GOTY 2014 - Biggest Surprise

This year, we're rolling out a new set of awards that recognize achievements (and some dubious honors) in specific areas of game development. There are ten awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners! Don't miss out on any of our Game of the Year coverage. Check out our full schedule here, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for instant updates.

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Biggest Surprise - Wolfenstein: The New Order

MachineGames | May 20, 2014 | PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows

This year we witnessed triple-A development’s vision for the future of first-person shooters. In summation we were told: “Enjoy your MMOFPSes, suckers.”

Competitive multiplayer hit its stride on consoles in the last generation, which helped Call of Duty cement itself as a billion-dollar franchise. Since the launch of the Xbox 360 in 2005, the market conditioned itself to expect ever-more-addictive multiplayer modes with a succession of gimmicks, from prestige modes to so-called pay-to-win DLC packs. Over time, the single-player narrative become an afterthought. Battlefield 4 is a perfect example of the all-in on multiplayer mentality: its single-player story little more than a rote tech demo for an improved graphics engine.

Now, two years into the new console generation, previously disparate multiplayer and singleplayer shooter experiences have converged. Wholly online shooters with massively multiplayer overtones like Destiny will assuredly become the new normal. Shooter fans will be force-fed an always-online experience for the foreseeable future.

It’s a damn good thing that Wolfenstein: The New Order bucked the trend and, under the guidance of MachineGames, delivered the best shooter narrative in 2014, let alone one of the most self-aware and thoroughly ridiculous plots all year.

The New Order pays homage to the deep roots of a franchise synonymous with first-person shooters. The original Wolfenstein 3D pioneered the genre, and its 2001 successor Return to Castle Wolfenstein added an endearing and fondly remembered multiplayer mode. With The New Order, MachineGames picked apart an old and largely irrelevant series and made the best single-player campaign possible without any multiplayer mode to pull focus away from the cohesive narrative.

Wolfenstein: The New Order was the most-surprising experience of 2014: a shooter with a tight single-player that wasn’t an afterthought, and with no multiplayer mode to speak of.

No one expected a Wolfenstein game to oppose the industry’s vision for interconnected online shooters. That MachineGames made an enjoyable end product was an equally surprising bonus. – Aaron Thayer

Runners-up: Call of Duty: Advanced WarfareHitman Go