Bethesda’s Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the third iteration of Machine Games’ alternate history take on the classic Id series, released last Friday, and it’s garnered some pretty mixed reactions. While it maintains the core FPS elements that made the first two games so enjoyable, it certainly stumbles in terms of story and made most players wish they could have stuck with longtime protagonist BJ Blaskowicz instead of his two overbearing, goofy daughters.
That’s neither here nor there, however, as, for the first time since the series 2014 re-boot, the emphasis isn’t really placed on the narrative. Whereas the first two titles were nearly fifty-fifty in terms of story to gameplay ratio, Youngblood is, aside from a fairly lengthy introductory cutscene, fairly light on non-playable segments. What’s more, Machine Games have sought to do the unthinkable and introduce a full-on co-op mechanic into the Wolfenstein universe, something that’s pretty much never been attempted before.
Is The Co-Op Good?
But does it work? Well, there’s a lot to unpack here, and, while it’s not exactly effortless smooth sailing in the way that something like Borderlands 2 or Left 4 Dead is, the co-op elements, at their most basic, at least function as intended. That may not sound like any sort of praise, but, given how anything Bethesda adds their name to seemingly turns to dust these days, Youngblood seems to be a fairly decent time. Your mileage may vary, of course, and performance seems to be vastly inferior on consoles and certain PC builds.
That said, the game has clearly been built around the co-op mechanics, and playing with the not-quite-terrible-but-not-very-intelligent AI can totally bring down that experience, so it should certainly be said that this new entry needs to be experienced with another playable, and preferably someone you know and with whom you can communicate. Plus, the AI does occasionally seem to bug out and ignore you as you bleed another life away ten feet from them, so that’s always nice.
Similar to games that have come before it, much of Youngblood’s gameplay loop has to do with keeping your partner on their feet. Whether this be running to revive them, coordinating attacks, searching for extra-life chests that can only be opened by two people, or flashing emotes at them to grant extra health, armor, or temporarily buff their stats. It may come across as fairly basic, but its complex enough to where you can’t quite reach your full potential without another trustworthy human partner behind your side. And, no, playing with out communicating probably isn’t going to cut it. While there is a ping system of sorts, it’s pretty lackluster and doesn’t allow you to call out certain points or actions, meaning that your rando internet partner will be off blasting fascist T-800 lookalikes on the other side of the map while you’ll be stuck wishing they’d come back and help you open a chest.
What Is This, Monster Hunter?
The real kicker, however, is that, in co-op, there’s no option to pause. Yes, seriously. As if caught in some Fallout 76-infused Khafkan nightmare, Wolfenstein: Youngblood doesn’t allow you to pause during single player. While Dark Souls may have managed to do that and seem hardcore, this game just comes off as inept, and it’s another of the long list of things fouling up the solo experience.
Finally, as previously mentioned, there’s not much of a story here. In fact, this game feels more like a spin-off than a mainline entry in the new Wolfenstein series, and it doesn’t seem out of the question for Machine Games to ditch the current canon and invent something else should a Wolfenstein 3 roll around at some point. Aside from a few small story points, there’s almost no reason to play this game from a narrative perspective. Much like playing Rebellion's Nazi Zombie Army Trilogy, there’s not a lot going on here, and it’s made all the more dull if you’re going it alone.
That may be for the best, of course, as it’s hard to hoof it through a serious war story while tagging along with some emote-spamming, glitch-exploiting internet denizen. The first two Wolf games definitely wouldn’t have been improved by co-op, so it’s good they went for a bit of a change of pace here. And, while it’s not really anything to write home about, Youngblood is a decent enough romp, provide you’ve got a friend willing to both gun down Nazis and tolerate the obnoxious Blazkowicz sisters with you.