MachineGames has made a much quicker than expected return to the Wolfenstein series that it helped to re-popularise. After a number of years outside of the limelight, Wolfenstein: The New Order marked an exciting and exceptionally well constructed return to form for the franchise. Gone was the overbearing emphasis on silliness, with a much tighter first-person shooter taking its place. Now, approximately a year after its predecessor's debut, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood attempts to mix the Swedish studio's take on the property with some pre-existing elements – including the infamous Castle itself.
This is a surprisingly inexpensive release. The game costs a paltry £14.99/$19.99 from the PlayStation Store, but boasts an ample amount of content. The main campaign is split into two parts: a more traditional undercover infiltration and a shambling zombie nightmare.
The first half of the game remains more grounded in reality, but alludes to what's to come through the various letters and collectibles that can be found throughout the halls of Castle Wolfenstein. This part of the experience will last you anywhere up to four hours to complete, but does suffer from some pretty bland environments. It's also marred by an opening chapter which emphasises stealth, and while it strays from this eventually, it's not the most interesting of introductions.
Still, it at least gives you ample opportunity to acquaint yourselves with the title's most prominently advertised addition: the pipe. Sadly, while this melee weapon is a great all-round tool, it never really takes on a particularly pronounced level of importance. Indeed, after that early espionage encounter, it tends to fade into the background a little, aiding you when you need to open hatched doors, but offering little else.
The remainder of the arsenal, by and large, will be instantly recognisable to those that finished the previous game: a silenced pistol, an assault rifle, etc. There are a few newcomers, such as a handgun that shoots explosives, and these are fun to use – but they don't really stand out in such a way that they're unforgettable. They also employ some pretty weedy sound effects – the sawed-off shotgun is about as menacing as an air-soft gun – but at least the feel of the weapons in combat is extremely satisfying.
As already alluded, the second half of the game deals with zombies in a nearby town, and introduces characters like the ones encountered in The New Order. It offers a welcome change from the often stuffy environments of the first part, and the level design is infinitely superior, funnelling you through locations such as an intricately designed graveyard and more. The downside is that the undead are pretty darn dull to fight. Sure, they can sprint at you – and some even know how to operate guns – but mowing down hordes of them is a little humdrum.
The writing's quality, at least. The Old Blood excellently embraces the campiness of its corpse-based story, and it delivers an absolute knockout of a narrative. The voice acting is similarly sublime, be it in audio logs or general conversation. In fact, showing a little restraint with your trigger finger will find you rewarded on several occasions, with one particular scene involving a 'Grammar Nazi' gag – you have to see it. Bizarrely, beefy protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz helps to humanize things, too, offering internal musings that help him seem Earthly – including, er, a Shakespearean soliloquy at one point.
It's just a shame that, as a prequel – the game takes place in 1945, shortly after the failed Normandy invasion – none of the culture bending elements that made the original so compelling are present. We really liked the references to The Beatles and The Monkees that popped up in the main game, but there's none of that here.
There are, however, plenty of gold items – eight pieces per level – making for a similarly jam-packed quantity of collectibles to search for alongside letters and news articles. More interesting is an expanded nightmare mode, allowing you to play multiple stages of the Wolfenstein 3D-inspired Easter egg that appeared in the original. To be honest, these feel a little dated, and while they serve to illustrate just how far gaming has evolved, they're not all that interesting with the novelty now removed.
The challenge mode is much more successful, taking some of the combat arenas from the core game and transforming them into score-based challenges. These are, obviously, little more than small blasts of fun – but they add to the overall value of the package, which is appreciated.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has its fair share of problems – but it's still worth playing. With an enormous amount of content available for such a slender sum, fans of The New Order shouldn't hesitate when it comes to this alternate history treat.