Mobility Game Review - Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Score4.7 out of 10
The new Wolfenstein series probably needs no presentation at this point but for those who want a fast description here it goes: the nazis won the war using advanced technology and the world is a nightmare that needs saving. No more story to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t played the 3 previous games. While in past titles we played as B.J. Blazkowicz, this new title’s main characters are his daughters, the twin sisters Jessie and Zophia. They are young, inexperienced, well-trained and brave. Their personalities are funny but a bit over the top sometimes. The gameplay is not the same as in previous titles, with most missions being non-linear and enemies have different armor types. The rest is the same, completing mission objectives while killing everyone, using stealth or brute force. There are some changes too in the level progression and upgrading system. The big difference is that now it’s a cooperative experience, as both characters are in the game at all times. You can play solo with the AI taking care of the other sister but the optimal way is to play with another person online. It makes the game much more enjoyable and requires good coordination at many points. I found this game more entertaining than previous ones sometimes but a bit too fast-paced in many occasions.
For the co-op gameplay I had the collaboration of @onehandmostly , an accessibility advocate with great insight and personality who does video reviews. Thanks for the help and please follow him on Twitter for more info and link to his activities.
I played on PC using mouse and keyboard and these are my thoughts on the game’s accessibility.
The Controls screen hasn’t changed at all. We have horizontal and vertical sensitivity options for gamepad and a separate one for the mouse. We can also disable vibration, invert the vertical look and adjust the way the weapon wheel handles. This wheel requires to hold down the corresponding key/button which isn’t ideal, again a toggle option would greatly help. There is an Aim Assist option for gamepad too. And again there are no toggle options for Aim or Crouch, only for Sprint. Crouch is a toggle function by default but to aim you have to hold down a key/button which is a big problem for many people with mobility problems. No improvements in terms of mobility accessibility at all.
Key Bindings allows to remap all the keys with the exception of the mandatory Escape key for menus and Enter to proceed. The key binding is pretty good, with two different inputs per action, including extra mouse buttons and mouse wheel up and down. The number of keys is 34 but some of them aren’t necessary.
Controller Layout lets you choose from four different presets: right-handed, alt right-handed, left-handed Guzman and alt left-handed Guzman. Once again no button remapping.
How to Play
The game mechanics are a decisive aspect of any game. In this case the gameplay is simple but has some features that aren’t very accessible. Running around, shooting enemies, interacting with items… is okay considering I played on the lowest difficulty mode. Stealth sequences are hard even with the cloak ability, and lean still isn’t really that friendly.
- To move you use the usual WASD keys or whatever you change them to. You control turning, aiming and the camera using the mouse. To sprint you can hold down or set it toggle. Some movements require pressing down multiple keys, like jumping while running. Another mechanic that can be difficult is double jumping while moving in a direction. These movements require more some precision and good timing.
- To aim you have to hold down a mouse button/key. To switch weapons you can press a designated key for each one or cycle through them using the next and previous weapon key/buttons. You can also hold down the weapon wheel key/button to select different weapons and assign them to for each hand when dual wielding. Grenades are thrown by tapping the proper key. Reloading and performing a takedown also use their own keys. When dual-wielding guns you’ll need to press a separate input for each of them. Toggling independent weapons upgrades requires tapping a key. You can use your Pep Signal (a boost) by just tapping a key.
- To interact with NPCs and the world (activating computers, buttons, picking up weapons…) you press a key. Sometimes you need to hold it down for a bit, mostly when activating end of mission objectives or reviving your partner. You also can upgrade your abilities, weapons and more by collecting in-game money or perks by completing main missions, side activities and challenges. The menus are fully navigable with mouse. Picking ammo seems automatic, while health and armor need just a tap. I’m unclear as this feature was going on and off, probably due to a bug.
Conclusions and Issues
Let’s start with this.
Right as you run the game for the first time you are required to type in your Bethesda account data. If you can’t type or need to use your on-screen keyboard you are stuck here as the mouse is locked to the game and it launches in fullscreen mode by default. You can’t change the window mode until you do this, you can’t close the game… This is a serious issue. Personally, I had to ask someone to type for me and anyone with similar limitations might have the same problem. The game doesn’t support unlocking the mouse cursor and also the mouse sensibility is very low in menus. It took 7 minutes to go from the main menu to Options for a friend using a touchpad. This needs fixing.
Moving on the accessibility is okay with the same limitations of the previous game but the gameplay is not very friendly as we will see later. As I said all menus can be interacted with the mouse but there are issues. For example, when you activate a terminal in the tutorial you must press Escape to exit that screen, and the game is not paused, not even during solo gameplay. The other in-game interactions, journal, weapons and such menus can be fully used using the mouse but still no pause. Rebinding is good, no issues here. Gamepad remapping still not possible but it has good sensitivity controls. Another major problem I found is the lack of toggle aim. This makes it impossible to aim with finesse for many players, and I could only address this by using a third-party tool. In this game with very limited ammo and enemies being bullet-sponges, headshots matter more than never but they are not possible to perform. Weapon wheel being a hold function doesn’t help, a toggle option would help tremendously too.
Some of the game design choices can create accessibility barriers. Let’s start with combat, a key part of the game. Enemies respawn too often and need specific types of ammo to be killed in a timely manner, but ammo is not that plentiful. The fast pace of fights, number of enemies and backtracking take a toll on people with strength problems and the lack of pause makes it worse. I understand pausing the game during online co-op is not logical but during solo play it should be possible. There is no save function either, just checkpoints and if you die you might go back pretty far.
To add problems the AI partner is quite bad. Your companion will walk straight into the enemy line of sight, alerting them and making stealth impossible. The fights are much harder also because it does little to help, in most cases it will just stay in the open getting shot and returning fire every now and then. You can’t just let your companion fall, take care of the enemies yourself and then revive it. Should your AI companion die it’s game over so you have to go where it is, probably in an open area surrounded by enemies, and revive it and this is walking into a lethal trap. During boss fights this gets worse. Trying to be constructive I think there are ways to alleviate these issues. In other games you AI companions imitate your actions, so maybe try that by making it crouch when you do to be stealthy and be more competent when combat ensues. Enemy AI seems to work better, taking cover and even flanking you sometimes so it’s probably a matter of cranking up the companion to the same level. On the bright side the AI works well when needing to open containers or doors by activating a switch simultaneously, but still a human player is really needed for playing properly.
The only way implemented to communicate is via voice chat. By default, you need to press to hold down a key to talk which is not accessible for players with low mobility. You can disable this and have your microphone always on by going to the Online menu, so one less problem, great. During our co-op session, we exchanged information all the time, from how to handle an enemy to where to get ammo, coins, divide the tasks… I would have been stuck if my partner had not found a way to proceed and indicated me how to get there. Not just that, the experience was also much more enjoyable due to the social aspect. In a game with an emphasis on cooperation, the lack of different communication features creates important accessibility barriers for a wide range of people, including but not limited to people with a speaking impairment or hearing difficulties who are completely left out. These type of situations are exactly what CVAA tries to prevent. There are games that do well in this aspect so I hope the developers improve it. The game could be way more accessible for everyone if they weren’t isolated by these barriers.
Thanks to Ian Hamilton for his article on CVAA.
Anthony Martins is 42 and has been a gamer his whole life. He has SMA Type 3 and can be found on Twitter at @Black1976