What if the Nazis were winning the war? What if ancient curses dwelled below graveyards within sleepy German fishing villages? What if robot dogs received names like Greta? Machine Games puts these odd questions forward in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a standalone prequel to last year’s fantastic The New Order. While the game flourishes in a deluge of fun ultra-violence, it does little to flesh out its characters, siphoning off much of the quiet time that made its predecessor so excellent. A certain level of strangeness may appear from time to time, but The Old Blood manages to provide five great hours of Nazi killing action.
Taking place just before the events of its predecessor in 1946, The Old Blood places you in the grizzled boots of Captain B.J. Blazkowicz, as he infiltrates Castle Wolfenstein to obtain documents that could stop the Nazi War Machine. For those eagle eyed readers out there, you may have noticed that 1946 is one year after the Allies won World War Two, indicating that this is very much an alternate history piece. It is a refreshing change from the myriad of grey modern era shooters that proliferate the genre, mostly due to its interesting subject matter. You truly get a sense of the fearful scenario that The Old Blood establishes. Every Nazi abounds in twisted behaviour and malignity: Commander Rudi Jäger feeds prisoners to his dogs in the dungeon, and relishes in the idea of an American defeat. It is unsettling to see what the state of Europe could have been if monstrosity had become the victor, creating a compelling world as a result.
Although the Allies may be nearing defeat, that doesn’t stop B.J. from giving those Germans a damn good thrashing. Despite entering the castle unarmed, he soon discovers a plethora of pistols, machine guns and shotguns to deal with the hordes of Nazis stopping his escape. Firing bullets into enemies is an absolute pleasure, mainly due to the power behind each weapon. With the sound and weight behind each gun, every shot is a satisfying endeavour, meaning that the shooting mechanics are smooth and robustly enjoyable throughout. While most areas can be completed with the use of some loud, dual-wielding shotguns, wide stealth sections are also available for those that wish to pick off enemies one by one in silence. This adds a more thoughtful element to the game amongst a mass of pink and red gore. While the alarm is often raised easily, The Old Blood removes the essence of vulnerability from most stealth games with the large arsenal of weapons. They allow a possible hindrance to become a fun yet chaotic experience.
Plenty of action sequences are crammed into The Old Blood’s short running time, but that does not mean that B.J. is blasting through a small number of similar environments. Each area is greatly individual, and while the globe-trotting sense of the first game is not fully present, no aesthetic feels overused. Castle Wolfenstein’s grim corridors open out into wide, garish entrance halls and living quarters, while later stages have you exploring the fairytale-esque town of Wulfsburg. Every scene is beautifully designed with a rich layer of smoothness, and wide vistas are in place to increase the visual scale of the Third Reich’s sinister grandeur.
The time for shooting and looking at pretty environments may take precedence throughout, but as a result, less time is spent on story or character development. The finest moments in The New Order included the down-time between missions. Returning to your hidden base of operations to relax and to chat idly with your band of misguided rebels was a welcome reprieve from the violence outside of the compound’s walls; some great bonds were established there, and each character differed in personality and style. B.J.’s secondary cast members this time are minimal, and most only appear for a few minutes at a time.
Despite the lack of great support for B.J., his character remains as compelling as ever. He may be a big guy with a gun and a buzz cut but he truly differs from the line-up of other bland shooter protagonist’s out there. His inner monologues offer a view into the mind of a character that has suffered greatly from the violence of the war and his childhood. He rambles in cryptic vignettes involving his past through a twisted veil of nostalgia, longing for peace and freedom, while emphasising a fear of the abhorrent. He may absorb an ungodly amount of pain, but mentally, he is far from invulnerable.
B.J.’s interesting portrayal is a result of the world in which he lives. The alternate history setting of Nazi dominance obviously presents a far-fetched reality, but it is mostly grounded through believable scientific advancement. The Old Blood still utilises a semi-steam punk aesthetic for most of the game, but this changes slightly with the introduction of zombies in the latter half. The Wolfenstein series may have its origins in the occult, but the far-flung yet believable world established in The New Order presented a more captivating universe than one governed by supernatural exploits. The zombies aren’t even coherent enemies, with most dying in one melee attack as they shamble uselessly around Wulfsburg’s streets. They feel cheap, unnecessary and generic in a series that has so far set itself apart as an original shooter.
Outside of the main campaign, challenge rooms are also available. They involve a series of arenas in which more Nazis are shot for combos and high scores, but your enjoyments is held back immensely by the limited number of enemies within each map. The challenges are finished far too quickly, and a lengthy loading screen before each makes repeated plays undesirable. Bonus levels consisting of stages from Wolfenstein 3D are also dispersed throughout the story in the form of “Nightmares.” They are a joy to play, implementing the game’s modern control scheme and looking beautiful despite their age; their colour and quirkiness still shines through 23 years after their original release.
While The Old Blood spends little time focusing on great character development, it does provide a short but sweet ride full of gore, mayhem and twisted moments. The supernatural elements may slightly taint the oppressive, alternate world created in The New Order, but they do little to diminish the enjoyment of blowing Nazis to bits with grenade launching pistols. Which, ultimately, is why we’re all here.
Short But Sweet
Turning Nazis Into Sausage Meat Since 1946.