Games Review: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (Xbox One, 2015)

When Machinegames released <i>Wolfenstein: The New Order</i> in 2014, it took the industry by surprise. A near-perfect blend of shooter mechanics both classic and modern, with a bizarre, pulpy story that cheerfully embraced the ridiculousness of its aging premise, <i>The New Order</i> was a sorely needed shot in the arm for modern-day single-player FPS design. With its new stand-alone expansion, <i>Wolfenstein: The Old Blood</i>, Machinegames has attempted to replicate their feat with mixed results.

Originally intended as two separate DLC packs, <i>The Old Blood</i> combines the two into a single pack. Beginning with “Rudi Jager and the Den of Wolves” and concluding with “The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs”. “Rudi Jager” takes its cues from the the first hour or so of <i>The New Order</i>, a combat heavy affair, and extends the carnage to around five or six hours. There’s not much in the way of character going on in this first act – BJ is on a mission to rescue his compatriot Wesley from Jager’s clutches and that’s about it – but <i>The Old Blood</i> retains one of the mechanics that made <i>The New Order</i> stand apart, the making of stealth and gunplay situational by design.

The first part of the game has you sneaking around for quite a while as <i>The Old Blood</i> refamiliarises you with its inner workings before blithely handing over the reigns and stepping back. After that, it’s over to you to pick your battles, switching between your pleasantly wide variety of weapons and moving forward in whatever manner pleases you the most. <i>The Old Blood</i> is just as happy to let you kick in every door and charge around wielding a pair of automatic shotguns big enough to drive as it is letting you skulk about with your silenced pistol, picking guards off where you can.

Many of the weapons feel like they’ve seen some balancing changes from <i>The New Order</i> and that will probably be the first point of irritation for returning fans. Most obvious among these changes, assault rifles that dealt significant damage in the first game now feel like complete pea shooters, and are next to useless against anything hardier than the regular storm troopers. The second point of irritation will be for stealth players. <i>The Old Blood</i> features are far greater number of wide open areas than the last game, making sneaking about that much harder. In fact, I gave up on sneaking through these sections because no matter which path I took, no matter how quickly I moved, I would be spotted by some enemy I hadn’t seen and be strong-armed into a firefight.

Don’t get me wrong – the combat in <i>The Old Blood</i> is still super fun and retains every ounce of its old-school style. And “Rudi Jager” has an awful lot of combat, so if the one-man-army approach is your thing then the game’s first half will be right up your bloodsoaked alley. The downside to this seemingly endless torrent of bullets is that “Rudi Jager” is devoid of the big character moments that gave <i>The New Order</i> its very distinct sense of peril. It made you feel what was at stake with every big-ass boss fight. Here, character gets drowned out by the bark of machine guns and the clanking of robotic dogs.

And right when it all starts to feel a bit cacophonous and hollow, you put Jager on his ass and “The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs” begins. “Helga von Schabbs” is a significant improvement on “Rudi Jager” because it marks a return to the character moments that made <i>The New Order</i> so memorable. And I was having a great time with it, right up until the revelation that Helga’s been mucking around with the occult and has created an army of nazi zombies.

I mean, let’s just put aside the fact that nazi zombies have been done to fucking death in video games over the last five years or so. Nazi zombies are just not as much fun to battle as the regular soldiers and storm troopers you’ve been up against before. It also puts stealth completely out the window, so people who prefer that playstyle are left out in the cold again. Look, to be fair, it <i>does</i> add a lot of variety to the combat we’ve seen thus far, it’s just … not as much fun.

The whole game is couched in a decidedly B-movie, exploitation-era feel and the game doesn’t feel any need to hold back on the weirdness pouring out of every scene and set-piece battle. Enemy designs remain exceedingly cool to look at, the animation is top shelf and the level designs are still very interesting – if, as I’ve mentioned, occasionally geared to one particular play style over another. It ran perfectly on my Xbox One as well, pulling a silky 60 frames per second for the duration. Visually, like <i>The New Order</i> before it, <i>The Old Blood</i> is really quite pretty to look at.

This is, overall, a very solid expansion. The things that drew you into <i>The New Order</i> are still here to varying degrees, with the end result being a fairly straight-down-the-line shooter that’s enjoyable but less kinetic than its forebear. <i>The Old Blood</i> definitely gets it right where it counts, but can’t quite get the lightning back in the bottle.

<b>Review Score:</b> 7.0 out of 10
<b>Developer:</b> Machinegames
<b>Publisher:</b> Bethesda
<b>Released:</b> May 14, 2015
<b>Platform:</b> PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

<i>Reviewed on Xbox One</i>

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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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