels of The New Order without taking it anywhere new. Again, it’s bizarre to ask that of Wolfenstein game, but given the New Order won the series’ battle for relevancy, it’s disappointing to see it give up the fight to go to new places so soon.

Still, fifteen quid, lots of bullets, lots of steampunk Nazis and some monsters too. If that’s (still) your poison, you can’t go far wrong with this. As far as Wolfenstein as a whole goes, The New Order is two steps forwards and The Old Blood one step back, and that’s enough to leave me excited about whatever Machine Games have planned next. I hope they take a couple of years over it though, because I really need a break from trying to spell ‘Blazkowicz’ right.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is out now.

30 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Nathan says:

    It seems like this is a good old-fashioned expansion pack to a solid FPS game.

    I’m okay with that.

    • virtualmatrix258 says:

      It really is. I had a blast with it, played it twice and I have an urge for more. It’s actually more complete than most CoD games and yet it kinda gets bashed about the silliest of things. I guess people were expecting more. Not sure why, only a year ago The New Order launched, it’s not like they can build a new game w/mechanics from the ground up with that amount of time.

      • malkav11 says:

        I wouldn’t have expected another game of the scope and variety of New Order, for aforementioned time limitation reasons. Hell, I wouldn’t even have expected the melancholy tone of New Order, seeing as it’s a prequel and the reasons for BJ’s melancholy aren’t a thing yet. But there’s some really smart writing, characterization and worldbuilding in New Order, and I would hope to find that in Old Blood given that it’s from the same folks. It doesn’t sound from the WIT like that’s the case. I’ll see for myself at some point, though.

        • suibhne says:

          That is exactly the case, alas. There’s very little Cool Stuff(tm) in this one compared to TNO, and virtually no characterization till the end. Gameplay is just as decent, but setting is much less compelling. I’ve reasonably enjoyed my time with it, yet expected much better on the strength of TNO.

  2. Palimpsest says:

    Another review with no mention of the graphical and frame rate problems a lot of people seem to be having, despite TNO being fine on their rigs.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Probably for the same reason it was not picked up upon during Qualtity Assurance, different rigs and all that.

      That being said, I do have graphical and frame rate problems as well, on my 6870, which is a bit dissapointing.

      • Palimpsest says:

        Different rigs I understand but if I was recommending someone buy a PC game nowadays I’d always check what the community was saying about performance before posting. In this case it’s really not good. I’d have been fuming if I wasn’t able to check how it ran first before spunking 15 quid on it.

        • Premium User Badge

          Nathan says:

          Aren’t people always saying something on the internet? It’s hard to get a sense of how prevalent a given issue is.

          • Palimpsest says:

            True but there is plenty of proof here, and it’s the same frame rate drops and texture pop-ins for all these players.

          • RobF says:

            Given it’s recent iDTech stuff, it’s kinda endemic to the engine, sadly.

  3. shaftz0r says:

    as an old school wolf3d, rtcw/et fan, i would typically play this. i never got around to TNO, but now that i know its built on idtech4, i certainly wont be.

    • Razumen says:

      There’s nothing wrong with idtech4 at all, it’s a great engine, TNO looks, runs and plays great.

      • shaftz0r says:

        name 1 commercially successful game run on idtech4. i guess TNO would be as close as you could come. The framerate issues that most people have are because idtech is opengl, which is inherently processor intensive, and while a MUCH better redering option, its nowhere near as compatible as dx is

        • Razumen says:

          Besides the fact that sales has no correlation with engine quality, TNO and The Evil Within are very successful games built on the idtech5 engine. The lack of other games is simply due to the fact id software was bought out by Bethesda and they have no interest in licensing it to third parties.

          I have not heard anything at all about OpenGL being more processor intensive, this sounds like pure hearsay to me/

        • lord_dongkey says:

          I’ve never heard this about OpenGL, and given both a) how many versions of both OpenGL and D3D there are, b) how different performance characteristics are on ATI vs. NVidia on OGL, also between generations, and c) the fact that if you use the same rendering techniques in OGL as you use in D3D you’re Going to Have a Bad Time, I don’t think it makes any sense to make a blanket statement about CPU usage between the API’s.

        • keithzg says:

          I mean, firstly, it’s more accurately based on id Tech 5, actually. And in terms of great id Tech 4 games, I agree with Razumen that sales have no direct bearing on quality, and I’d argue the id Tech 4 game Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was the best team multiplayer shooter yet released, especially in the “big maps and vehicles” subgenre (although as a recovering Unreal Engine partisan from long ago, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give honorable mention to U2XMP).

