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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: MachineGames
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Stealth

Graphics & Sound:

2014ís Wolfenstein: The New Order is one of the best single-player focused first person shooters to come around in a good while. Itís fast, itís flexible, itís deep, and it features a fascinating alternate history take on that classic staple of video game tropes: kill all the Nazis. Thanks to its immensely satisfying and gory gunplay, smart and mostly non-linear level design, it stands as the yin to BioShockís yang, proving that a single player shooter doesnít need to be high-minded in order to be superb. While we may be waiting a while for a sequel, MachineGames has done us all a solid by pulling a Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon on us, delivering a standalone experience designed to sate our hunger while, at the same time, doing something a bit unique. It rarely reaches the dizzying heights of its predecessor, but Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is still an exciting and worthwhile prequel.

I like to keep a running tab of what I personally consider the most memorable moments in gaming. Among them are the opening sequence from Half-Life, the denouement of Red Dead Redemption, the NoonLight Machine sequence from Dead Space 2, and now the tramcar ride to the imposing stone monstrosity known as Castle Wolfenstein, perched atop the Bavarian Alps like an impassive golem sentinel that just so happens to contain some of the worst atrocities carried out by the Third Reich. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, like The New Order, is technically superior to most console shooters on the market and features a grim artistic vision that is totally in keeping with the sterile oppressiveness of anything related to Nazism. And speaking of Nazis, the SS bastards themselves are just as much fun to maim and kill as they have ever been; well-aimed shots and grenade throws often result in explosions of gooey viscera, pulverized limbs, giblets, and red mist. Itís gloriously nasty stuff. And should you discover the Nightmare stagesÖ well, Iíll just let you see for yourself.

Mick Gordon returns as composer, and with the thematic shift apparent in The Old Blood, he is forced to take the soundtrack in different directions. He steps up to the challenge with a score that perfectly fits the horrors of not only Castle Wolfenstein, but the grotesque display of human evil on full display. One sequence seems directly inspired by GyŲrgy Ligetiís "Requiem," which some may know mainly as the disturbing choral murmurs and shrieks that mark the beginning of the final sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the result is that you feel as if you are staring directly into the mouth of Hell itself. But when the time comes to pull out the guns and go to work, the soundtrack revs up into something appropriately metallic in order to get the blood flowing. Everything else in the sound department is at least up to The New Orderís high standard of quality. I particularly like the grim musical stings that accompany stealth kills. Voice work is also great; while I still find MachineGamesí portrayal of William "B.J." Blazkowicz to be a maudlin meathead, I can at least believe the conviction in the delivery. And letís face it: itís fun to hear Nazis ham it up. And youíll for sure get plenty of that in The Old Blood.


Gameplay:

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a two-part chronicle of the events leading up to the fateful raid that opens Wolfenstein: The New Order. Part One, titled "Rudi Jšger and the Den of Wolves" revolves around an O.S.A. mission that has agents William "B.J." Blazkowicz and Richard Wesley infiltrating Castle Wolfenstein in order to ascertain the whereabouts of the psychotic General Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse. Unfortunately, that information is in the hands of ObersturmbannfŁhrer Helga von Schabbs, an archaeologist claiming to be a direct descendant of King Otto I and hot on the trail of the very late Emperorís secret vault. And, of course, that vault is said to contain knowledge concerning the occult. Naturally, the plan doesnít exactly go off without a hitch, and the pair finds themselves imprisoned and left to the mercy of the titular kennelmaster, who is, to put things lightly, a very unpleasant individual.

Part Two, titled "The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs" follows Blazkoís escape from Castle Wolfenstein (see what I did there?) as his pursuit of the not-so-good doctor leads him to the hamlet of Wulfburg. In a cruel twist of fate, Helgaís search for King Ottoís secret vault unleashes an ancient evil that infects the entire city. And things get really, really weirdÖ

Wolfenstein: The New Order built a solid gameplay foundation held up by two pillars: stealth and combat. Anyone whoís played a Wolfenstein game had no right to be stunned by the competency of the core gunplay, but the stealth was a welcome surprise. I wouldnít put it on par with games that make it their primary focal points (Dishonored, Thief), but itís more than a viable option. Several of the enemy encounters in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood can be approached silently, and your reward for quietly dispatching your foes ranges from thinning out the herd considerably to removing the enemyís commanders Ė the only ones who can call for backup.

Wolfenstein: The Old Bloodís level design lends itself rather well to its particular style of first person shooting, albeit not quite as well as it did in The New Order. Levels are open to a degree, and again, there are options to go off the beaten path, but each level feels more focused and comparatively rigid, rather than the series of sandboxes we were treated to last year. In the end, though, itís just a matter of preference. The Old Blood is its own beast, thatís all.


Difficulty:

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood features five standard difficulty settings, each of which delivers essentially what is promised by the description. On the default setting, youíll get a balanced shooter experience that isnít terribly challenging. Youíll probably die a handful of times, but that will most often come as a direct result of being overzealous about how you engage packs of enemies. Since Blazkoís health does not regenerate past certain thresholds, youíll find yourself scavenging far and wide to find anything that might help you survive. That ranges from health kits, random scraps of armor, and even dog food.

Most of the enemies are smart, and the others are unintelligent for reasons I wonít discuss here; there are spoilers involved. As you enter most areas, enemies who are not on alert follow predetermined routes. As long as you stay low, youíll have an easy time sneaking up on them and using the silent but brutal alternative to The New Order knife takedown; this one involving a pair of sharp, rusty pipes. If youíre spotted and backup is called, youíll have to pick and choose your battles on the fly. Lone enemies and small groups actively seek and remain under cover while occasionally peeking up to take a few shots at you. However, if backup arrives, they get bold and aggressive, choosing instead to assault your position in the hopes that their greater numbers might overwhelm and subdue your attempts to pick each one off. Regardless of circumstances, youíve got what it takes to kill them all dead.


Game Mechanics:

Mechanically, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood doesnít do very much to distinguish itself from The New Order. Thatís totally fine, considering there isnít much wrong with the way that game plays. Whether youíre sneaking and stabbing or running and gunning, itís an intense experience.

Perhaps what I like most about the gunplay is how it bucks modern conventions and brings us back to the days of Painkiller and Serious Sam. It usually feels like a power fantasy instead of a straight firefight simulation. Aiming down the sights isnít all that necessary, and can actually be counterproductive at times. You can pull off easy headshots with a handgun at long range Ė from the hip. And if you want to dual wield two massive shotguns, you can. And as long as youíre not lugging around a heavy turret, you can sprint much faster than you can in the majority of other shooters.

A few new weapons complement the standard handgun/ assault rifle/ shotgun (akimbo or otherwise) spread, but since this game takes place before the technical revolution that gave birth to The New Orderís quasi-futuristic totalitarian 1960s hellscape, youíre not going to have your hands on anything like the LaserKraftWerk, the AR Marksman, or Tesla Grenades. That being said, the Bombenschuss bolt-action sniper rifle, Schockhammer shotgun, and other assorted 1946 weaponry are great fun to use.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is not a less pricey substitute for The New Order, and itís not quite enough to be a full-fledged next installment, but it is an immensely satisfying sidestory that will have you hoping for more from MachineGames. If you loved The New Order, I have no reservations about recommending The Old Blood. If you didnít, check your wrist or your neck and make sure you still have a pulse.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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