Machine Games hopes to recapture last spring’s ‘Wolfenstein’ fever – but is the ‘New Order’ prequel worth your time?
One thing that continuously surprises me with the past two Wolfenstein romps is just how much I enjoy killing Nazis again. A decade ago, I would have scowled at the thought of playing just one more World War II themed game, but after a long hiatus, Machine Games have recaptured my love for the mindlessly mowing down waves of fascists. Prequels may not have the same ability to break ground with survival tension, but Old Blood is still a fun low-budget summer blockbuster.
As far as gameplay goes, The Old Blood does a lot of things just like 2014’s New Order. Dual-weild massive firearms, silent (and horrifically violent) takedowns on unsuspecting enemies, and tough combat are all make a triumphant return. Gameplay in the prequel takes what developer Machine Games learned with last year’s game and polished them to create even smoother stealth and shooting mechanics.
Lets start with all the things Old Blood did right. First off, having a pipe melee weapon that can be used to break open crates or crush skulls is perhaps the greatest two handed weapon in a first person shooter since Half Life over a decade ago. There are also a handful of new weapons in the game in addition to the pipe. For example, there is a grenade launching pistol that is a blast to use. Hell, even the bolt action rifle in Old Blood feels good to use. Perhaps the most notable thing about the game is the way it takes the old familiar feeling of yesteryear’s shooters and magically makes them feel fresh again. I feel I’m playing Call of Duty 2 in my parents basement again, and with a market saturated with modern day military shooters, that’s a great feeling.
Just like last year’s Wolfenstein title, the first chapter of Old Blood isn’t particularly strong. The new Wolf games allow you go in guns-blazing or stay low and take a stealth approach, but for whatever reason, the first chapter of Old Blood emphasizes stealth and really makes things difficult if you don’t want to crouch in the shadows. Luckily, though, as the game opens up a bit, I found that there were many paths I could take. What is so great about both Old Blood and New Order was the illusion of choice. Yes, there are gimmicky ‘choose who to save’ moments in both titles, but the way the game allows you to take two paths that give the feeling of free will is actually pretty neat even if it is just an illusion at the core.
There are also some gameplay things I didn’t love about Old Blood that didn’t exist in New Order. While I don’t aim to spoil any elements of the story, I do have to make a few references to Old Blood‘s plot for the sake of context, so if you wish to be spoiler free skip ahead! Alright, good, you’re still here, onto my beef: so, about halfway through the eight chapters of the game, I found myself battling on a bridge wiping out waves of Nazis and having a blast. Suddenly, I’m confronted with a mini-boss, a giant robotic canine. As it bounds towards me, I throw grenades and unload magazines of my dual wielded shotguns. Sparks fly, but the dog keeps pushing forward and with one swipe of his front paw, I fall to the ground and am prompted with a game over screen. I repeat the battle dozen times, each attempt trying to modify my attack strategy with hopes of beating the boss. Ultimately, I decide to check YouTube for a walkthrough to see other’s runs for advise. I quickly notice that everyone is using the rocket launching pistol on the pup to beat him, but on my hard difficulty, ammo is scarce and I never got the launcher. In order to beat the dog with firearms, I had to drop my difficulty level down a notch. To many people, this may be no big deal, but a mechanic that essentially punishes the player for missing a weapon pick up is just bad game design. After dropping the difficulty, I beat the dog on my first attempt. Victory never tasted so much like defeat.
My second spoiler section: Late in Old Blood, developer Machine Games decides they’re done doing fresh and leans back on exhausted gaming clichés. That’s right, the last three chapters are all about adding Nazi zombies to the formula. Perhaps this was an attempt to make the late game state feel fresh to gamers trekking through Wolfenstein‘s world, but the delivery honestly soured my opinion on the game. Don’t get me wrong, I still like Old Blood and love New Order, but this was a downright dumb addition to the game. What was so difficult about marketing New Order last year was convincing the audience that it wasn’t just another cheap, generic corridor shooter. The sad thing is, when Machine Games introduced zombies to Old Blood the game went from a B-movie aesthetic to just a B-game. I loved the first five chapters of Old Blood, I just wish they could have ended the prequel with a little more strength.
Essentially, the game centers around protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz trying to secure the blueprint of Deaths Head compound. The issue with this plot is that there is nothing the player can worry about because DeathsHead plays a pivotal role in New Order. You know right off the bat B.J. will succeed and that kind of takes the wind out of the sails before the story even gets going. With that being said, Old Blood gave me a fun if not forgettable five and half hours of gameplay.
Like the gameplay, Old Blood has a lot of good in its storytelling along with some not-so-great baggage. See, the game was originally intended to be a prequel broken up in to two different pieces but ultimately the developer (or publisher) decided to bundle them together. For that reason the game has two very different sections. There’s part one: Rudi Jager and the Den of Wolves and part two: The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs. The gameplay is much more solid in part one, but part two’s Helga Von Schabbs is a much more compelling villain and she carries the story.
There were several points throughout the game that felt incredibly similar to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It is apparent that Machine Games aspired to parrot the tone of the film in many cutscenes by putting the player in scenarios of insane tension with villains. While aping other media forms might not be the best way to show the unique strengths of game storytelling, I have to admit that the delivery is rock solid. If you like Tarantino, you will especially enjoy the tone of this game.
To keep things brief, the game looks very good. Character models are detailed, animations look smooth and framerate felt solid. Old Blood actually improves on some of the ugly graphics issues that last year’s game had, too. Instead of hideous washed out textures on walls or rock surfaces, things look much less muddy and, in general, it pleases the eye much more. There is one scene towards the end of the game where I found myself face-to-face with Helga at dusk and the shading looked a little odd. Half of her face was darkened out and it just didn’t look natural at all. This is a small gripe, though, compared to the otherwise above average graphics throughout the game.
The Old Blood, in many ways, is very similar to last year’s New Order. It is far less memorable thanks to a dependence on a tired cliché, but for $20, the game is a steal. From the basic dollars to entertainment value, the game is far from a cash grab. I played half of the game on hard and the other half on medium and I beat it in almost exactly five and half hours. I recommend this game to anyone who played New Order and loved it, but I do offer caution to those who are afraid of run-of-the-mill shooters as this game is much more “standard” than last year’s game.
The nature of a prequel certainly limited the plot and surprise factor of the game’s story, but what really saves this game from being old hat is the delivery of old school shooting mechanics. The gameplay of Old Blood – particularly the stealth and shooting – still feels incredible. Machine Games absolutely nailed how an arcade style shooter should handle.
You might not need to play this game right now, but with the summer drought coming up, the modest price tag on Old Blood alone makes it worth playing in 2015.Follow @bearclawgaming