Wolfenstein: The New Order is living proof that shooters don't have to be connected. Patrick Garratt couldn't be happier. Warning: some spoiler images ahead.
The point-to-point shooter played a vital role in the gaming educations of so many people, and it's blessed relief to see such an archaic concept still applicable to the avant garde.
I played Wolfenstein: The New Order just before the Christmas break. It was an afterthought, I'm ashamed to say. I'd passed it over earlier in the year for some forgotten reason ("work," probably), but RPS giving it "The Bestest Best FPS Of 2014" reminded me to get involved. December gifted me some spare time, and it felt like a luxury to play something so dependably old skool. All I expected was bullets, but Wolfenstein shocked me. I certainly got shooting, but I didn't foresee something so bizarre and potentially (retroactively) groundbreaking.
For this is a game from the past that should not work in the modern market. Wolfenstein is an offline-only, big-budget first-person shooter. It's an anachronism, a modernisation of a dead genre. No one makes this type of game anymore, and that isn't an exaggeration. If there were an Offline-only, Big-budget First-person Shooter Award for 2014, Wolfenstein would win by default. It led a market of one.
But, based on this success, there could easily be more. That's a Good Thing.
Given the state of modern triple-A video games, Wolfenstein's pretty hilarious. The only gameplay options are to change the difficulty or toggle hints and tutorials. There's no co-op. In fact, there's no online functionality at all. There are no leaderboards or friends-based challenges. Get that: there is no connectivity whatsoever in this 2014 computer game. Once you finish The New Order, you can either replay the campaign's chapters or start again. This will result in all progress being wiped from your previous game. You can't save it. The cut-scenes are unskippable. You start the game, you watch the story, you kill everything, you beat the final boss. Then you do it again, if you like. Or not. The only replayability involves hunting for bits of paper, maxing out perks, making a few alternate decisions and upping the difficulty. No apology is made.
And, evidently, there needn't be one. Based on sales - Wolfenstein moved 400,000 in its first month in Europe alone - there's a huge community of players keen on advancement in single-player shooters, and that sites like RPS gave awards to Wolfenstein last year is clear indication that there's life in the old dog yet. Most modern shooters care little for single-player, with campaigns either tacked on through perceived obligation or not included at all. Multiplayer is where it's at for the likes of EA and Activision, and it's been this way for years. As the last generation dragged on, the age of the secondhand game and an apparently unsolvable piracy problem highlighted multiplayer as the best way to stop people selling after finishing the campaign and the safest legitimate method of requiring constant online authentication. Call of Duty and Titanfall are easy examples of where big-budget FPS has ended up.
Times have changed, however. The secondhand issue has become less severe with the advent of the current, always-connected console generation, and many PC gamers haven't bought a disc for years. Piracy is still a gigantic problem on PC, but ever-larger download sizes are likely to act as a deterrent to many. Wolfenstein raised many eyebrows with its 44.6Gb file-size, and while these sort of figures are now the norm (I could have sworn Bethesda refuted allegations it had inflated the game's download size to deter pirates, but I'm afraid I can't find the quote) you'd have to be committed to want to get it for nothing. Wolfenstein was heavily pirated on PC, but, as evidenced by sales figures, many were prepared to pay.
And if the factors blamed for essentially killed the single-player FPS are softening, did The New Order pave the way for offline shooter resurgence?
I hope so. Because The New Order has, without question, some of the most satisfying weapons, mechanics and bullet-sponges I've played with for a long time. The title screen saddened me, as it should, and I want a sequel, one Bethesda allows MachineGames to develop over multiple years. In fact, given my 2014 was sapped almost exclusively by GTA Online and Destiny, seeing credits at all was nostalgic. The point-to-point shooter played a vital role in the gaming educations of so many people, and it's blessed relief to see such an archaic concept still applicable to the avant garde. More title screens, please. And definitely more Wolfenstein.
Disclosure: The article was written with the aid of a press copy of the PC version of Wolfenstein: The New Order.