‘FPS’ can mean an awful lot of things, but for this award we’re narrowing it down to ‘singleplayer, lots and lots of bullets, moving primarily forwards.’ Does that cover our backs sufficiently? Excellent. In which case, Wolfenstein: The New Order is our Bestest Best FPS of 2014.
Warning – some spoilers.
Alec: Here’s a true story: someone from 2082 with long-harboured regrets about the premature death of the Wolfentstein series got into a time machine, went back to around 2012 and interfered with the development of an inevitably uninspired sequel to a long-running shooter franchise.
They whispered in the right ears, bribed a few staff into joining or leaving, tweaked a few design documents when no-one was looking, and if it wasn’t for that ill-judged concentration camp scene they’d have gotten away with it too. They did enough, though: a 2014 where everyone still rolled their eyes in lamentation whenever the name ‘Wolfenstein’ was uttered never came to pass. Instead, thanks to this reckless tampering with history, we now close out the year thinking “yeah, that was alright, that was.”
If I’m honest, this gets Bestest Best FPS to some degree because there wasn’t quite enough else from Shooty Bang-Bang land which truly excelled, but there’s no denying that I had a great time with it. With tricks learned from Half-life and Bioshock rather than from Call of Duty and its many pretenders, it managed to keep up the spectacle without ever quite becoming empty about it.
A hop to an outlandish or otherwise epic new environment wasn’t merely superficial, but changed how you played: the space you were in needed to be controlled in a new way, and even then it might flex further depending on your chosen skills and playstyle. Flexibility within linearity is as much as a shooter holy grail as is full sandbox, and The New Order nailed that balance. The raw feedback loop of bullet spraying or knife-lobbing felt so joyously meaty too.
This is very much qualified praise, however. My eyebrows fired off my face at the aforementioned death camp/mech suit sequence, and I’m not sure that Secret Underwater Magical Jew City Full Of World-Controlling Technology was the wisest move either. There were always going to be tonal oddities in a b-movie about Nazi rule, but for the most part Wolf didn’t fall into the crassness I feared, or to the hollow chest-thumping of so many CoDs. It managed to find sadness even amidst the outright ludicrous, which is a hell of an achievement.
Unless I’m missing a diamond in the nineties rough, Wolfenstein 3D was the best first-person shooter of 1992 (Ultima Underworld was the best first-person GAME though). Twenty two years later, Wolfenstein: The New Order is the best first-person shooter of 2014. William “B.J.” Blazkowicz’ long war has had its highs and lows, and MachineGames latest instalment is one of its finest hours.
Back in the day, Wolfenstein 3D was laying groundwork that others built on and if the big boisterous FPS games of today have any sense, they’ll be paying plenty of attention to The New Order’s reconstruction of the linear shooter. It’s no Half Life, pushing the limits of in-game storytelling for shooters everywhere – instead of creating trends, A New Order is pushing against them.
Can we still have huge, varied single player campaigns in big budget FPS games? Yes we can.
What about sympathetic characters in outlandish settings? Sure. Despite the robodogs, mystical weapons and moon Nazis, A New Order finds time to explore Blazkowicz’ war-weary response to the horrors he sees.
It is set during a war though, right? So it’s all gung-ho? Not really! There’s humanity, even if it is in somewhat cartoonish form. Do BJ’s eyes look gung-ho to you?
This is a game about shooting things though and the combat is excellent. There are standout sequences, including the moonbase and a battle on a shattered bridge, but the action is solid throughout. Enemies react to impact convincingly and the weapons are solid, while not quite as varied as in some of the greats.
Compared to the almost on-rails nature of recent Call of Duty games, Wolfenstein is the freedom that those military-industrial
complexities simplifications claim to be fighting for. While there are some sections that don’t allow for a choice of approach, the decision to use stealth or full-on assault is often in the player’s hands.
Two decades after its first-person debut, Wolfenstein unexpectedly reminded us that other shooters could still learn a great deal by following in its footsteps.
Back to the complete bestest best PC games of 2014.