Last year, Machine Games gave us Wolfenstein: The New Order, a game that exceeded many people’s expectations. The franchise that heralded if not ignited the FPS revolution finally got a game that it deserved – a rollicking, visceral rollercoaster that proved that alternate history can be ever better than the real thing. This year, Machine Games have returned to the titular castle with a prequel expand-alone that pares back on the narrative to focus on a more direct and directed shooter experience.
Broken into two acts, The Old Blood will feel very familiar to anyone who’s played The New Order. This is particularly true of the first, “Rudi Jager and the Den of Wolves”. Set within Castle Wolfenstein proper, BJ must locate his captured partner, confront the towering Herr Jager, and escape the castle.
With minimal time spent on plot or characterisation, The Old Blood does lack much of the depth of its big brother. While there may not be as much story to tell this time around, thankfully the in-game action is more than capable of speaking for the game. The New Order’s beefy weapons and distinctive enemy types make a welcome return, and there’s a couple of nice twists. The most notable addition weapon-wise is the pipe. Pulling triple duty as a crowbar, scaling equipment, and a close quarters melee weapon, the pipe essentially defines the opening act.
A more deliberate and stealthy approach is often the better course of action in Den of Wolves. Using vents and access tunnels as well as scaling the crumbling walls, BJ can circumvent many dangers and silently execute isolated soldiers to avoid alarms and the accompanying deluge of jack-booted foes. While not as complex as those found in many other games, the stealth mechanics here are still very satisfying, and offer the right balance of skill and luck, while never feeling over-played. Of course, if you want to wade in all death incarnate with dual-wielded machine guns spewing forth a torrent of leaden freedom, you certainly can.
The game’s second act, “The Dark Secret of Helga von Shabbs”, is tonally completely different from the first. Here, you will for the most part be jumping in boots-and-all to destroy an army of undead accidentally unleashed following an explosion in a dig site. As with Den of Wolves, the storytelling in Dark Secret is kept to a bare minimum, with the focus being on the action at hand.
Killing zombie Nazis is always fun, and there are enough set pieces and power fantasy moments to keep all but the most cynical of shooter fans entertained. The tone change between the two acts is expertly executed, and it lends the game its own personality and unique voice.
Machine Games knows how to build a shooter, and more importantly, they really know how to build a Wolfenstein game. The two new villains are as over-the-top as you would expect, and both make for interesting antagonists. Similarly, the violence is gleefully gratuitous. The story may be bare-bones, but it’s functional, and there are even some touching moments to be found in the rare quiet passages.
As The Old Blood is an IDTech5 game, there will be teething issues for many people trying to find the right balance of visual fidelity and performance. While hitting a solid 60 frames per second should be easily attainable on any half-decent gaming rig, preventing the texture pop-in that the engine is infamous for is more challenging. Anyone with two or more gigs of graphics RAM should be able to all but eliminate the delayed pop-in, but anyone lower than that will struggle. There are many options focussing just on how textures are handled and streamed, and some experimentation and testing will be needed to find the sweet spot for your rig.