Wolfenstein Youngblood E3 Hands-on: Machinegames meets Dishonored in captivating co-op gem (Pic: BETHESDA)
The city of light has been overrun by one of historys greatest enemies – in this alternate history set 19 years after The New Colossus, B.J Blazkowicz deadly daughters Jess and Sophie have been taught how to survive on a farm in Mesquite Texas.
After some hard truths about life and death with the help of some wildlife, my co-op partner and I are thrown into the chaos headfirst. Dad is declared missing and the waning French resistance needs a booster shot. Aboard a zeppelin full of Nazis, the girls have to bond together to wipe out a singular foe, and after some reservations and a consequent head explosion, we get into gameplay.
One of the best features of The New Colossus returns in the super suit B.J used to tear through the Axis – both sisters don the outfit and are therefore privy to its special abilities and exosuit buffs – one able to use Crush which is essentially a more powerful version of the devastating ability from The New Colossus where you could run through enemies and turn them into pulp.
The opposite sister in our playthrough received Cloak, a stealth skill that turns the user invisible so they can slink around unnoticed and get the drop on foes – sound familiar yet? From the abilities to the environmental storytelling, Youngblood absolutely reeks of Dishonored – which is not a bad smell whatsoever.
Arkanes influence on the game is felt across the board, from code-based puzzles to multi-layered tower blocks full of tiny details. Yet, this is where my first line of questioning came – how much can Arkane (with its careful design principles and immersive gameplay) meld with that of Machinegames, the minimalist shooter genies behind Wolfenstein?
I came away very impressed by Youngblood, but had reservations over some things, especially when the philosophies of the two developers appeared to butt heads.
A question raised in our post-gameplay round table with a Machinegames developer was about the insignificance of stealth in a game like this – Youngblood looks like Destiny or Borderlands in its U.I, your enemies have visible health bars, levels and armor meters which you have to break down to defeat them with a myriad of high-velocity weapons… this helps to fix some of the issues in difficulty and enemy scaling from The New Colossus, but how can they make stealth palatable in a stripped back co-op shooter?
Its one of the first things that struck me as a potential problem. Using Cloak in-game felt pointless – when my partner can physically run through enemies (its still just as satisfying, if you were wondering) you feel like youve been short-changed.
Apparently this is something Machinegames is working on though – according to the developers an internal build right now has systems to reward player stealth instead of making it an afterthought – but it still feels strange to have environments with Arkanes distinctive veneer and a combat system that seems to reward run and gun chaos rather than tactics and exploration.
Its an odd mix of philosophies, but small gripe aside, its damn good fun – just dont expect the sisters to approach situations with quite the tactical grace of one Emily Kaldwin.
One clever system Youngblood boasted was pep signals – bound to the d-pad, the sisters can buff each other in battle by dancing like a robot or offering a cheeky thumbs up. Emotes with a purpose basically – it gives your co-op partner extra health and armor to survive a dangerous situation – which is handy in boss battles, the first of which we encountered on the aforementioned zeppelin, now burning thanks to the mayhem we were revelling in.
The boss battle felt like something out of Spider-Man… here we have a supercharged Nazi general shooting lasers and turning invisible as we chase him around a tight arena. It was no cakewalk – we scraped past it by the skin of our teeth, nearly losing all of our lives. Yes you heard me right! Lives are back in Wolfenstein and shared between co-op partners.
The boss battles in Youngblood are the developers replacement for the more involved cutscenes and set pieces seen in their single-player output – something I ended up missing quite dearly during my playthrough, though there were glimmers of it – once we depleted the officers healthbar we checked out the window to see him holding onto the zeppelin wing, precariously close to the engine. A couple of curious shots to his torso turned him into human mince.
Despite the lack of one-shot cutscenes, the writing is still as punchy as ever – the sisters are seriously endearing, each in their own way – it was a refreshing switch to play as two strong wisecracking women after Blazkowicz honour-bound death march.
Whilst BJ is a bloody brilliant character – its nice to have some pep injected into the story, especially in this case where the comedic heavy lifting doesnt have to be solely done by side characters. Jess and Sophie are deadly but naive to this world and sort of ambling through it – theyre coming to terms with the horrific situation in their own way.
Some of my favourite parts were when they would play pretend as Arthur and Kenneth – characters from their favourite Sci-Fi books they read on the family farm. A sisterly in-joke, its dorky as hell but deeply endearing – the chemistry is amazing between the two girls, which in a reflexive way will help co-op partners open up and curate quality communication. I can see where the story could get emotional outside of all the wisecracks, which is a nice feeling.
Our demo ended with an incredible tease – we hit a wall in a metro station menu screen which had a fast travel system. Were told that the game is somewhat open world – players can return to certain districts to work on side quests, and theres also a hub where players can shoot the shit with story characters.
I asked whether the side quests would have narrative ramifications like Dishonored, but unfortunately, it seems to be more of a means to help the resistance in a logistical sense than advancing character arcs.
Gunplay is crunchy, and with the health bars and extra U.I providing more visual stimuli, its an endorphin rush of a game. I found the armor system interesting – you have to choose certain guns to get rid of specific enemy armor depending on their class – sadly though I dont think this is quite so balanced yet, I felt like it was cornering me into using the same few guns instead of being rewarded for whipping out a varied arsenal.
Speaking of variety, I fought all manner of foes – from reserved snipers to devilish cyber dogs and flamethrower fiends that rushed at me with vigour. It got up close and personal, a style complemented by the new disarmament animations (if you hold the trigger whilst ripping a rifle from an enemys palms you can turn it on them and fill them full of holes.)
The groups of enemies thrown in front of us always provided a healthy challenge and promoted a think on your feet attitude – you had to consider how to use your environment and call out tactics to get past enemy cabals.
The actions you perform together as co-op partners are interesting too – deciphering code on one screen to unlock a door on the other and cracking open chests to pick Read More – Source