Machine Games’ 2014 debut, Wolfenstein: The New Order, was without a doubt one of the biggest surprises of last year; it was an intoxicating mix of classic shooting action and hybrid Nazi/steam-punk robots, though putting it like that, there was no way that it wasn’t going to be a hit. Now, one year on, the developer returns with a standalone piece of DLC to develop this new alternate timeline by expanding upon the events that took place prior to the beginning of The New Order. Set in 1946, with the Allies losing the war with Germany, The Old Blood sees players return to the titular castle to stem the flow of mechanised combatants that are determining the outcome of the war.
For those expecting to return to the murky, dimly lit passageways and halls of Return to Castle Wolfenstein you may be in for some disappointment, as the building itself only forms the backdrop the bulk of the first half of the game, before B.J. escapes and takes the fight to a small neighbouring town besieged by enemy forces. Here, the areas appear to open up somewhat, yet progress throughout this expansion is entirely linear, and to a certain extent, fairly monotonous too.
I say that it’s a tad repetitious as the core gameplay never really changes in any way throughout the seven hours or so that it lasts, and sadly Machine Games have resorted to the age old trick of trapping players, forcing them to fend off wave after wave of randomly spawning, grenade spamming enemies until each and every one has been defeated. Personally - and this is likely to go against the grain - I most enjoyed The Old Blood when I was allowed to play it stealthily, sneaking up behind enemy soldiers to assassinate them with some of the new, and rather enjoyable takedowns. These moments were few and far between though, as alarms would inevitably be triggered, and yet more colossal gunfights would ensue, leaving me to hunt down and shoot a Nazi commander to stop the alarm from sounding and, with it, prevent more soldiers from spawning.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad, it’s just a bit antiquated, and whilst these aspects of the game do grow quite wearisome, thankfully, the second half of the game doesn’t rely on these nearly as much as the first, allowing The Old Blood to pick up a bit of momentum as it goes. As distractions from the core game, there are also beds to find, allowing B.J. to both rest for a while, and indulge in some good, old fashioned Wolfenstein 3D levels. There’s one in each part of the story to discover, and thankfully, they’re not particularly well hidden, which means that they remain more than worthwhile additions, despite losing some of their allure around half way through.
Much like its predecessor, there are also letters and pieces of gold to collect, as well as perks to unlock (though somewhat stripped back by comparison) that enhance the unfortunately named B.J. with additional abilities as well as extended holdings of ammunition. An area where this latest iteration excels over The New Order is in its more consistent tone, with no obtrusive sex scenes that sit uncomfortably against the passages of horror that surround it, and no more melodramatic cut scenes and events that have been designed, rather poorly I might add, to entice some sort of emotional response from the player. This, to be honest, is a great step forward for the both the game, and its developer, boding well for any future releases.
Machine Games also seem to have a greater hold of the Tech 5 engine than they had previously, whilst textures are still more than a tad ropey, when the game changes just over half way through it - swapping mechanical monsters for more organic, Nazi zombies - the visuals seem to take an upturn by incorporating a far wider colour palette. As foes go, however, these braindead monstrosities aren’t really a patch on the rest, they’re pretty weak and unimaginative, much like the game’s final boss, which is so shoddy that the designers felt the need to flood the area with standard enemies just to ramp up the challenge a bit.
To get to this point in the game, the player has a vast range of weaponry at their disposal including a new pistol which lays somewhere between a flare gun and a grenade launcher, making for a surprisingly fulfilling way of disposing of large groups of enemies, naturally, ammunition for such a powerful gun is scarce, so it is imperative that it is used sparingly. Alternatively, there’s always the Bombenshauss, which is a nifty rifle with a side mounted scope that can be clicked into place for taking out enemies from a distance. Each gun in the game feels weighty and satisfying, and there’s also a return for The New Order’s throwing knives, which help to make the stealth sections a thoroughly enjoyable change of pace from the standard run and gun action, even if the decidedly inadequate AI attempts to do otherwise.
There’s a new enemy type included in the game as well, a hulking mechanised soldier toting a heavy machine gun, thankfully though, this particular creation is tethered to a track as it relies entirely upon a steady supply of electricity heading its way, allowing players to tackle it in a couple of different ways. This open ended approach is, personally speaking, what I would prefer to see more of in the game, but Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, well, it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin, and whilst it may still be far from perfect, there’s not really much more that can be asked of it.
Wolfenstein is clearly an I.P. that Machine Games is passionate about, preserving its roots whilst slipping in newer mechanics to bring it bang up to date, and whilst this may well prove to be the major allure of these latest two releases, it’s certainly not the only one. From the first sighting of the titular castle in its opening, The Old Blood showcases itself as a work of majestic scale, it may contain a shortfall of content in comparison to its predecessor, yet compared to many other big budget brethren, this inexpensive title has about as much to offer as a full price game in its own right, and that surely has to be applauded. It may not be perfect, but if you’re in the market for a no nonsense shooter, then at just £14.99, The Old Blood could really be your first, and only, port of call.