BJ Blazkowicz wants to fix America. His whole life is predicated upon this notion; he must spill the blood of any Nazi that gets in his way, until America—and the world—is free of the Third Reich. Despite what the overabundance of Blazkowicz’s terrible, inner-monologued poetry—a narrative conceit meant to convey to the player that “what once was shallow now has depth”—might want you to believe, MachineGames’ recent slate of Wolfenstein games are not that deep. Blazkowicz is a one-man army, hell-bent on murder and torture. The games all boil down to: Nazis are bad. BJ is good. Nazi + BJ = dead Nazi.
And that’s fine! Nazis are bad. Killing them is good. And when you move past some of the more questionable aspects of the game’s narrative and world, and when you can get past Blazkowicz’s poetry, there are actually really endearing stories about love and loss in the first two mainline games, Wolfenstein: The New Order and its sequel, The New Colossus. Yeah, Blazkowicz is just another in a long line of comically self-serious white male protagonists who brutally murder but are meant to be thoughtful because they spend two seconds ruminating on why killing is bad before returning to brutal murdering—like Kratos in 2018’s God of War and Joel in The Last of Us—but, like, that’s okay! He’s kind of a lovable idiot, trying his best to be smart, in a world he doesn’t understand.
That’s what makes, in my mind, the Wolfenstein games so great; their simple set up strips away any pretense of there being a gray area. The Wolfenstein games make it painfully clear that the Nazis are very (über) bad at the jump, so they can then move along to the personal stories of a cast of characters they’re more interested in exploring. Aside from the main antagonists, the games’ Nazis are nothing but characterless, nameless, detailless, fodder for bullets. Rather than dwell on what everyone (but, apparently, a substantial amount of America) seems to know, they move past the fact the Nazis are scum and onto exploring the arcs of the good guys. I feel like I really know Blazkowicz, his wife Anya, Set Roth, Max Haas, and the rest of their camp. I care about these characters, and the cutscenes starring them are nice bookends to the Nazi bloodshed.
So why are Soph and Jess, the main characters of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and daughters of Blazkowicz, only given as much narrative depth as the thousands of Nazis I’ve left in my wake?
In Youngblood, America is fixed. Blazkowicz, presumably after the events of a third, unreleased Wolfenstein game, has liberated the United States of the Third Reich that occupied it in The New Colossus’ alternate history. He and his wife Anya are now free to live a life with their two daughters, raising them— you’d hope— to be normal, well-adjusted Americans who never have to worry about seeing a swastika in their entire lives. Except, well, that’s not really the case.
Youngblood begins with a very long cutscene showing players how the Blazkowicz family spends time together—BJ teaches Jess how to shoot a gun, Anya teaches Soph how to fight. Both moments show the two 18-year-old sisters let their guard down while training, only for their parents to teach them a valuable lesson about how, if not constantly on high alert, they can—and will—die.
Soon enough, BJ goes missing in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that forces the twins to actually have to kill Nazis. Jess and Soph head to Paris to find him, join forces with a local resistance group, and the killing begins. All of this fits into a roughly nine and a half minute introductory cutscene setting up the events of the game, and introducing the sisters—two goofy, funny, and maybe emotionally stunted teenagers we’re meant to care for, but learn barely anything else about afterward. We learn the sisters were “born to kill Nazis.” And then we spend anywhere between eight and 30 hours learning not shit else about these girls.
OK, that’s not entirely true: there are some throwaway lines that crop up in gameplay from time-to-time about how Jess loves hunting (which we already knew) and how Soph writes short stories. Other than that, we spend anywhere between eight and 30 hours learning not shit else about these girls. Jess likes to kill things, Soph likes to write (I guess?), and they were both raised to kill Nazis—a largely bygone threat by the time Youngblood begins. In a way, they’re products of their father’s paranoia.
I don’t really think the game is meant to be written this way—though it’d be way more interesting if it was—but Youngblood's lack of story leaves you with absolutely nothing to go on concerning Soph and Jess’ characters other than that they’ve been training their whole lives to be murderers. Aside from the very beginning and very end of the game, we’re given nothing to work with in terms of story or character arcs for the two. It leaves you feeling that they’re just products of murder, raised by their parents to kill, not be individuals. The last point is exacerbated by the fact that, aside from appearance and hobbies, the two girls are virtually indistinguishable in personality or tone.
In a series built around exploring characters and their motives, Soph and Jess are just kind of nothing people. Youngblood dismantles everything people love about the original games, turning its protagonists into mostly emotionless, shallow, faceless characters hellbent on nothing but murder and bloodshed. They are, weirdly enough, characterized as the exact sort of single-minded, violent people you’ve been taught to hate and eradicate in every other Wolfenstein game.
The Wolfenstein series operates by a blood-will-have-blood playbook. Because the Nazis are trying to kill everyone who won’t cooperate with them, the games’ cast must kill the Nazis. But, what separates characters like BJ and Anya in previous games from their daughters in Youngblood is that they’re written with personalities that extend beyond just wanting to murder every fascist they can. They’re everyday people who love, laugh, and have feelings. They just happen to take the lives of thousands of other people, too. Without fully understanding Jess and Soph as characters—or the motivations behind their bloodlust—they’re only hollow shells of their parents. Because they’re so one-dimensional, you’re left with the unshakable feeling that BJ Blazkowicz, in his own fight for righteousness, has raised the very thing he hates: faceless, emotionless murderers.
Blake Hester is a KY-based writer. His work has been featured on Polygon, Vice, USgamer, and Rolling Stone. Follow him on Twitter @metallicaisrad.,