Wolfenstein: Youngblood's co-op shines even when you're not killing Nazis

"We were born to kill Nazis!"

This boast comes from Jess and Soph Blazkowicz, the twin daughters of noted Nazi-killer BJ Blazkowicz, which means it's probably something to take seriously. Thing is, at the start of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, neither Jess nor Soph have ever killed a Nazi before. They've never even been in combat, though considering who their dad is, you can bet they've been taught to be ready for it their entire lives.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes place in the alt-future of 1980, nearly 20 years after Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. BJ and his wife have been raising their twin daughters in Texas, in an America that has been liberated from the Nazi regime following the second American revolution. But BJ has gone missing while on a covert mission in Europe and the eager yet inexperienced sisters head to Nazi-occupied Paris to find him.

The sisters are brash, loud, and hilariously cocky—hence the 'born to kill Nazis' declaration—right up until the moment they have to actually kill their first Nazi and they have a bit of trouble actually pulling the trigger. I won't spoil the scene because it made me laugh harder than anything else in a game has in a long while, but I will say it instantly enamored me of the twins. They're both great fun to spend time with.

Developed by MachineGames, and in partnership with Arkane Studios, it's the first time they've made a co-op game. Following a hands-on demo, I can say it feels like they nailed it. You can also play Youngblood in its entirety as a solo game with an AI partner, but having tried the co-op I really want to play the entire thing with a pal. There are lots of different ways to work together and tasks that require coordination between partners.

Some doors, for example, couldn't be opened without working together. Either they were heavy, cargo-bay doors where we both needed to lift at the same time, after which one would brace the door open while the other slipped under the gap. Some required one player to read a changing combination while the other player punched in the code elsewhere on the map. At one point we both needed to pull levers at the same time to activate an elevator. 

These little bouts of cooperative play were fun and enjoyable beyond just having someone else to kill Nazis with, or having a partner help when you're downed. The sisters even share a pool of lives—you can be killed only so many times between the two of you before having to reload from an earlier checkpoint. Opening crates that contain extra lives requires both of you to work together, which feels fitting.

You can even buff each other, amusingly, with 'pep-signals', which are emotes that provide bonuses when you activate them. A thumbs-up from my partner meant I got a bonus to my health, and my heavy metal horns gesture—you know, 🤘— gives my partner an armor buff. Pep signals come with a fun bit of dialogue from the sisters, too: "Keep it up, sis! You're a goddamn champ!" Soph yells. "You're killin' it, Soph! Fuckin'-A!" hollers Jess. They're nothing if not supportive.

The demo began aboard a Nazi Zeppelin over Paris, where we had to clear the airships of Nazi scum before taking on a powerful boss, General Winkler. Winker is heavily armored with a deadly laser he can sweep through the room (he callously cuts his own soldiers down to demonstrate it). He can also dash, moving almost instantly to different spots in the room, and his armor has a cloaking device, making him an elusive and difficult to spot target. He was easy to lose track of when taking cover, so communication between partners about his location was helpful.

The sisters have their own skills and abilities that can be leveled up as you progress—leveling being another first for the Wolfenstein series. Leveling gives you points to spend on abilities, and there are skills to suit different playstyles. For the stealthy types there's a cloaking ability that renders you invisible for short periods of time, though I played as more of a tank in the demo. I could use a rush ability to bash through heavy doors and knock soldiers sprawling. Later, I added a powerful stomp ability, allowing me to jump from above and come crashing down on enemies.

As in Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, the shotgun was the standout weapon during the brief Youngblood demo. I unfortunately didn't get to upgrade it, but it packed a weighty punch against armored enemies that didn't even seem to notice when I was entering clip after clip into them from pistols and SMGs. Melee-wise, close-up kills are as gruesome, satisfying, and varied as they've been in the earlier Wolfenstein games.

Youngblood is also a lot less linear than the previous Wolfenstein games. Rather than following a set path from mission to mission, players will reach a hub early on in the game: the French resistance headquarters in Paris. Once there, you'll be able to take on missions in any order you want. A more open and less linear experience is something else that sounds like it will lend itself to more enjoyable co-op play.

One complaint I had was about the UI elements, which felt a bit overbearing: when any enemy is in your view you'll see its name: sichtsoldat, komandant, diesel-supersoldat, etc, in capital letters, which feels a little unnecessary. It's not hard to identify what type of soldier you're fighting just based on their appearance, and it wouldn't be a bad thing to be surprised once in a while if you think you're taking on a standard Nazi and it turns out to be something a bit more powerful. Hopefully there will be some options for the UI that you can tinker with a bit.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood comes out on July 26, so you've still got time to figure out which friend you want to play it with.