This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
We people who like single-player narrative-based video games really are the fucking disgruntled older siblings of this industry, aren't we? Nothing is ours forever. "All right, you've had enough fun with your new Wolfenstein series; give it up now so we can let your hyperactive little cunt of a younger brother have it. Oh, he doesn't like it so much, so we're going to break its kneecaps and make it multiplayer-focused; you were done with it, right?" Why can't we just have something that's ours?! Why does everything we have eventually get handed to Timmy Cuntface? You know he fucks the dog, right? "Well, maybe if you bought a loot box now and then, we'd overlook you molesting the pets, too!" On the whole, it wasn't our most productive family therapy session.
So here's Wolfenstein: Youngblood; it's Neo-Wolfenstein, but co-op focused. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of narrative-based franchises that have been "improved" by making the latest installment co-op focused; I don't have any fingers on my hand 'cos it's a featureless white circle. Kind of surprised it took you this long to notice. Set 20 years after the notably shit ending of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, America has been liberated from the Nazis and B.J. Blazkowicz, the stale corn dog that walks like a man, is living on a farm with his wife and teenage daughters; long story short, or rather, short story even shorter, B.J. up and pisses off one day and his daughters head to occupied Paris to look for him.
Now, regular viewers will know I already hold a grudge against this game after E3, when I had to play it for three-quarters of my hour with Bethesda, and it would've gone on longer if I hadn't insisted on switching to Doom. But it turns out I was wise to do that, because if I hadn't, I'd have ended up playing 90% of the fucking plot right there; I assumed that the extreme patchiness of the story was due to it being an E3 demo, but no, that was the finished version. Girl 1 and Girl 2 express desire to find their dad, smash cut to them meeting the Resistance in occupied Paris - having apparently encountered zero difficulties entering a major city controlled by a fascist techno-Nazi oppressor - and contacting the underground. Also, they have super-suits because their support character brought two along precisely in their size, despite having no prior knowledge that they'd be going on this trip. "Where did you get them?" ask our heroines. "The writers didn't care, and neither should you!" comes the essential reply.
After this, we get one more introductory cutscene in which Girl and Girl have a Tomb Raider reboot-style case of the wibblies as they score their first kill, and then away we go to start chalking up Nazis like we're raking the fucking lawn. It all goes towards making the main characters virtually impossible to like, as victories and super-suits are simply scattered before them like rose petals, experiencing zero adversity as they go about their desperate rescue mission to a country occupied by a highly-advanced army of brutal fanatics with the air of a pair of college girls guffawing their way to spring break, where they will gigglingly dare each other to drink entire half-pints of 5% cider, making rather a stark contrast to B.J.'s never-ending stream of hardship in his last few games, during which the only reason he wasn't constantly sobbing in futile rage is because scar tissue had welded his tear ducts shut.
I place the blame for all of this squarely on the co-op focus. Can't waste any fucking time establishing characters; Timmy Cuntface might be getting distracted by thoughts of juice boxes or Samurai Jack. And the bitterest pill to swallow is that this co-op gameplay upon whose altar Wolfenstein has gutsed itself didn't even need to be co-op at all; that's obvious from the start when it asks, "Which sister do you want to play as? Don't worry; they have exactly the same abilities and would be equally intolerable if you were sitting next to them at a wedding."
What that says to me is that this is the kind of co-op shooter that's basically just a boring single-player shooter with an increased number of bullet-sponge enemies and a lot of the prerequisite very heavy doors, and lots of rooms with two switches on opposite walls, never so far away that they couldn't easily have been one switch. And for the sake of this and this alone, we are forced to put up with the trappings of co-op, even when playing offline: the inability to pause, only being able to track one mission at a time, and lest we forget, having to drag a permanent A.I. partner around that sticks to you like a genital wart and won't go away no matter how hard you windmill; an A.I. partner with a Scrappy-Doo level of appreciation for their own ability and to whom you have to give constant healing fist-bumps lest they steal all your lives.
Oh yeah, let's add a nice big, black mark for that, a brown mark smeared on with a white-knuckled fistful of turd. There's a "lives" system that you and the old ball-and-chain have to share; run out, and you have to start the mission all over again. "Oh, did you originally go into the mission with three lives? Well, now you have to restart it with one. Fuck you." But why, Wolfenstein: Youngblood?! "Because we hate you, Player. We hate that you exist. Because by existing, you prove that there's an audience for this tosh, forcing us to make it when none of us give much of a shit about it and would much rather be, say, working on the new Doom, or picking biscuit crumbs out of our belly hair."
So let's be scientific about this: How much does Wolfenstein: Youngblood not care? Well, it's a pseudo-open world with multiple separated hub maps for side-questing, which prompts a little blip on the Give-A-Shit-Ometer. But your final objectives are basically given to you at the start, and all you need to do is grind up samey side-quests until your level is high enough to do them, and that's the entire game structure right there. Shits given: 0.0. And then there's the enemy variety, or absence of same, ranging from "armored Nazi" to "larger armored Nazi", but it's the enemy placement that makes the arrow on the Give-A-Shit-Ometer start burrowing into the floor.
I'm in one of many samey urban environments, my attempt at stealth inevitably fails when my A.I. partner is caught doing chalk drawings on the pavement, I gun down a horde of screaming bullet-sponges with bullets and explosives, then pass through one flimsy gate and find another unit of Nazis completely oblivious to what I was doing next door, and then I go back through the gate and all the previous dudes have respawned. So all in all, I'm having as much impact on the world as my teeth have on a brass bollard. I have to pass through the underground tunnels again, where it's pitch-black and I can't use any gun without a flashlight, and they're full of the same Nazis as always! How can they fucking see?! How can their exploding kamikaze dogs see?! Serious Sam gets away with exploding kamikazes 'cos you fight them in open areas; in claustrophobic tunnels, they're basically "We're taking your health now; fuck you."
So in conclusion, Wolfenstein: Youngblood gives so little shit, it is actively removing shit from the universe. Put that on your blurb, Bethesda: "The Video Game Equivalent of a Colonic Irrigation!"
- Our last, best hope: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I feel Wolfenstein should get back to its roots and make a game just about murdering Hitler over and over again in a variety of spectacular ways
- I mean we didn't even get to kill space Nazis on the Moon this time