"I am so tired of Nazi Zombies. It's so... overused" - South Park, The Stick of Truth
It’s a sad state of affairs when a standalone expansion pack is the only exciting release for me in an entire year for a gaming genre I previously called my favourite. Truly the First-Person Shooter (or “FPS” as the cool kids call it) has fallen on rough times. If Star Wars: Battlefront isn’t the greatest thing ever I’m packing my bags and moving fully to the RPG. Into the desolate wasteland that was last year’s FPS crop Wolfenstein: The New Order stood out like a burning flame, reigniting my passion for the FPS. Giving homage to the old whilst feeling new, combining B-movie silliest with some properly mature storytelling. Now a year later MachineGames and Bethesda are releasing a standalone expansion, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. Let’s get psyched.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
"I am so tired of Nazi Zombies. It's so... overused" - South Park, The Stick of Truth.
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The year is 1946. The Second World War should have ended a year ago, instead with General “Deathshead” Strasse’s machines of war the Nazis are steadily winning. The Allies have one chance at victory: find Deathshead’s secret command centre and shut him down. Reports have come in that Helga Von Schabbs, researcher for the SS Paranormal Division, has the location. BJ Blazkowicz must return to Castle Wolfenstein and get the information from Helga before it’s too late… but what exactly is she looking for in the tombs around Wolfburg?
One of the reasons I was really looking forward to The Old Blood was the story, which is clearly a deliberate throwback to my previous favourite game in the Wolfenstein series, Xatrix’s Return To Castle Wolfenstein. In all honesty though, the story is the worst part. It’s supposed to be B-movie like in style yet isn’t, instead using The New Order’s trick of telling everything in a straight, serious way no matter how ridiculous things get. That’s not the problem though. The problem is that there’s hardly any story here to tell. It’s all predictable and full of new, disposable characters that we only get ten seconds with before they get horribly murdered or something. I wanted more B-movie stuff, more nods to previous games, or at least some plot twists I couldn’t have seen a mile off.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein... again!
The gameplay fares much better, although not quite as well as The New Order. The gunplay remains excellent through and through, and it’s so refreshing to be able to carry all weapons all the time. Damn you Halo for forcing us to choose. All the weapons are great and well thought out, so you end up using all of them - although I admit I often forgot about the rocket gun. Fighting Nazis is fun then, surprise surprise, and I personally loved how viable stealth was in many encounters too, with throwing knives, permanently silenced pistols, and officers that continually call in reinforcements until you down them. This is when the stealth shines in Wolfenstein - where you can screw up and still have loads of fun.
Nevertheless I remain critical of a few small parts, Firstly, stealth is kind of enforced at the beginning so consequently it kind of drags as Wolfenstein is really a game where optional stealth works best. Secondly, a few sections are extraordinarily frustrating, mostly the times where enemies seem to appear out of nowhere and actually are spawning out of sight. That’s not a challenge, that’s trying to overwhelm you with sheer weight of imaginary numbers. Deeply unsatisfying.
Thirdly, and this is a spoiler so feel free to skip this paragraph (despite it being advertised everywhere), the final act of The Old Blood, roughly the last two hours out of an 8 hour game, is almost entirely populated by zombies. Now, I get that this is a continuation of Return To Castle Wolfenstein, but that released in 2001 when the Nazi Zombies trope wasn’t so overdone. Hell, we’ve seen a trilogy of games called Nazi Zombie Army get released just two months ago. And you know what? The Old Blood’s zombie sections feel utterly identical to Rebellion’s title, except without the multiplayer or sniper rifle head explosions to save it. Even stomping around in a giant mech suit can’t save this section. The final boss is absolutely awful too, incidentally.
Double-barrelled Shotgun versus Nazi Zombies. Yep, Wolfenstein's credentials check out
The graphics are generally great looking, but, well, it’s id Tech 5. That’s right, we’re talking regular texture pop-in and fixed indestructible backgrounds. I don’t generally find it a problem, but for some reason The Old Blood has been really badly optimised. The New Order ran perfectly on my PC in maximum settings but The Old Blood really struggled to get anywhere beyond Medium/High without looking much better, and cutscenes either lagged badly, got replaced with a green screen, or crashed the game, messed up my checkpoint, and crashed again every time I tried to resume that game. I even had to reinstall part of the game at one point because it just wouldn’t let me continue.
WOLFENSTEIN: THE OLD BLOOD VERDICT
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is an incredibly fun standalone expansion to one of the Best games of 2014, and in plenty of places is tougher. Sometimes more frustrating, especially in places with respawning enemies, and the forced stealth section in the beginning is a bit of a misstep, but overall the Wolfenstein gameplay is just as great here. Nevertheless there are issues, most notably the Nazi Zombies finale being underwhelming and the load of technical problems this reviewer encountered (and I’m not the only one). It’s certainly not as good as The New Order even condensed, but it’s still almost certainly going to be the best single-player-only FPS out this year. Unless Singularity 2 shows up, of course.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The thrilling escape from Castle Wolfenstein probably. I personally love getting through an entire section using only stealth.
The gameplay, and especially the gunplay, is as great as ever.
Lovely throwbacks to previous Wolfenstein games. You can play all of the first episode of Wolfenstein 3D!
The zombies get boring fast, and there's a few too many moments with respawning enemies.