Wolfenstein: Youngblood shifts the focus from the previous games’ bubblegum catharsis of killing the most hateful people alive to killing them as efficiently as possible. The Nazis have health bars now, and a true pistol shot to the head or ax to the throat won’t always cut it. You and a friend (or computer) need to level up to more effectively chip away the white portion of their health bars to get to the red portion, the blood, and guts inside.
Over the course of my playthrough, I noticed my gaze would increasingly drift away from the glorious violence and up towards the health bars. Youngblood is grisly and indulgent, and an incredible setting, but burdens the player with calculations of time and efficiency rather than gift them another cosmic victory lap. Taking out Nazis remains as comic as ever, but the fun is tempered by a leveling system that slows down the action and pacing far too often.
Youngblood is a co-op venture with a completely different structure than the linear pathing of the last two games. This one’s set in three districts of 1980s Nazi-controlled Paris, more open and free to explore than The New Order and New Colossus, but not a seamless singular open world. You and a friend (or AI) play as B.J. Blazkowicz’s twin teenage daughters. When daddy Blazkowicz heads to Paris without a word, they’re compelled to hijack a helicopter and look for pops, disrupting the local Nazi occupation all the while.
I miss the surprisingly heartfelt characters and incessant goofing off. It’s here, too, but only at major narrative milestones in short bursts of dialogue between the sisters, too often drowned out by gunfire and screams or overlapping radio comms. There’s just enough narrative to keep things moving, though, and it sets the series up for a surreal, badass finale.
With the story so slight, the best part of Youngblood is easily the level design. Arkane Studios of Dishonored and Prey came on board to design Paris, and it shows in every inch. Open windows four stories up are invitations inside, with a new focus on height thanks to a double-jump ability available from the start.
Each district is completely open to exploration, assuming high-level Nazis don’t make it impossible. Some highlights from my home invasions: a grimy apartment home to an amateur Nazi rock band, junk food, and empty sodas piled up in the corners, a drum set and guitars on wooden pallets stuffed into the crowded living area; a banal Nazi office space lined with dreary, featureless cubicles, the ennui alive and well in every timeline; a video rental store advertising televisions and VHS players and campy horror movies with a distinct fascist twist.
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