Storm a Nazi fortress in search of an old nemesis.
PC Release: May 5, 2015
By Ian Coppock
As of today, the Art as Games project has been a thing for TWO YEARS!! Hard to believe. Granted, there have been many a hiatus during that time, but we’re back to regularly scheduled content, and today’s edition will focus on a quality expandalone released for Wolfenstein: The New Order. If the Wolfenstein games’ penchant for shooting, stabbing, burning, bleeding and incinerating Nazis is anything you’ve found enjoyable over the years, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood encapsulates all of that for fans both new and old.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a dark preamble to the events of The New Order. The New Order followed series protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz in a world where the Nazis won World War II, a journey that I praised for its atmosphere but criticized for its underwhelming additions to the shooter formula. The mechanics behind the original game are little-changed in The Old Blood, but the developers experimented with some new story and level design material that gives it an independent feel.
The Old Blood is set in the last days of an alternate World War II. The Nazis are on the verge of victory on all fronts, and special agent B.J. Blazkowicz has been assigned to stop them. Your mission is to infiltrate Castle Wolfenstein, a dark fortress in the mountains, and “persuade” its commanding officer to give you the location of Deathshead, the German scientist building the Nazis’ futuristic war machines. Castle Wolfenstein is infamous for containing dark secrets, and no one has escaped its walls and lived to tell the tale.
After dressing up like an SS officer, B.J. and his English counterpart break into the castle to find commanding officer Helga von Schabbs. Despite some admirable stealth action and a vicious gunfight, things go to shit pretty quickly, and now you, alone, must navigate the dark halls of the castle. Ambling precursors to The New Order‘s worst nightmares stalk the corridors, and you never know who, or what, will come lurching out of the dungeon. The second half of the game shifts things over to a dark little village in the Bavarian countryside, where your continuing search for answers will see B.J. delve into some survival horror.
Any old-school fans reading this might think this game sounds strikingly similar to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and there’s a reason for that. The Old Blood loosely follows the stories of both that game and the Wolfenstein console game of 2009, the idea being to ease new players of the series into its striking mythos without forcing them to tromp through an older game. I thought Return was quite excellent, so I was both happy to see a veneration of the old game and also sad that it apparently needed a soft reboot. Just like every other piece of goddamn media this days, holy cow…
There were a lot of flaws in The New Order that Machinegames sought to correct in The Old Blood. One of the issues I had with The New Order was that some levels were strictly divided into stealth and gun sections. Sometimes, your preferred play style would run counter to what the game mandated. In The Old Blood, levels and enemy encounters are designed for players to be able to pick fighting or stealthing at any time. Those nooks and crannies work just as well for hiding as shooting. I appreciated this much more fluid approach; sure, it made the level design more samey, but the constant flexibility in being able to pick my approach was nice.
In line with that samey design came some surprising linearity. With a few exceptions, most of The New Order‘s levels were fairly open and allowed for lots of exploration. The Old Blood, by contrast, is a single set of twisting corridors and tunnels, very much Point A-to-Point B. As always, I find this type of level design to be monotonous.
The gameplay mechanics in The Old Blood are virtually identical to the base game, as is to be expected. You do get a few handy tools added to your arsenal; B.J. picks up a piece of pipe that can be used for anything from stabbing to climbing. We also get a few new guns, including a handy dandy hand cannon that shoots mini-rockets, and a carbine complete with a scope. The New Order‘s unique tiered health regeneration system, in which health is regained to the nearest multiple of 20, returns as well.
Whatever your playstyle, The Old Blood gives a simple, clean environment to progress in as a ghost or as a wrecking crew, and plenty of tools to accomplish either with style. Despite its linearity, it’s a smooth gameplay experience that I rather enjoyed. The Old Blood introduces precious few new enemy types, such as the sniper marksman, but they round out an acceptable challenge backed up by New Order foes that have been re-skinned for World War II.
Speaking of level design, let’s deviate briefly to chat about the visuals and atmosphere. The Old Blood‘s spooky castles and lakeside towns are a far cry from the concrete factories and high-tech military installations seen in The New Order, but they contain subtle arrangements of items and textures that hint at what’s to come down the line. Both the corridors of Castle Wolfenstein and the streets of Wulfburg are engulfed in an eerie gloom. Machinegames applied their excellent fog and lighting effects to great, well, effect, in this game. They work the atmospheric effects in such a way as to cast the player with a subtle sense of terror throughout the course of the game. Little background noises like distant screams amplify this design facet.
The musical score was inspired by B-movies of the 1900s, particularly the crappy-but-good spy genre of the 70s. Slightly out-of-tune pianos, grim strings, and dramatic blaring of horns are the three pillars of this game’s soundtrack. They fit both the grim atmosphere of a lost World War II and a new type of camp that the developers decided to go for. I was pleasantly surprised when they decided to expand upon B.J.’s jarhead sensibilities as an underlying element of comedy. B.J. is cast not just as a grim soldier, but as the star of an action movie, with hilarious one-liners akin to something from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
I’m glad that the developers decided to poke fun at their own game, because the plot of The Old Blood is really not much to speak of. Your goal is to find a folder being carried around by a sadistic archeologist, but that folder is really just a slim excuse to drag the player through a few environments that would otherwise be completely disconnected. It’s a game that’s entirely plot-driven rather than character-driven. Need to get that folder? Sneak through the castle, sneak through the village, sneak into the underground fortress, all of these have nothing in common save getting to a folder. A folder is not a compelling goal. It’s a folder.
Not to say that the journey this folder drags you through isn’t fun, but I think you can see why such a premise doesn’t exactly carry much weight.
There’s a cast of brand-new characters introduced to flesh out the main goal of the game, almost all of whom are not seen in The New Order. B.J. doesn’t really evolve as a character, and the game has some fun with that by ironically pointing out his simple, straightforward approach to fighting Nazis. But, where B.J. fails to be a really interesting character to watch, a grim British intelligence officer, a sadistic Nazi dog trainer, and a young Jew searching for her sister round out the cast and dialogue nicely.
The Old Blood contains a few surprises that break far away from The New Order‘s futurism and throw back to the original games’ obsession with the supernatural. Some of these are as surprising as a punch to the gut, but old-school fans who’ve played these games for a while will be less shocked than I was. The Old Blood also throws in Easter eggs pointing toward the older games. Just remember; when the shit hits the fan, be ready for anything.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a pretty decent shooter and a worthwhile addition to the franchise. It dumbs down gameplay in ways that we’ve come to expect of DLC, but contains enough content to be a standalone game. The Old Blood‘s creepy atmosphere is augmented by the knowledge that everything you do will ultimately accomplish little; the Nazis have already won, and you’re just struggling in the shadows of that victory. Kinda like Halo: Reach, but infinitely less grindy.
The Old Blood packs about 6-8 hours of content, and for 20 bucks, that’s not a terrible deal. The game’s available on all major platforms and I recommend giving it a shot. Obviously, play The New Order, a fuller game, first, but move on to this once you’ve gleaned an understanding of what B.J. will go through after this war.
And as always, shoot and stab those Nazis.
You can buy Wolfenstein: The Old Blood here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.