In with the Old

I’m a pretty big Wolfenstein fan, so when MachineGames took a shot at rebooting the series last year with The New Order, I admit I was wary. But they genuinely shocked me with how they kept the game intense and action-packed but also infused it with the grit and emotion you normally don’t find in first-person shooters. So, even though I’m often wary of anything labeled as a “prequel,” I was more than ready to jump into Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, hoping to be surprised once again.

The Old Blood takes place shortly before the start of its predecessor in the traditional 1940s World War II setting more commonly associated with Wolfenstein, and the game sees series protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz deep behind enemy lines on a covert mission to find the coordinates to General Deathshead’s lair. When the mission quickly turns sideways, B.J. has to escape from Castle Wolfenstein and put an end to the occult experiments being conducted in the fictional city of Wolfburg if he hopes to get his hands on the ever-moving intel.

If the story sounds somewhat familiar to longtime Wolfenstein fans, that’s because it should. In fact, The Old Blood expansion could easily be thought of as a tribute to 2001’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Whereas The New Order was able to smartly borrow elements from previous games, The Old Blood feels more akin to a 1-to-1 re-creation in terms of its settings and major plot points. Yes, there’s even the return of Nazi zombies, who are prevalent throughout the last quarter of this expansion.

That’s not to say The Old Blood doesn’t carve its own path during particular moments, however. New characters, expanded sequences, and two gorgeous settings give The Old Blood a bit of an original flair—though not nearly as much as The New Order brought with its own excursion into the Wolfenstein lore. The most obvious sacrifice comes in character development; many of the new actors on the Wolfenstein stage serve as little more than cheap devices to push the plot forward. Even opportunities to expand on B.J.’s psyche are left untapped, relegated only to the beginning and end cutscenes.

I’m not saying the game needed the slowness of New Order’s resistance-base levels, but The Old Blood feels like it’s in a rush to get to the end. Maybe the quickened pace partly comes because it’s easy to write a path to a conclusion when you already know what it has to be—a sometimes-unavoidable downfall of prequel content.

At least The Old Blood smartly incorporates a lot of my favorite parts of New Order’s gameplay, which helped me forget the plot’s shortcomings for a brief time. Once again, players are given the choice on how to tackle each in-game obstacle, either moving through every level stealthily or like a dual-assault-rifle-wielding madman, mowing down Nazis left and right. This aspect was a defining characteristic in The New Order, and it feels great to have an excuse to go back to it after a year.

The perk system also returns with new upgrades—getting 200 kills with the mounted machine gun allows you to add it to your weapon wheel, for example. While some aren’t nearly as inventive as those seen in New Order (clip expansion seems to be a favorite here), the system still encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone.

The Old Blood even finds a way to avoid the classic prequel trap of creating too many new weapons that wouldn’t make sense in the time period or in the game’s continuity. While there are some new weapons available, such as the Schockhammer shotgun, they’re clearly predecessors to the weapons we saw in The New Order and are appropriately de-powered to fit the 1946 setting (with the same going for enemy types).

Much like The New Order, there’s also a surprising amount of replayability to The Old Blood, considering the game doesn’t offer a multiplayer mode. Challenge maps unlock as you progress through the campaign, and you can replay them in an attempt to get higher scores on the global leaderboard.

There’s also a dozen collectibles in each chapter and bonus content in the form of special “Nightmare” scenarios. In these moments, B.J. lies down for a quick nap—amazing that he can do so with a war going on around him—and gets whisked away to a dream world where he must fight through a number of Wolfenstein 3Dinspired areas. Completing these extra levels won’t help you progress toward the end of the game in any way, but they’re nice nods to Wolfenstein’s long history and provide an enjoyable respite from all the grit of the main experience.

While I appreciate a tribute to games of the past as much as the next guy, leaning on that idea so heavily makes it difficult for The Old Blood to stand out as much as The New Order. Still, the thrill-a-minute gameplay from the previous Wolfenstein outing carries the day here—and when you mix that with some surprising replayability, The Old Blood emerges as a solid expansion to one of last year’s better games.

Developer: MachineGames • Publisher: Bethesda • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.05.15
7.5
The New Order’s returning gameplay carries the day here. The Old Blood’s story spends too much time trying to be a tribute to an old game instead of its own adventure—and prevents this standalone expansion from being as deep or enjoyable as the main game.
The Good A solid tribute to Return to Castle Wolfenstein that still finds a way to fit into MachineGames’ new Wolfenstein universe.
The Bad Lacks the depth of The New Order; follows Return to Castle Wolfenstein a little too step by step.
The Ugly The missed opportunity that was bad guy Rudi Jager never calling in an airstrike and yelling “Jagerbombs!”
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Bethesda for the benefit of this review.
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