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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood review – Old blood, new game

If you were a fan of last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order (and if you weren’t, what’s wrong with you!?), then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t play The Old Blood. This DLC expansion is a well-paced, tense return to MachineGames’ acclaimed reboot, and I’m very glad that the studio went this route as a stand-alone experience. The Old Blood stands up on its own for those new to the studio’s effort, while those that played The New Order will undoubtedly see a narrative network at play. It’s not an integral part of the broader narrative, but it veers off the familiar road in an effort to establish its own identity, just as any good expansion should.

The New Order did a wonderful job of reestablishing the old-school shooter as a genre worth investing in. Its unapologetic approach to health pickups and ammo drops was risky, but it nailed the execution with a great protagonist, fascinating game world and confronting enemies. That old-school approach to duel-wielding, over-powered weaponry and body armour was a breath of fresh air in a genre obsessed with realism. How ironic that in a game where a fascist regime is taking control, the experience is so unashamed in its refusal to follow the order.

The Old Blood is no different. This prequel, set in an alternative version of 1946 where the Nazis are winning against the Allies, harks back to earlier Wolfenstein games’ paranormal roots, particularly in the second chapter. The problem, however, is that, as we probably should expect with a cheaper, shorter expansion, the game’s level design is far more linear than in The New Order. I loved returning to Castle Wolfenstein in the first chapter, and there’s the occasional platforming puzzle to solve every now and then, but you can tell that the design looks more complex than it actually is. I never actually got lost, even when I thought I had, because you’re always moving in the same direction. The slightly more open, flexible level design in The New Order reminded me a little of first-person shooters from the N64 era, but The Old Blood lacks that same sort of design complexity.

Thankfully, rather than being merely a repeat of The New Order’s weapon take, The Old Blood introduces some new flavours, including an awesome one-hit-kill revolver and a metal pipe (yep!) that doubles as both a melee weapon and a multi-purpose tool. New enemies compliment these new weapons, including electricity-power super soldiers who are tethered to overhead wires like tram cars.

The Old Blood invites a stealthy approach to combat just like in The New Order, but with smaller and more linear levels, such an approach can be rather tedious. In order to take the super soldiers down, for example, you’ll need to avoid their line of sight, turn their power source off and disable it before the electricity is restored. Initially this stealthy approach works well, but eventually the level design turns it into a pointless, trivial exercise. In one scenario these super soldiers guarded a long hallway, so it was pointless trying to avoid their line of sight because even if I managed to get around one, I almost always caught the attention of another. It was just easier to kill one, get their massive weapon, and then shoot off the power cable of the others to progress. It’s not like they called in reinforcements, anyway.

I liked the first chapter of The Old Blood, but I loved the second chapter: taking you to the town of Wulfburg, the game takes an eerie, supernatural turn by introducing zombies, and even though the whole Nazi Zombies thing has been done to death over the past decade, let’s not forget that Wolfenstein really established the whole parallel-supernatural Nazi, and the series still does it better than anyone else. The second chapter feels like an ode to 2001’s Return To Castle Wolfenstein and I’m totally okay with that. I’m sure older Wolfenstein fans will be as well, even if the game lacks the narrative drive and level design to make it truely great.

The Final Verdict

I loved returning to MachineGames rebooted Wolfenstein universe, and The Old Blood certainly nails the B-movie feel the developer was aiming for, particularly in the game’s spontaneous shift in the second chapter. A far more linear and therefore more restrictive level design hurts some of the game’s better core features like stealth, but the core combat options still work a treat. For $39.95 and around 6-8 hours of play, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a worthy expansion of a great game, and continues the stunning rebirth of the old-school shooter.

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