09 May, 2015

Review - Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, The Devil You Know

Setting up the events of Wolfstein: The New Order, The Old Blood sees the renown ‘B.J’ Blazkowicz infiltrate the infamous Castle Wolfenstein, searching for the location of General Deathshead’s stronghold. In a Nazi hive of technological constructs, irredeemable officers, and bloodletting dogs, BJ needs only two things to guarantee success; his killer German accent and trusty pipe.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood


Wolfenstein: The Old Blood


Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is analogous to the pipe. The pipe is an item that finds its way into BJ’s hands exactly when he needs it. It’s a utility, a tool with broad applications; one moment it might cave someone’s head in, the next it’s propping open a door, or providing the last few inches to reach the next handhold. The pipe is versatile, and just like the game itself it in comes in two halves; unsnap its length and its sharp edges will allow you to scale walls, or bleed a man out. Whichever takes your fancy. The pipe is in many ways unnecessary, but none-the-less welcome.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Pipe

The pipe adds some creative angles Wolfenstein, in doing so it enhances that which made The New Order so interesting. Wolfenstein treads a very different path to most of today’s first person shooters, both for better and for worse. It has you scrounging each environment for health, armour, and ammunition, making you press a button to pick each and every item up - which I can never forgive it for. However, it also makes you evaluate your play, in manner that few shooters do. It is not simply down to difficultly; though I feel the normal opposition is less forgiving than most games’ - perhaps it is merely my sloppiness after years of relying on regenerating health. Regardless, Wolfenstein excels at creating combat puzzles, some more overt than others. 

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Castle WolfensteinIn the early levels stealth is often the only viable strategy; you’re pitted against hulking armored behemoths with only one weakness, their dependency on a constant power supply. Each area is its own stealth conundrum; you learn the enemy’s speed, their paths, and use the sparse cover for shelter as you attempt to temporarily knock out their power, before going in close with the pipe. The game quickly opens up into the larger areas that allow for the different approaches, stealthy or loud, just as The New Order did. The Old Blood wastes no time dropping you into scenarios with multiple alarm-sounding officers that can flood the levels with reinforcements. During my time with The Old Blood, I never encountered any areas of savage difficultly, unlike in The New Order, where the spikes in difficulty poisoned my experience.

The Old Blood is spilt into two halves, each focusing on a different location; Castle Wolfenstein, and the town of Wulfburg. This narrow, more focused lens really works to the game’s advantage, both areas are distinct and memorable, the levels are dripping in detail and studded with secrets. Only two locations may sound extremely limited, but you move through such diverse areas within them, for example; the dungeons beneath Castle Wolfenstein are nothing like the lodgings in the keep above, where walls are hung with aristocratic portraits and crimson Nazi d├ęcor.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Castle Wolfenstein

The first half, or episode; Rudi Jager and the Den of Wolves, is set in Castle Wolfenstein, this is predominantly where the gameplay described previously takes place. It is a refined nugget of the thought provoking shooter that The New Order was. The second episode, The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs, is a different beast entirely. As you can likely from elicit from the naming, The Old Blood enjoys a personal touch. Pitting BJ against the sadistic Rudi Jager, who feeds Castle Wolfenstein’s prisoners to his dogs, and Helga von Schabbs, a delusional archaeologist fixated on the occult. Both are deplorable in nature, true villains. However, the shorter form of The Old Blood hamstrings their development, neither ascend to the heights of The New Order’s Deathshead or Frau Engel. The game lacks the well-directed cutscenes and strong cast of characters that The New Order utilised so well.

The transition into the second episode is a hard, but ultimately welcome one. The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs is effectively a low-rent zombie movie, and it knows it. Green gases permeate the fractured ground as the Nazis close in on their ancient prize beneath Wulfburg and the dead, of which there are many, begin reanimate and burst into fire. Yes you read that correctly, the zombies are on fire. At first, I questioned it. I asked why? Wolfenstein established such a strong sense atmosphere and identity, particularly in The New Order, why dash it all with ludicrous flaming zombies? Admittedly, the writing was on the wall all along – BJ spends most of the game topless. The answer you ask; the reason why there are flaming zombies, a largely unnecessary crowbar, and no shirts? It is just more awesome that way.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Wulfburg

It is at this point of transition, when the story ventures to Wulfburg, that BJ loosens up and his rather bizarre monologues begin to surface a little more. Most of the lines he utters are extraneous, but there are moments of humour, that at times mask there true darker meaning. One line in particular took me aback, delivered with a tone of pure malevolence. It is easily the strongest delivery in the game. Given the state of the Nazi-occupied world, and events that befall the people trapped in it, the remark is entirely understandable.

As is the case with most zombie shooters, the gameplay in the second half quickly becomes predictable. However, The Old Blood has a few tricks it uses to stave of the monotony. While the zombies themselves are little trouble - though some do shoot back - the manner in which they may enter the level remained a source of amusement throughout. Some are simply shambling down corridors, while others crawl from easy to miss vents. Dead Nazis may literally explode into zombie form before their bodies are able to hit the floor, but most novel of entrances are those that descend from the blimp-filled sky and smash into the ground like flaming meteors. Naturally, the blimps are aflame too.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is an oddity; when at its best it demonstrates the same potent gameplay and level design that was seen in The New Order. Additionally, I feel it is a more focused experience that sidesteps the difficultly spikes and frustrations of The New Order. However, neither the characters nor story are as impactful or well-realised.  Around the halfway mark the game pivots sharply, eschewing much of the darker atmosphere in favour of magical fire-zombies and a more B movie feel. Such a grand change could have so easily spelled disaster for the whole experience, but it manages to stick the landing, ultimately giving the game a greater identity than it may have otherwise had. 

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