Yea I bought the thing on the thing.
I wanted to talk about Stadia without having to dedicate an entire piece just to the hardware because you can’t really talk about the service unless you’re talking about a game. Those of you who keep track of my social media and other posts on this website know that I fell on the grenade and pre-ordered Stadia way back when it was first announced and made available. Yea, I’m willing to take that $129 hit because I love all of you (especially you).
Fast forward to yesterday and my Stadia came in the mail. Following a ridiculously convoluted setup process which involved downloading the Stadia app, using my invitation code, plugging in the Chromecast Ultra, downloading Google Home, setting up the Chromecast, tying my controller to the phone via bluetooth, updating the controller, registering the controller to my Chromecast, registering the controller to my wifi network, and speaking the seven words of the forbidden one, I was finally able to start. Thing about the Stadia is that you can’t buy stuff through the website, the Stadia service, or in-game. You have to use the Stadia app on your phone for all purchases, even in-game DLC.
The Stadia controller is nice, it has some heft without being a big chungus. Design-wise it’s like someone asked Mr. Google “should this controller look like the Xbox One or the Switch Pro” and his answer was “yes.” The Stadia controller has easy sharing in the form of a snapshot button (that can be held down to record the last 30 seconds) as well as a vestigial button that will eventually be used for something or other as a Google help feature. The controller even has a built-in microphone which is creepy, and I’ll explain why later.
Gotta give Stadia an initial positive: It’s nice to be able to buy a current game and have it immediately ready to play and not have to worry about updates, downloading, clearing space, or day one multi-gig patches. Even the Switch can’t get away from installations for most of its titles.
So why Wolfenstein? Simple; I don’t play fighting games so a fast moving first person shooter is the best way to test just how well the Stadia holds up under high stress situations.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is simultaneously a load of crap and a bit of a masterpiece, depending on what sides of the coin you’re looking at. At the end of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, BJ Blazkowicz and his very pregnant wife Anya have helped spark a resistance against the Nazis. Youngblood picks up from that story nearly two decades later and skips over all the fun stuff. The United States successfully pushing the Nazis back? BJ killing Hitler? We just hear about it in retrospect, without actually getting to play it. Youngblood puts the player in control of twin daughters Soph and Jess who plot a rescue mission to France upon learning that BJ has gone missing during a covert operation.
My big fear going into Wolfenstein on Stadia was that the game was going to play like garbage, being a run and gun shooter using a streaming infrastructure. What I found instead is that the game worked quite well. In the nine hours it took me to finish the campaign and most of the side missions, I had one instance where the stream started to break up but otherwise it was almost buttery smooth. It’s difficult to pinpoint what is a case of lag in Stadia on Wolfenstein. There are several moments where I’m fairly certain that I was on target but my shot missed regardless, but I can’t definitively say it was from lag.
I liked Youngblood a fair bit more than the general audience did. As a budget ($30) shooter it played a role as filler between Wolfenstein II and the inevitable Wolfenstein III, a side story that advances the plot without being completely necessary to the overall structure.
Youngblood’s first cardinal sin is that the game introduces a completely unnecessary RPG system to pad out gameplay. Different areas have level requirements and if you head in underleveled you’ll find that enemies can simply tank your damage. Previous Wolfenstein games have had armored enemies, sure, but it doesn’t make sense even in the context of the game why an unarmored Nazi soldier should be able to take six shotgun shells to the face and brush it off simply because they are higher “level” than the player. I also noticed that enemies level with you once you out-level a zone, meaning while Jess and Soph will regularly feel underpowered, there never comes a time when you feel like badass Nazi-killing machines.
Youngblood’s second cardinal sin is directly tied to the cooperative nature of the game. Jess and Soph have a shared life system where you can get up three additional lives. Get knocked down to 1hp and instead of dying outright you’ll enter a downed state and can be rescued in a short span of time without losing one of those lives. If you die without extra lives, you’ll get knocked back to the last checkpoint. In raids, this can be a long setback. Because you have the ability to pick each other up and because the game assumes there are two people playing, Wolfenstein ramps up the number of armored enemies packed into very tight corridors leading to deaths that aren’t quite…fair in the grand scheme of things.
And while I’m tearing this game apart, I’ll point to a third cardinal sin: Deescalating boss encounters. The bulk of Youngblood’s story centers around taking control of three towers. At the top of each tower, you end up fighting a big armored Nazi boss in a mech suit. The first encounter, strangely enough, is the hardest as not only does the level offer very little in the realm of proper cover but large parts of the floor are randomly engulfed in deadly lasers and you get easily overwhelmed by the couple waves of lower Nazi grunts that come in. The latter two fights against the same type of mech suit lose the laser floor and offer several places that the mech suit can’t get to. Couple that with the fact that by the second and third encounter you have more health, better armor, and more weapons at your disposal and the progression doesn’t quite make sense.
As with prior iterations, Wolfenstein Youngblood is a game that can theoretically be played as a stealth title. I didn’t find any reason to, as now any Nazi soldier can raise the alarm and bring in reinforcements. You end up wanting those reinforcements because more Nazis killed means faster leveling, whereas stealthily getting past soldiers gets you nothing except potentially underleveled and forced to replay levels as punishment.
So was there anything that I did like? Of course. Wolfenstein’s’ trademark gunplay is back. Guns pack a punch that make each of your kills feel impactful as you run down corridors shredding Nazis into confetti. The credit system used to buy upgrades stonewalls your progress in the beginning but by the end of the game you’ll have more coins than you know what to do with. My personal favorite weapon was the automatic shotgun.
Youngblood also excels in world-building. Each level is a combination of open world French streets, closed corridor buildings, and underground sewers. The implementation of double jumping adds a new element of height as you jump across balconies, fight enemies that can leap across buildings, and use cover to your advantage.
I also got used to the two main characters; Soph and Jess. As the daughters of the famous Terror Billy, the Blazkowicz daughters have big shoes to fill and are ready to go out and kill Nazis. As a couple of presumably-18 teenage girls, they are also one to goofing off which can be seen in the elevator sequences where the duo dance, make rude hand gestures at one another, and just generally screw around waiting for the killing to start up again. The game also acknowledges how ridiculous it is that a couple of young girls with no military experience but an arsenal of guns and some power armor are beating the crap out of a trained Nazi regiment. There are also “peps,” which are basically emotes that carry buffs. The Blazko sisters can give each other thumbs up, metal horns, or do a dance to give each other buffs.
What Youngblood sets itself in is the 80’s punk atmosphere. You’ll come across campy horror movies with a fascist twist, 80’s synth bands singing in German, and versions of comic books and other products that are reminiscent of real world things while also clearly being Nazi propaganda.
Youngblood ultimately tastes like half of a Wolfenstein game which fits that it was sold for half the price. On a 150/150 megabit internet connection with my Stadia hooked up by wifi and sitting about seven feet from the router, the picture quality never really dropped from a crisp image and outside of one big stumble I don’t think I would have fully recognized that the game was streaming if I hadn’t already been aware of it.
Now Destiny 2 on the other hand is trash, and I will dive into that more in my next piece.
As a note of humor, after several hours of playing I had forgotten that I left my session on public (anyone can drop in). A user came into my session without my noticing and left his microphone on, treating me to the creepy faint sound of an infant crying as I stealthily made my way through the Paris underground. I nearly jumped out of my seat at the loud “Papi, que estas jugando” coming over the speaker.
As another point of contention, the snapshot system in Stadia sucks. Sure it’s easy to take snapshots, but you can only view them from the app and there is no method to download your screenshots so I had to bring each one up on my phone, screenshot the photo, and then upload them to WordPress. The quality may have degraded.