Machinegames’ resurrection of the Wolfenstein series was a huge surprise when it arrived on PC, PS4 and Xbox One last year.Wolfenstein: The New Order was unashamedly old school, graphically violent, and at times absolutely mindless in its wholesale slaughter of alternate history future-Nazis, but had unexpected depth and subtlety to its story and characters that made it an absolute joy to play. It was one of our favourite shooters of 2014, so when news arrived that an expandalone prequel was on the way, we couldn’t wait to jump back into the boots of BJ Blazkowicz and take on the Third Reich once more.
The Old Blood sets up the New Order through a two-part adventure that lets you roam around the halls of the series’ eponymous Castle Wolfenstein, in search for the location of General Deathshead’s fortress. There’s a good three or four hours of content here, strewn across multiple levels and locations. Pacing is superb, and although the characters aren’t quite as memorable as The New Order’s Helga or Deathshead, they are deliciously pulpy villains that suit the game’s tone perfectly.
Even better, none of the action takes place in locations re-used from the main game and there are no repeated fight sequences or boss battles – something which can’t be said of the recent DLC addition’s to Bethesda’s The Evil Within. The Old Blood is a reminder of how good expansion packs used to be, in a world before DLC was announced and available to buy before the main game had even gone on sale.
Everything feels fresh again, despite returning to Nazi-era Germany, which proves there’s still room to explore the time period within the genre. Call us old fashioned, but we had more fun blasting Nazis with The Old Blood’s retro-tastic assault rifles and shotguns than we did at any point in the latest Call of Duty campaign. Blazcowicz can carry a huge number of guns at any time, so you aren’t forced to choose your favourites – you can try any approach to a fight and switch to a different weapon if it isn’t working.
The return to World War 2 era weapons and locations don’t diminish the gameplay at all, as you still have the same choice of guns-blazing combat or stealthily taking out enemies one at a time to stay undetected. That being said, there are far fewer open-ended areas that actually reward stealth: unlike The New Order, The Old Blood sticks to more linear locations, which makes avoiding detection a lot tougher. The Nazi captains that can call for reinforcements once you trigger an alarm are typically found patrolling behind several regular soldiers, so if you want to remain unseen you’re pretty much forced to take them down, rather than sneak past. Once you do get spotted, though, the excellent cover mechanics and varied weapon choices make combat an absolute joy. You have to collect health and armour to stay alive, with no automatic regeneration, and must pick up bullets manually – there’s no running over items to collect them here, just like it was in the previous games.
You’ll spend a lot of time fighting regular soldiers, armoured grunts equipped with shotguns, and Nazi sharpshooters armed with sniper rifles, but Machinegames has still found ways to add more futuristic enemies to The Old Blood’s 1940’s-era Germany. We especially liked the reappearance of the ubersoldaten, hulking armoured brutes equipped with chainguns: because the Nazi’s super soldier tech isn’t quite as developed as it would eventually become in The New Order, these enemies require a constant power source in order to patrol Wolfenstein’s halls. Sneak your way around to the power generators without being spotted and you can temporarily deactivate them, then wrench out the power cable to take each enemy down silently and without risking being shredded by their devastating weaponry.
Other familiar faces make an appearance too, including the robotic panzerhund guard dog, but the surprise addition are the reanimated zombie Nazis seen in the second part of the game, The Dark Secrets of Helga Von Schabbs. Having concentrated almost entirely on pseudoscience in The New Order, Return to Castle Wolfenstein players will welcome this return to the occult. Other games might have done nazi zombies to death, but we have a soft spot for them in any Wolfenstein title. Machinegames isn’t afraid to poke fun at their inclusion either, with plenty of comical moments dotted between all the carnage.
There’s more than a few nods to previous entries in the series too. Every level now has a hidden nightmare section, which lets you run around the retro 2.5D halls of Wolfenstein 3D. The New Order had one of these nightmares, but with seven available here it feels a little more like padding out content than a meaningful inclusion. Thankfully the score-based arcade mode is a more worthwhile inclusion: it takes major combat sections from the campaign and lets you duke it out for a place on the global leaderboards. The New Order was famously lacking any kind of end-game content, so this will give fans something to return to once they’ve finished the story.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is an enjoyable action adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It can’t match The New Order in terms of plot depth, characterisation or emotion, and has less room for varied approaches to combat, but this doesn’t impact the gameplay significantly. It’s still brilliant fun to run into a fight, armed with an automatic shotgun in each hand, and demolish everything in your path. You don’t need to have played (or indeed own) the main game to enjoy it either, and at £15 it’s perfectly priced given the amount of content on offer. Machinegames have set a brilliant example of how to do post-release content in a DLC-led world – more of this please.