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Wolfenstein Youngblood [2019 -- MachineGames/Arkane Studios]

Started by Starfox, Jun 10, 2023, 02:07 AM

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Originally published August 14, 2019

Wolfenstein Youngblood annoys me on so many counts that it would hurt me to write them all down so I will be focusing on the biggest offenders here.

But let's go with a bit of the story so you know what you'll be dealing with when (if) you play this game.

The year is 1980, 19 years after the events described in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and the following liberation of North America from the Nazis. B.J. Blazkowicz and Anya live with their twin daughters (both of course 19 years old) in a little house where they teach them in a pure Blazko tradition how to kill, maim and explode their enemies although the girls seem to have a lot to learn yet. North America is liberated but the rest of the world is not and an older Blazko seems to be worried more than ever. Then one day, he disappears. His two daughters decide to launch their own search and rescue party joining the French resistance in Paris.

The story is... well, let's keep that for the end of this review because welll... yeah. Just a spoiler: don't expect the same level of writing than the two previous games. Apparently the guys at MachineGames decided suddenly that people play Wolfenstein to shoot things, not to listen to stories. And well, one thing you won't be short of are things to shoot.

And as a shooter the game does its job even if this also come with a few caveats like an enemy armor system that was apparently introduced just to bore the hell out of players (two types of armors each requiring their special weapons -- not ammo, weapons -- to do a dent in it). Still shooting Nazi in this game is mildly fun if you successfully forget about all the idiocy introduced by the coop orientation of the game -- idiocy that you may not or barely notice if you play coop but that I can guarantee you'll definitely notice when trying to have fun in single player.

Meanwhile, MachineGames (or Bethesda depending on who you want to blame) managed successfully to piss off in equal amount both single players and coop players with a game that obviously doesn't want to be single player but at the same time fails at coop due to various bugs and issues that currently plague it (and in an interesting Bethesda twist it seems that each new patch solves one issue and add a couple more). The game also managed to piss off just about every fan of Wolfenstein due to "interesting" [insert heavy sarcastic tone here] design decisions.

But let's sort out the good

Because it will be quick. First, the graphics look good and the environment design of a Nazi infested Paris are adequate enough. This is possibly the part where Arkane  Studios (Dishonored, Prey) had a role to play. I could occasionally make out their particular style, especially in streets and buildings design.  Also there are true French speaking voice actors in this title which is a nice change from English speaking actors trying to do French voices.

Performances were good with everything pushed to the max, my setup consistently running above 60fps. I had some audio issues though that they tried (and partly failed) to correct with a patch.

And now let's sort out the bad.

Oh boy... this will take a while.

First thing, this game is coop, period. Don't trust what Bethesda tells people about it. Yes you can play it solo but oh boy, playing is not the same as enjoying... the AI of your companion (your character's sister) is so terribly bad that you'll want to shoot her yourself... more than once. How bad are we talking about? Well, I will recount a bit of my playthrough that more or less exemplifies what is wrong with the buddy AI. I was sneaking up to a Nazi and the sister was following about 6 meters behind me when suddenly another bad guy came right between us and started to shoot at me. No big deal you'd think because the sister was right behind him to tear him up a new one... Nope, she didn't even fire a single shot and I had to kill the two bad guys by myself (the one in front and the one behind).

That's a thing that would not occur in coop, of course, because there your sister would be a real human and not some brain dead doorknob. Unfortunately it never gets any better and by the end of the game I had killed several hundred Nazis and the AI had killed about... 10. That is a piss poor job if I've ever seen one. Well, you'd say, it's no matter since you play single player so it's normal that the main job is left to you... and normally I would agree if it was not for the fact that MachineGames didn't even think to adapt the game difficulty for single player. As it is right now, you have to do alone the job that two human gamers do while in coop against the same number of enemies of similar strength. And that's not normal. That would be bearable if the buddy AI held its own, but it's a failure, period.

Your sister couldn't hit an elephant with a shotgun at point blank. For some reason her hit ratio seems to have been set way below the enemy's hit ratio. Again that wouldn't be a problem if the game difficulty had been tuned for single player but alas...

Due to hilariously bad pathfinding routines, the AI is also prone to get separated from you and in order to join up will go the most complicated and the less stealthy route often passing in plain sight of enemies just so you have the pleasure to trigger every alarm around. If you intend to stealth some portions of this game, the AI will be a constant pain in the ass. It doesn't help that when you crouch she just stands and browse around like if she was at the market. Her ability to react to enemy fire -- she has the situational awareness of a block of concrete -- is also so bad that she finds herself bleeding on a constant basis at which point you get to revive her (and this little routine gets tiring very quickly).

And I'll stop with the buddy AI there because even if the symphony is longer, I'd rather not spend all this review on it.

The most grievous error from Bethesda here... mislabeling the product. They should never have sold that thing for single player/coop game that it isn't. Of course if they hadn't done that, a lot of people wouldn't even have bothered to buy the game, especially long time fans.

But wait there's more bad...

Because all the above was only regarding  the total  discrepancy between single player and coop mode. The following bad points are valid whatever the game mode is.

