“It’s that time of year when the world falls in loooovvve with space Nazis…”
Or is that not how that song goes?
Regardless, the first official JPB Game of the Year Award in this, the year of our lord two thousand and fourteen, goes out to a game rife with moon-bound national socialists.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
2014 was a strange year for video games, filled with problems, and disappointments. However, there were a few bright spots; games that not only exceeded expectations, but blew them out of the water on their way to a front-row seat in the minds of gamers this year. Chief among those surprises was a little ditty from a first time developer called MachineGames, a studio founded by ex-Starbreeze personnel, best known for the well-liked series The Darkness. Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game not born out of necessity, but of love; love for a series that had lost it’s way. Wolfenstein 3D was the original 3D first person shooter, and it, along with Doom defined how shooters where made in the 1990’s. The World War II-based franchise hit some snags in the 21st century, and by the time 2009’s Wolfenstein released, most of the air had gone out of the balloon, both with the time period and the uninspired gameplay. After the apparent failure of that game, there seemed to be little to no fervor for a new entry in the series, thus why it was such a shock to many when publisher Bethesda Softworks announced the development of a new game in 2013 for the next generation consoles. But boy oh boy was the announcement spectacular:
Start with fantastic voice work, chilling imagery of an alternate history, and a little Jimi Hendrix, and you’ve got quite the recipe for a brilliant announcement trailer. Bethesda and MachineGames got the ball rolling in May of 2013 with that video, paving the way for the game’s release one year later in May of 2014. Despite the fantastic trailers, and good pedigree behind the game, there were few very people trustworthy of what this might turn out to be. “A linear, single-player only, shooter about a Nazi controlled world in the 1960’s? There’s no way that will be successful.” And it was true, very few games, especially shooters, succeed nowadays without the likes of multiplayer, relying solely on the quality of their single player campaign to make the purchase justified in the minds of consumers. However, the idea of a 20-or so hour AAA FPS about an alternate history WWII was more than risky enough to catch people’s eye, and get them interested. Regardless, questions about the game’s quality and necessity ran rampant, and continued to do so until the game finally released, and the reviews started pouring in. Positive across the board, and nominated for numerous game of the year awards from a number of different outlets. Suffice to say, the critical success of The New Order was a welcome surprise to many.
There are a number of highly deserving games this year, things like Super Smash Bros., Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, all come to mind immediately, but nothing this year hooked me like The New Order did. Maybe it’s just my penchant for history (especially World War II-era history), and first person shooters, but not only did The New Order deliver mightily on both fronts, featuring some of the smoothest FPS controls yet featured in a game, mixed with truly fun gameplay, and competent storytelling, but also by building one of the best atmospheres I’ve played in, in a long time. The incredible detail of the game, from the beautifully designed art deco propaganda posters, and the brightly colored retro futuristic architecture of the Nazi moon base, to the amazing German-language 1960’s pop music, including a swastika-bearing version of the Beatles, kept me not only entertained throughout, but genuinely interested in all my surroundings.
The New Order is at it’s core an old-school arcade-y, bombastic, FPS, set in an equally insane Nazi dominated retro-futuristic world. It’s a game designed to be fun rather than intellectually challenging or oscar-worthy. It is a refreshing change of pace to play something that does not pretend to be anything it isn’t, while still retaining an ability to surprise you on occasion with it’s above average story, and characters. In fact, The New Order features a whole host of genuinely good characters, both in the main villain, General Wilhelm Strasse, and the cast of characters in the resistance movement you meet along the way. There are a few scenes that actually wowed me with their quality, both in content and form:
Wolfenstein: The New Order does not have the highest production values of any game released this year, nor does it have the best story, or the biggest set pieces. Yet, The New Order retains the most fundamental aspect of video gaming that so many seem to be forgetting in this day and age of $100 million budgets and academy award winners; fun. The New Order is totally, genuinely, giddy fast-paced over-the-top crazy fun. So much so that it sits amongst a very select group of games I immediately restarted once I had finished the campaign the first time, games like Mass Effect 2, Bioshock: Infinite, and The Last of Us. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game that took risks, and eschewed commonplace facets of modern game design in favor of what’s actually fun to play. That is what should be at the very base of all video games: pure fun. I had more fun with this game than any other I played all year, bar none.
That’s why Wolfenstein: The New Order is the first ever recipient of the official Jump Button Game of the Year Award.