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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

By zethalee20-05-2015

The Defence

Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core i7
AMD FX 6300
Nvidia GeForce 460
AMD Radeon HD 6850
4 GB
50 GB

The Case

MachineGames is back with a direct prequel to last year's Wolfenstein: The New Order. The New Order. It was well received by critics across the gaming spectrum, myself included, so it’s easily understandable as to why MachineGames would be given the task of further expanding on their IP. Offering up a shorter length and scope for an equally smaller price seems like a smart enough business move, but is there still enough here to offer fans of The New Order something worth looking at, or is The Old Blood best left out to dry in the sun?

The Trial

What sets the Wolfenstein games apart from other shooters set in the World War II era? Is it how irreverent the series is, playing fast and loose with history and making Nazis into caricatures of themselves? Or the frenetic action, the nonstop sequences of more and more Nazis to kill? Certainly yes to all of these, but each game has always had something else behind it. The New Order was a small, human struggle against an overwhelmingly powerful foe, and Wolfenstein before it was about killing interdimensional foes who had allied themselves with the Third Reich, or something.

Where does this leave The Old Blood then? Instead of traveling across the planet (and to the moon, even), The Old Blood attempts to bring a swell of nostalgia to gamers. The game is cleanly split into two parts, the first centering around Castle Wolfenstein, and the second, in the town of Wulfburg. Your objective is to sneak into Castle Wolfenstein and retrieve a folder that contains the location of Dr. Deathshead's doom-fortress. Throughout it all, you play as series mainstay William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, helped along the way by a handful of side characters.

It’s been almost too long since our last visit to the castle.

It’s been almost too long since our last visit to the castle.

If you've played The New Order, you'll notice the comparisons almost immediately. In Castle Wolfenstein, heavily armored, bulky Nazis stomp around, having conversations about grammar and their jobs, while you sneak about. You're effectively left alone, forced to struggle and fight against an impossibly well-equipped foe, while you sneak around in the shadows.

The AI when stealthing around was unfortunately very inconsistent, never noticing a single dead body, or even if they managed to spot you, they'd shoot where they last saw you for a few seconds, and then resume their patrols. It's hard to say if that's because they were simple robots, or armored men severely lacking in peripheral vision, but it definitely soured some of the stealth sequences.

It's particularly unfortunate because of how much care has been put into the entire stealth section, as well. In order to not cause alarm to the entire prison, B.J. sneaks around with a well-purposed pipe, acquired in his escape from a prison cell. It can be separated into two sections, wielded in each hand, or slapped together for a two-handed head-cratering melee weapon. It also has its use in prying open doors and vents, climbing walls, and removing power sources from the backs of armored foes. The player is also free to lean in any major direction, leading to the hilarious mental image of the giant that is B.J. curled up on the ground, shuffling along.

However, even with all these new tools and foes at your disposal, something about the entirety of the first half of the game seemed dull. I was never able to put my finger on what exactly it was, maybe the hours of grey, washed-out environments, or the same sneaking and waiting for enemies to travel along patrol routes, but I found myself forcibly racing through later levels in Castle Wolfenstein just to be done with them. The action picks up a little near the end, when you're better armed and willing for a fight, but the first half of the game is clearly the weaker one.

Firefights are just as good as they were in The New Order.

Firefights are just as good as they were in The New Order.

Thankfully, the game presents you with much more lively environments and enemies in the second half. Wulfburg by nature is far more colorful and lively than a musty old castle, and the game seems to enjoy itself a bit more too. Combat arenas are far more open, enemy variety is much more numerous, and even when things start getting strange, you're still pounding heads in and blowing off limbs.

There was one sequence which felt directly ripped out of The New Order, however. You pilot a bipedal mech, clawing open doors and slicing foes to bits, but the entire sequence felt unnecessary. Not gratuitous in the same way that dual-wielding box-magazine shotguns does, but completely out of place. You weren't tasked with fighting off an army of these bipedal mechanical monsters, you just stumble on one, and there you go.

At least the game still looks nice, running on the same engine as last year's The New Order, but, again, it would have been nice if there was anything to look at in the castle. Wulfburg, by contrast, is full of reds, yellows, golds and browns; an idyllic Bavarian town wracked by an unspeakable horror later on. The shooting is still solid, and it feels far more rewarding to run and gun, spraying bullets than it did in The New Order. Perhaps this was because the difficulty felt much more forgiving, or perhaps it was because I'd become more adept at the game's mechanics, but multiple playstyles work this time around.

There's quite a bit in the form of collectible and extra content as well. Certain areas can be replayed in the form of “challenges,” which have you stringing together kills and skills for higher and higher scores, just to compete on leaderboards. It's definitely a welcome addition, as you're free to play through the rooms on any difficulty you choose, and none of the stages run too long to get tedious.

The ‘shotgun-to-the-face’ accident is where a Nazi trips and falls.

The ‘shotgun-to-the-face’ accident is where a Nazi trips and falls.

There's also the “nightmare levels” as well, mazelike stages styled after old-school Wolfenstein which have you running around, collecting piles of silver and hunting for a key. These are unlocked by sleeping in a specific bed in each level, and while I may not have found all of them, they were a nice distraction. The music was grating and repetitive after a while however, and more than once I found myself scouring the level looking for the single key that I missed.

