"How many Goddamn Nazis are there in this world?" yells William Joseph "B.J." Blazkowicz to nobody in particular, before wading into yet another set piece of shoot 'em up mayhem. It's about halfway through the game, and I found this particularly amusing because I was pretty much asking myself the same question.
I was only wondering, because by this point I'd killed so many Nazis, that when I took a break for dinner, I had that weird screen overlay effect where I was staring at my chicken, while ghostly images of Nazis and my gun were overlaid on reality. If that sounds like a bad thing, don't get me wrong. I was just trying to blitz my way through the game so I can get this review written, and the intense, non-stop action was literally searing itself into my brain.
I'll hasten to add that this isn't a complaint. I'm having a ball: indeed just as much fun than I had with The Old Blood's predecessor last year, and I enjoyed that plenty, despite its flaws.
Part of the problem with The New Order was that while it was an epic game, sometimes it felt like it was biting off more than it could chew. The end result was a sprawling adventure that hit some great highs, but also had a few lows that pegged it back somewhat. It scored a ten out of ten for effort, but an eight out of ten for execution. That said, it was still a really enjoyable game – warts and all.
This time out, it seems that the MachineGames team has scaled back its ambitions a little. The game is smaller, sure, but it feels tighter and a little more consistent - for the most part. The end result is a more modest experience, but when I say modest, that really is the wrong word for it. The bar has been lowered, shall we say, but it's still a Nazi slaughter-fest. Just smaller in scope than its prior incarnation, taking place, as it does, across two parts, each split into four chapters.
The year is 1946, and World War II isn't going so well for the allies. The Germans are developing technology that is helping them hold Europe in an iron grip, and the outlook is grim. With rumors that the Nazis are about to unleash a "dark and ancient power," that could well win them the war once and for all, a plot is hatched to thwart their plans. Enter hero Blazkowicz as he enters Castle Wolfenstein on a mission to save the day. He literally walks in through the front door, and not long after that kicks off another bloody romp of death, destruction and mayhem. But not without first being stripped and flung into a hole, just so he can start out with absolutely nothing but his bare hands. Ever get the feeling of deja vu?
The way the game begins is really fun. Yeah, it's not long until you get your ham-sized mitts on a gun, but for a while at least, there's some sneaking around to be done as you figure out how to best a bunch of seemingly-invincible Nazi robot-hybrids that are stomping around with some pretty nasty hardware. Once they're taken care of, things begin to settle into a more Wolfenstein-typical shtick, with myriad Nazis to blast into oblivion, and some pseudo-puzzling as you search for exits that lead you to the next enemy-filled area. Hint: there's plenty of wall-climbing in this game, and if you're stuck, it's usually because you missed a bit of weak wall that you can scale using the trusty pair of broken pipes you always seem to have at hand.
Like in The New Order, there are elements of stealth to the game. On most levels there are a couple of commanders who will radio for reinforcements if the alarm is raised. If you can take them out before anyone can fire up a klaxon, you only have to deal with the smaller number of soldiers that patrol the level. Fail to do that, and you'll have a whole lot more to deal with. Although most of the time, if truth be told, I just blasted my way through levels in typical Wolfenstein style - pretty much the same as I did in the New Order.
The story unfolds nicely with fairly minimal, but very well put together and voice acted cutscenes. It doesn't hit the crazy highs of The New Order, but then that's to be expected of what is ultimately a DLC prequel to the game. That said, there are similarities between the two, and there are even self-referential winks to last year's game – particularly when you reprise your role as a waiter serving wine to another unpleasant female Nazi villain.
Because the game is smaller in scope, there's a little less variety this time around. The Old Blood still looks impressive however: Castle Wolfenstein is really well designed, and provides a superb backdrop to the game's first half escape from said locale, while the second part takes place in a town that soon gets painted red in numerous different ways. There's a rather clumsy vehicle section, and some fun interactive cutscenes to get through, but ultimately The Old Blood is very much a shooter and the focus is mainly on toting guns and blasting all and sundry.
Due to the game focusing so much on shooting, it loses steam somewhat in its latter stages as you take down wave after wave of targets. I'm not telling you exactly what they are, as that would take away one of the game's rather entertaining surprises, but while it's still fun, it does get just a tad relentless towards the end – even with the sneaking elements. Perhaps this is to be expected – after all, this is a shooter first and foremost – but it does feel less inventive than The New Order, which mixed things up more effectively throughout its admittedly far larger campaign.
Yet by the time the game feels like it's beginning to wear out its welcome, it comes to a conclusion with a fairly humdrum boss fight that I found just a little disappointing – certainly not as much fun as some of the boss fights in The New Order. The game basically can't quite hold its momentum throughout its entire length, and just misses a few beats in its latter stages.
However, the experience is still largely satisfying, and in a world where first person shooter campaigns often feel like overblown, overproduced, empty calorie appetizers to a main multiplayer meal, The Old Blood is solid fare that offers plenty to get your teeth into. It's priced right, is very well produced, and its dialog has some excellent moments of deadpan humor. It's not particularly long – offering perhaps seven or so hours of campaign gameplay, and a bunch of challenges that are unlocked along the way – but there are few games that offer the kind of rip-roaring action that The Old Blood does.
Ultimately, if you enjoyed The New Order, it's unlikely that you won't enjoy The Old Blood too. Yeah, it doesn't offer much in the way of new things, and as I said, it does become a little relentless in its latter stages, but it's still a lot of fun. And in typical Wolfenstein style, really bloody gory too.
Functional menus in typical Wolfenstein style.
The campaign will take an evening or two to get through, and after that there's a series of challenges to tackle - but the lasting appeal isn't that high.
Great voice acting and music really lends the game an excellent atmosphere.
Terrific graphics and some great vistas give this game excellent visual appeal.
Smaller in scale than last year's epic adventure, The Old Blood treads familiar, blood-soaked ground and doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas. However, it's very well produced, has some great moments of dialog, and offers a load of Nazi-slaughtering action that's somewhat relentless, but still plenty entertaining.