REVIEW: ‘Wolfenstein’ returns with budget-priced ‘Blood’

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  • reviewed on PS4 / Rated M / $19.99 / released May 2015
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

Last year the legendary “Wolfenstein” series returned in the form of “Wolfenstein: The New Order,” bringing gamers back to an alternate history where Nazi Germany won World War II. Blending fantastical technology with dark magic, “Wolfenstein” turns players into heroic agents on a mission to infiltrate and eliminate the greatest villains of the twentieth century: Nazis. “Wolfenstein: The Old Blood,” now available, is a stand-alone prequel to “The New Order,” providing a pared-down taste of last year’s action at a budget price.

As a prequel, “The Old Blood” does not require any familiarity with the previously released game, although “New Order” players will notice that the mission in “Blood” does lead directly to events told in “Order.” In “The Old Blood,” special agent B.J. Blazkowicz is dropped behind enemy lines in order to retrieve a folder of classified information from deep within Castle Wolfenstein. Naturally, the initial mission falls apart and B.J. must escape his Nazi captors and then work with the local resistance to complete his objective.

The New Order” does a fantastic job of letting players choose whether they want to handle each area as a silent assassin or in a noisy wall of gunfire. Nazi commanders will call in waves of reinforcements if they are alerted to your presence, but can be quietly dispatched if you are sneaky enough. Aside from a major stealth-focused misstep in the very beginning of the game, there’s a great balance between hide-and-sneak and run-and-gun. If you manage to keep things quiet, that’s your reward for time spent analyzing enemy patterns and lurking in corners. However, if you want to charge in with guns blazing, you end up getting to face even more Nazis.

The game will sometimes make that decision for you, depending on the situation’s relevance to the storyline, so it is good to know both approaches. “The Old Blood” lets you adjust the game’s difficulty – across five levels of mastery – at any time. While “Blood” is fast and fun, there are times when bad checkpointing after a death can rewind you a little farther back than you would have liked, so there’s no shame in downshifting during a particularly hairy section. Your play time may vary, but you can probably expect your initial playthrough to take six to ten hours. Additional challenge modes become available as you make your way through the game, but they are merely portions of the core story clipped out and played for high score boards.

The Old Blood” contains a fun nod for fans of 1992’s “Wolfenstein 3D” game, one of the games credited with popularizing first-person shooters in the first place. Each chapter in “Blood” contains a hidden “nightmare” level where you play inside a retro-recreation of the classic 90’s Wolfenstein, pixels and all. These nightmare levels are probably too long, but the throwbacks provide an unexpectedly colorful distraction from the game’s grim setting.

Even though “The Old Blood” has you tackling obvious historical monsters – and, by the end of the game, actual monsters – the game is not a big patriotic gun-toting wash. Conversely, it also manages to not devolve into a “what is war good for” sadness screed. “Wolfenstein: The Old Blood” nails a combination of macho and maudlin that trips up many first-person shooters.

Image courtesy Bethesda Softworks. “Wolfenstein: The Old Blood” is a downloadable title available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

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