What about the message of the game? While The New Order had sequences of intense violence broken up by downtempo introspection by the cast of characters, The Old Blood, by nature, offers nothing quite on that scale. B.J. is still a tired soldier fighting a tired war, yes, but instead of telling its characters stories through cutscenes and taking the camera out of B.J.'s eyes, everything is meant to be discovered by the player.

On one hand, I can understand the mentality behind this: players want to be immersed in their experiences, they don't want to be forced through sequences which might feel out of place, or perhaps otherwise unwelcome. On the other hand, there is a golden rule in storytelling: “show, don't tell.” In the final hour or so of the game, you're going to run across a lot of notes delving into the minds of the characters, and to be perfectly honest, nothing is far more boring than having to read a long piece of written word which may or may not have any relevance whatsoever to what's happening currently.

Sometimes, these notes would go over archaeological processes used in digging up King Otto I's tomb, and others would be notes from Annette's lover conveying the sense of fear that they both feel. Overhearing conversations between Nazis about how “they don't feel that this is the right thing to do” adds much more character to the game's world than an entire briefcase full of letters ever could, and I cannot defend this sort of storytelling.

The commander had something is his ear so I used my delicate pipe-tool-thing to clean it out.

The commander had something is his ear so I used my delicate pipe-tool-thing to clean it out.

It also seems strange that much of the character development comes near the end of the game. Clearly, B.J. is not supposed to be seen as a hero in this sense, as two of his long-time friends and potentially a third die throughout the course of the game, all in the quest for some simple information about the location of a compound. He seems sad, and everything about how the game presents itself tries to make you feel that this was a human conflict, fought by ordinary people with no love for the abject brutality experienced by both sides (commanders not included), and in a sense, it works.

But thinking back, I didn't necessarily have a reason for going along with the game's characterization. Wesley, your co-conspirator in stealing into the castle, is electrocuted in front of your very eyes, and while B.J. mourns his death, I can't say I felt the same. I'd only seen Wesley for about 10-15 minutes, and he'd only had a handful of lines. Pippa too, another long-time friend of B.J.'s, dies due to a zombie killing her, forcing B.J. to shoot her reanimated corpse before she kills him, too. Her death feels cheap, however, and I can't say it was particularly effective at, well, anything.

While it's clear that the game attempted to make the game a bit more personal this time around, hence the title “The Old Blood,” MachineGames have definitely taken a step backwards, as far as their storytelling and worldbuilding goes.

The Verdict

If you haven't played The New Order, it would be well within your interests to do so. If you have, The Old Blood can be summed up with a very large “yes, but” tag attached. Are the stealth sections serviceable? Yes, but they get tedious. Is the game good at making you hate the major antagonists? Yes, but they could have used a bit more characterization. What about liking your allies? Yes, but they're very underdeveloped, save for some letters and notes scattered about. Are the nightmare levels worth your time? Yes, but they drag on a bit too long and are devoid of entertainment after a while.

Is the game good?

Yes, but there are far more flaws than The New Order.

Case Review

  • Bump in the Night: Stealth mechanics lend themselves well to level design.
  • More to See: Extra content is a welcome addition.
  • More of the Same: For better, or for worse.
  • Lost in War: Characters ultimately fall flat.
  • Endless Battlefield: First half of the game drags on.
Score: 3.5/5
A flawed, but still enjoyable experience.


I look like a B.J. No, I mean no offense. A little girl told me. Yes, seriously, I am not joking. She literally told me that straight up in to face. That was about the most shocking moment in The Old Blood if I am totally honest because who cares about slaughtering Nazis by the thousands? And I mean thousands, the final kill count stood at a proud 1129 dead Nazis. Those bastards are probably the only guys in PC gaming history that can be murdered without remorse by anyone without causing any kind of controversy. No wonder that MachineGames often try to build in scenes that, would it be a different game, could cause somewhat of a backlash. But with Wolfenstein, hey we know what’s coming and that is part of the charm.

I will admit it will probably be hard to make a bad Wolfenstein at this point. MachineGames know where it is at. Sure, The New Order and The Old Blood are not without their flaws but overall they are more than worth the money. Indeed, albeit a pet peeve here and there, The New Order was excellent. The Old Blood? Well, let us just say that you should probably play it as the prequel it is and then move on to The New Order. The Old Blood is somewhat more of the same but with the whole game, not just the intro, playing in 1946 and then somewhat ‘seamlessly’ working its way into the New Order. It being roughly half of the New Orders price tag, you can expect a bit less and you are indeed getting less although it comes with the nice addition of the remaining original Wolfenstein missions. The story itself is not as enticing, the locals are monotonous (obviously since you’re not going to the moon or into a sub this time) and the zombies are...did I ever mention I hate zombies and that I am sick and tired of them?

That’s really where my criticism comes into. Visually it is in line with what we had before, and the sound effects and audio work their charm especially when Blazkowicz tries to speak German. Also we discover where Grammar-Nazis came from. But the problem is that while The New Order had all this ‘new’ stuff and well-designed mission locals, The Old Blood cuts back to the good old Zombie horde stigma. I had hoped Wolfenstein to be above this silly Nazizombie craze that for some remarkable reason stays popular way beyond its expiry date. More was expected of the developers in that regard because they have shown that they are well able to come up with their own stuff – well, you can make the argument that killed soldiers instantly turning into zombies was somewhat of an innovation but really, no. Then again, it’s probably good that it is out the system now never to return.

Score: 4/5
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