Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is the third game about occult Nazis I have played in recent weeks, and I am showing no signs of wanting to play anything else. This game is a remake, in the broadest sense of the term, of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and is mechanically very similar to Wolfenstein: The New Order. I must admit to some trepidation when starting it, as I worried that it would just be a sub-par rehash of the aforementioned two games.
However, I was very pleasantly surprised. In terms of plot and setting, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (hereafter shortened to Wolfenstein, for reasons of expediency), is similar to Return to Castle Wolfenstein – it occupies the same time and covers the same major events, broadly. But there’s enough changed to keep it fresh – the plot shares many of the same beats, but the second game both starts and ends slightly earlier in the chronology, with different characters taking the focus and different problems to solve. You can tell that the games are related, and some locations are clearly designed to be reminiscent of the earlier game, but this is an intentional nod to a precursor, not a sign of creative bankruptcy. It would be more accurate to call it a re-imagining of the same basic idea, rather than a flat remake.
Mechanically, Wolfenstein shares a lot with Wolfenstein: The New Order. Initially intended as DLC for The New Order, Wolfenstein has the same aesthetic, feel, and engine as the earlier game. Again though, steps have been taken to differentiate the two. A different range of weaponry and new types of enemy ensure that it still feels fresh, and some mechanics are entirely new, such as the use of broken pipes to scale particular walls. Little touches connect the two games – early versions of technology appear in Wolfenstein that will be familiar with people who have played the set-later-but-released-earlier The New Order. Obviously, as older technology it will be less refined, more limited, and countered in different ways.
Unlike The New Order, which moved away somewhat from the “occult” part of the Wolfenstein universe, Wolfenstein plunges headfirst into a world of demons and zombies and ancient ruins. There’s a point about halfway through the game in which it switches, abruptly, from being an action game with hints of eventual horror, to being a horror game with elements of action. Suddenly, despite being in technically less danger, it’s tense and creepy, as the Nazis you’ve been trading gunfire with a replaced by flaming zombies and a hair-raising soundtrack. That’s not a cliché, by the way, except inadvertently. I was playing the game at night, on my own in the house, and I quickly had to turn it off. It was creepy and scary and unsettling, which is both everything you want in a horror game, and exactly what I don’t want when I am keenly aware of how alone and defenceless I am.
There’s a thoughtful sadness to this game that surprised me. You are killing Nazi zombies with a broken pipe, but the game wants you to feel the necessity of that. Steps are taken to make the world seem real and tragic. There are not many games that can make you mourn man’s inhumanity to man while you are attacking a flaming revenant with your mechanical robot arms. The New Order attempted this too, but fell flat a little more, veering into crass sentiment rather than genuinely being affected. It works better here, perhaps because the removal from historical reality means that you can think about the ideas and not wonder why a shooter thought something was an appropriate setting.
I felt that this was a worthy addition to the franchise. It’s not too long, but what there is is playable, tense, and compelling.