FBT is returning to Castle Wolfenstein. Again?
Wolfenstein 3D is the granddaddy of shooters, but its progeny has been an inbred mangle, and The Old Blood is perhaps the most incestuous of the lot - a prequel to the reboot and a remake of both the original and its reboot sequel. And Wolfenstein 3D was a remake itself. Sweet Home Alabama should be its soundtrack.
Set in the midst of WWII, BJ and British spy Wesley infiltrate Nazi stronghold Castle Wolfenstein to find the location of ‘Deadshead’, the villain from the reboot (and others), so the allies can turn the tide of the war. Of course, it’s not long before our spies are discovered and captured and BJ escapes and tears the Nazis a new one.
I preferred this to The New Order. Since it’s set before the Nazi takeover, it’s freed of that game’s self-importance and feels much closer to the original - and being set in Wolfenstein Castle for once makes it feel like we’ve come home. This is a pure adventure like the great spy and war movies you’d watch with Grandad on a Sunday afternoon – unlike The New Order, with its sex scenes that would be mortifying to watch with Granddad. There’s even a strong stealth element, which is weirdly welcome; BJ sneaking? Sacrilege surely.
Stealthing in Wolf does seem off but it’s so well done and adds a palatable sense of tension trying to escape a gothic castle where we’re hunted by a gigantic Nazi called Jager who trains the robo-dogs sniffing us out - I still feel terrible stealth killing them while asleep; the huge Panzerhund I’m happy to put down though. Jager’s garrison also includes various Nazis, including Big Daddy-like armoured beasts that take some serious dual-wielding to take down. It’s not all stealth.
Although it’s mostly linear you do have to get your eye in to spot approaches and options, and BJ’s melee weapon is an old pipe he can separate to clamber up soft rock walls, giving nice vantage points and access to hidden areas. Although BJ gains a startling array of weapons, most of which can be dual-wielded, your friend is the silenced pistol; BJ is outnumbered, the guards are very wary and accurate, and there’s Commanders who raise the alarm if you’re seen.
It’s great being back in Castle Wolf and it’s rendered brilliantly even if it rarely reflects the original’s layout - an imposing concrete structure set in mountains, it's a medieval nightmare as we flip between catacombs, underground rivers, chapels, corridors and rooms filled with cobwebby suits of armour, tables with food (and dog food) to eat, secret passages and so on. While the Castle is linear it’s never feels that way, and it’s never not fun – this is just an escape mission, pure and violently simple.
Once you escape Castle Wolf, a fun gondola trip takes you down to a Nazi-controlled village, where Helga von Schabbs, the local ‘Obersturmbannführer’ (let’s stick to Helga) has her troops searching ruins for evidence of her ancestor’s secret project - bringing to life an abomination that could help the Nazis win the war. BJ links up with a couple of resistance fighters to make sure Helga doesn’t resurrect her family’s pet project.
Helga and her project is a reference to Return to Castle Wolfenstein where a similar plot unfolded, although that Helga wasn’t the main boss, she was the underling of Marianna Blavatsky, the goth in a bikini who resurrected the monster – there’s no sign of her, or the catsuit-clad female Nazis - who’d have thought the Nazis would become politically correct?
The Old Blood does follow Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s plot, which began with BJ captured in Wolfenstein before escaping to go on a Call of Duty-style romp before Returning to Wolfenstein to stop the resurrected creature. Thankfully The Old Blood cuts out the CoD sequence and instead focuses on being a solid little wartime shooter, something we see very little of those days – I miss the classic-era CoD and Medal of Honor games.
Just as BJ finds the location of Deathshead, Helga’s men break into the family crypt and release a gas that turns everyone zombie-like, completely altering the gameplay; oddly though, it’s still a lot of fun charging around the village taking out Nazis and Zomzis, where BJ gets to lament the senseless deaths and a couple of choices you make decide who lives or dies; still, he gets a few moments of levity too – the gas reaches a passing Zeppelin which causes zombified Nazis to fall from the sky which he dryly comments on, and he does the “can’t hear you, you’re breaking up *does static noises*” joke when he’s ordered to not kill every Nazi in sight.
While it is a game of two halves, the old school shooter castle and the zombie scuffle, it still works really well – there’s no rug-pulls, no ‘oh come on’ unfair boss fights, just a classic era shooter where there’s enough ammo to go around (even if you have to manually pick it up) and enough options in the levels to let you feel as if you have a chance.
Another nice touch is achievements unlock in-game benefits, but those aren’t signposted, so you constantly change up your playstyle to see what shotgun’ing Nazis in the face might unlock. Nothing it turns out, but I had fun doing it and like New Order, you can find places for BJ to rest and dream about original Wolf 3D style levels.
W:TOB is a great throwback without trying to be retro or ironic, it just knows exactly what we expect. It’s B-Movie heaven, short on logic and long on the fun. Several times we control the mechanical dog-tank thing and using it to fling Zombies about is one of those moments you didn’t know was missing from your gamer life. While in the castle I deliberately let Commanders alert guards just so I could prolong the shootouts; that’s how much fun I was having and it’s a far cry from the occasionally harsh world of The New Order where you were reminded the Nazis were despicable. The Old Blood knows we know that, so just lets us get on with killing them as gleefully as possible.
W:TOB is a great little game, but what really swung it for me was how it paid homage to its origins, referencing forgotten sequels and making the whole extended, disparate Wolf series feel like they’re part of the family. I’d love to be there for the Christmas get together.