The Order: 1886 Review
Sony PlayStation 4
Ready at Dawn deserve a lot of credit for fighting for their vision of The Order: 1886. They’ve achieved what they set out do despite gathering criticism along the way from previews and leaks, demonstrating a satisfying drive for production of their game, not our game. Whilst this is what we need from the creatives around the world who design and make the games and computer-generated worlds we choose to live in from time to time, it doesn’t mean the piece of art they wanted to make is a piece of art we’ll really want to play, or enjoy once done and looking back on it all. In fact, with this gothic, steampunk, interactive movie we have something that’s not going to cause any drops in any ocean five minutes after the game’s done.
The Order: 1886 is a technical beast of a third-person actioner with a multitude of shootouts cut with varying quicktime events. The visual performance delivered here is stunningly good. The immediate images have a film-like grain filter applied to them making them seem less than stellar (an artistic choice which works but frustrates if wanting to show this off to folk to get some jaws dropping) until the characters move and the wind soars, bringing to life the detail on show. It is better than anything seen in a console game outside of the likes of Driveclub and its weather effects. It’s a shame that the only control over getting the picture to look amazing on your screen (outside of the ample tools TVs give you) is a gamma level slider. What’s more of a shame is the devs do not give any guidance on setting the gamma. It’s their game and they know how dark it should be; what contrast setting is best. So not passing that information on is criminal as it makes it more difficult to get the perfect representation of this singular endeavour.
You play as Sir Galahad, a Knight of the Round Table as instigated during the time of King Arthur. You protect this version of London from the half-breed - lycans, basically - alongside your colleagues and friends; with the aid of Blackwater in case of health issues - a kind of Holy Grail, cure-all resource. The time is 1886 and London is a hotchpotch of technology, people and eras. There are zeppelins, big guns, a young Tesla and more. The environment feels futuristic and historical all at once. It’s an interesting place, but one we never really feel we know given the way the story is told. The game plays out over a number of linked chapters via gameplay and in-game cutscenes and your freedom to explore the environment is non-existent. This is as on-rails a game as you get in the year 2015.
The best that can be said about the overall experience is that it’s mindless fun, although forgettable right after you’re done.The creators and developers have told us their story and that narrative is what they deemed important. It’s just not overly exciting. It’s a passable tale told with visual flair, but the pacing and the attempts at handing control to the player are half-hearted. Probably because the devs didn’t want you to tell their story. The action sequences are brief but many. The gunplay feels fine but nothing like you’d get from a weighty, meaty, first-person shooter where the gunplay is everything. The challenge is driven by ammo scarcity and number of enemies rather than enemy type, or the need to find a suitable strategy. Outside of those moments you’re regularly asked to do something like press X, turn the right analogue stick or perhaps both. The prompts change all the time ensuring some agency from the player but the demands pop up with indiscriminate regularity, with no pattern or warning. Sometimes nothing, then an inappropriate or downright tedious request. For instance, walking along a scene within a damaged area leads Galahad to multiple pieces of fallen wood. We know we need to pass through and we know we need to move the wood. We don’t get to move it until the game defines the time as being right and by then you’re frustrated and annoyed because you could have been smashing the Circle button five seconds ago. And why, exactly, is it fun to bash Circle or Square to do something so mundane? Why do I need to walk over to a glittering collectible, press a button to pick it up, enter a close-up and turn it around using sticks and buttons to see there is nothing on the other side before exiting said close-up? Bottom line: the quick time events are poorly positioned causing the game’s pace - and the player’s engagement - to suffer as a result.
Quick time events are incredibly polarising anyway. Interactive movies, too, can cause many to turn their noses up before even trying something out. But for those who go in fully aware, there is a way to do things right or not at all. God of War games use them sparingly but they’re done well and impactful. Asura’s Wrath built a game on them but did so excitingly throughout and made them the focus. Heavy Rain, similarly an interactive movie first and foremost from the mind of David Cage, used them, or a variant, as the entire control scheme and had you fighting off murderers by twisted quick time button press combinations as well as having a shower. In all of those cases the events felt true to the game, they challenged you in executing them and they felt right when doing them. They, alongside the slideshow playing out in front, worked together to give the player something. Here, Ready at Dawn have told their story then gone back and retconned it to add in some interactivity. It doesn’t make for anything awful but it’s not something you’ll come back to again or wish to see in The Order: 1996, either.
Sony have their first triple-A exclusive which has hit the market without late delays and in perfect working order. Folk will lap it up for that reason and no-one is going to come away thinking it’s a bad game. The problem is - tech aside - nobody will walk away with any lasting feelings at all. The story told here is decent Summer blockbuster fare but no more. The gameplay is slick but unengaging, and the quick time events are grating but straightforward enough to ensure the game can be won by all. It’s what the PS4 and this generation needed then, something to show off, but it’ll be gone as quickly as it came, and forgotten in half the time.