Let's begin by the complete lack of a save system, erratic checkpoints and (contemplate that if you will) a game that NEVER EVER pause. Yep that's right. the game never pause, not even when you're on the menu screen. So let me paint you a picture (true story even) after a hard series of fights you decide to take a break but you don't want to get back to your base of operation because all the progress done in the current mission would be lost (no save, remember?). So you stash your character (and hopefully your character's sister) in an area you deem relatively safe. Then you go do what you have to do, have a coffee, take a piss, whatever... and then you return to discover that your character was killed and rejected to the beginning of the level, cancelling all the progression made. You can't even read the pieces of information you gather in the world because... yes the game doesn't pause so you run the very real possibility to get attacked while reading  -- and the time you get back to your lair, you're not interested anymore in reading what you found. I want to read things as I find them, not out of context one hour later.

Everyone was thinking at first that this inability to pause was a bug... but no, it's not apparently. The information I gathered from the loading screens tends to prove that this "feature" was wanted by the developers. For what important purpose exactly... that's anyone guess. But I'm with the majority of gamers there... it's unnecessary and completely idiotic.

And the whole no pause thing is not helped by enemies erratically respawning. If you want to take a leak, for example, you cannot just stash you character somewhere in an area you just cleared because chances are that the time you're gone enemies will respawn and attack you (even if you're at the menu screen -- I still can't fathom how moronic this is).

And the apotheosis...

The story is uninspired and uninteresting. There's not even a hint of a true villain until nearly the end of the game and when it is revealed it's nothing even approaching the caliber of a General Strasse or a Frau Engel. The characterization is almost non existent, most of the people you encounter in the resistance HQ are just kiosks giving you fetching quests of low quality. As for the two main characters... what's to say... imagine two 19 years old teenagers with barely two brain cells to rub together and the humor of a 5 years old. Because of that the cutscenes are truly catastrophic. You know there are a lot of people who complained about too many cutscenes present in The New Colossus, but at least these were good cutscenes and most of the time with good humor. There the humor is so bad and the scenes so out of touch with anything that was done in the Wolfenstein series to this day that you wonder if this is Wolfenstein anymore.

The quests are most of the time appallingly generic and the main plot quests are nothing better; go to three different locations to do the same stuff before going to the fourth one to take down the big guy? Really?

But hey, all is forgiven because you know what... there's stuff to buy

It's obvious that the coop tuning was privileged first an foremost and I'm truly getting fed up with franchises that are "re-purposed" to suit the monetization needs of a publisher.  Why make a coop Wolfenstein when the whole series is almost exclusively composed of single player games? Well the answer is pretty simple: publishers know that it's far easier to sell stuff (micro-transaction) in a multiplayer environment than it is in single player, and far better if the players are so engaged in the game that they are almost brain dead -- hence the "no pause allowed" stuff, I guess. And micro-transactions in this game, there is. If you wondered why Wolfenstein Youngblood was sold for the astoundingly low price of $30 (standard edition) or $40 (Deluxe edition), there's your answer.

Mechanically, the thing works this way: two currencies are in play. Silver, which is the in game currency. it is granted as a reward for missions and tasks and one can find it in the world, in containers... etc. With silver one can "buy" anything in the game, weapon customization, skins, whatever. BUT if you're in a hurry, you can also buy with gold bars... except that one has to buy the gold bars with real money.

However following the whole ruckus with monetization in Fallout 76 Bethesda tried to be more clever this time and removed from the PC version a lot of monetization aspects that could have raised some level of anger, namely everything that could have been considered as pay to win, except for what are called "boosters" (you're out of ammo and armor and don't have enough silver? Don't be shy, buy with gold bars. And -- still present on console but removed from the PC version -- you need some more XP to progress faster? Buy it... nobody cares (but we do, we care for your money). And by the way, message to Bethesda: when you "remove" (to put them back later for all I know)  monetization "features" from a game to not anger some part of the customers make sure to remove the references to said features from the loading screens messages too... OK? Good boys.

Thing is, it doesn't matter how bad the monetization is in this game because the whole game is worse. Bethesda would seriously want people to spend even more money on a game they can barely stomach to play? At least make the game a good game if you want to do that.

What is the most puzzling in this sad story is how a developer like MachineGames that successfully revived a franchise that was more or less dying at the time they took over, pushing it to the top with two brilliant games, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood and following up with another good game, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus ended up developing the sorry excuse for a Wolfenstein entry that is Wolfenstein Youngblood? Maybe that developing four games in the span of five years was simply more that they could handle.

In my opinion though, the whole monetization scheme sustained by the coop orientation of the gameplay is what brings Wolfenstein Youngblood down. And the worst part is that like it or not, this particular game is now part of the lore and cannot be ignored in regard to what will happen to the franchise in the future which means... yep possibly even more idiocy.

As for myself, I will go back to The New Colossus, the last true Wolfenstein game there is to play, to wash my mouth of all the bad taste.

Edit following patch (11/17/19): One of the patches issued by Bethesda corrected one the previously existing issues with the game. Now the game is paused when consulting the journal or on the main menu. That's kind a small mercy. Unfortunately, the patch does not correct any of the other issues of the game I mentioned above. So it's still a pretty piss poor single player game. Coop is the only way to go if you feel so inclined, and even then... Also the latest patch (as of this date), adds new areas to the game to explore (free) and some gimmicks like skins for the power armor (not free -- and by not free I mean that unlike the skins included in the vanilla game, these new ones cannot be bought with in game money, just with pretend money one has to buy from Bethesda... Does that really surprise anyone at this point?).

Guess what it means!