      • Fathom says:

        The only other high profile game to even use it was Rage, and no one can disagree that it looked beautiful. I don’t know if it was “commercially successful” but that’s completely irrelevant anyway. If you don’t want to play TNO, it’s your loss, but using half-baked excuses for it is weird.

        • Fathom says:

          Whoops, meant to be a reply to Shaltzor.

        • RobF says:

          Well. It looked beautiful until you got up close to anything. Although fair do’s, it looked like no other game ever made at that point too because I’ve never seen anything quite that bad outside of it.

          • Razumen says:

            A lot of game textures look bad if you get up real close, Rage wasn’t unique in that regard.

        • malkav11 says:

          Once the textures loaded. Which they tended to do whenever they’d gone off screen, and very visibly. It was jarring. Fortunately, TNO did not have that issue for me for the most part.

  4. RobF says:

    I was surprised how much I didn’t like this.

    I enjoyed TNO give or take its odd time waste-y moments but within the first few hours of this one, I’d sat through so many slow animations of a dude with a pipe and that terrible wall climbing game *and* found myself for the first time in years blundering about wondering where to go next (only to find out it was to the terrible wall climbing game again) that I just wanted shot of it.

    I mean, that first segment was off to a pretty bad start by most accounts where you’re running through repeating corridors trying to take out repeating robots because why? But at least for the moments where you’re running around shooting men in the face from moment to moment, it’s fairly good but there’s so much bullshit accompanying it that I don’t understand what they’re doing or why half of this is in there. I should be thrilled by a cable car rooftop fight instead I just ended up thinking “oh no, I’ve got to do some plumbing first” and eurgh. Gutted by it, really. It’s just way too many of the time waster parts of TNO and not enough silly shooting man in face stuff but the worst of it all, none of it seems to have any joy to it at all. It’s all so mechanical and grey. And keeps taking your guns off you for seemingly no other reason than you collect them again in 10 seconds time? Couldn’t they have just let me keep the guns?

    Maybe it’d have fared better if I hadn’t hammered Dishonored again last week? Or played and loved Shadow Warrior just before it. I dunno. It’s not even that it’s bad, it’s just a thing that got made and exists and I kinda think that’s a bit worse?

  5. XhomeB says:

    Return to CW is one of my favourite shooters and definitely the best Wolfenstein ever (whoever dares claim otherwise is just wrong, sorry), so I’m pretty eager to play The Old Blood. New Order was fun, they nailed the fun factor when it comes to “shooting” (the lack of mandatory iron sight usage helped), what I didn’t like were omnipresent cutscenes interrupting the gameplay flow, rather tiny levels (though somewhat non-linear/”openish” at times, at least) and the lack of bloody quicksave option.
    They DID implement manual saving this time, right? RIGHT?

    • PandaPants says:

      I’m really sorry, but they did not add manual saving.

      On the plus side, The Old Blood is brilliant imo. Has made me immediately replay The New Order as well so that’s a bonus.

      5 Thumbs up to MachineGames.

  6. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    In the last level, I found in some catacombs a skeleton wearing a Tyrolean hat and munching on a pretzel. It’s that kind of game.

    TNO had a lot more punch and sophistication, but this is more of a deliberately silly spinoff kinda thing rather than anything like a proper sequel/prequel. And I’m fine with that. The gameplay is still very solid and there are some very well constructed arenas where it can really shine. (Shame about the last boss fight, though.)

  7. Super Rostropovich 64 says:

    I’d preffer dieselpunk over steampunk Nazis.

  8. Fathom says:

    Considering TNO is the flat out best FPS since Half-Life 2, a slight step back from that is still better than the vast majority of what’s out. The gameplay is extremely fun and the presentation is amazing.

  9. Risingson says:

    I’m surprised you did not get the main pop reference point of the whole scenario: “Where the eagles dare”. It did not have robots but had Clint Eastwood.

    • Jerkzilla says:

      More importantly imo, it had Richard Burton.
      But yeah, I was going to say the same thing. Then again, RtCW was somewhat closer to Where Eagles Dare simply because the occult bits only really appeared after the Wulfburg bit (or whatever that town was called). The cable car set piece is still a dead give away though.

  10. grrrz says:

    well, made what I didn’t like about the new order more apparent, that is silly arena battles against gargutan mecha-soldier with ridiculous amount of HP are not my cup of tea at all, as well as big arena fight with 3,4 waves, then a big thing, then a bigger thing (and no ammo). I almost gave up in frustration when you have to kill the big dog (though the ‘thing” at the end is alright) compared to that, stealth sequences are fun (and really easy), as well as corridor shooting. but the story and world building that made the new order stand out is not back, and appart for a bit of comedy (mainly through overearing guards discussions, gramma nazi joke anyone?), the story is totally forgettable.