Sony Computer Entertainment have been teasing us with The Order: 1886 ever since they first announced the PlayStation 4 way back in February 2013.
Over the last two years the publisher has been drip-feeding scant details about their cinematic third-person shooter set in a steampunk reimagining of Victorian London.
In the run up to the game’s launch Sony’s hype machine was working on overdrive. So much so that when word of a five hour campaign length, excessive quick-time-events and a couple of hours of cut scenes broke, the internet went wild and skinned the game alive.
The Order: 1886 became less about an intriguing alternative take on colonial Britain at the turn of the century and more about bite-sized gameplay and button mashing.
And it’s a shame because, whilst it does have its faults, overall The Order: 1886 is a rather special affair.
I’m not going to dwell too much on the pre-launch hysteria about the game’s length, the quick-time-events and the rest. You can read about all that elsewhere. I want to look at The Order: 1886 for what it is; a cinematic interactive experience, if that means a game to you, call it that, if it doesn’t then call it something else.
Set in a steampunk version of Victorian England, players take on the role of Sir Galahad, one of the Queen’s Order of Knights. He is joined by his fellow Knights: Sir Percival, Lady Igraine and the knight-in-training, The Marquis de Lafayette. The Order follows a tradition going back to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table from whom they take their aliases.
By drinking Blackwater, fluid from the chalice known in legend as the Holy Grail, the knights of The Order can extend their lives for centuries and heal their wounds. They are not, however, immortal. They can be killed and when they die another knight takes on their alias.
It’s an interesting idea, indeed. Throw in Lycanthropes, the threat of rebellion and the plan of the nefarious United India Company and nothing is quite what it seems.
The game’s plot is sound, but seems to only be a small part of a bigger story.
By the end of the game, even though I enjoyed the tale, I felt it was left hanging a bit too much. For much of the game I had the feeling that the, developer, Ready at Dawn, had bitten off rather more than they could chew.
The Order: 1886, walks a very fine line between being a third-person shooter in the traditional sense and being a very high quality interactive CGI movie. As such it’s an amazing visual feast and, quite simply, the best-looking game I’ve ever played. I’m sure we will see better, but right now this is the best you are going to get.
Victorian London has never been portrayed it such incredible detail. The action takes players from the dank alleyways of Whitechapel to the eerie Westminster catacombs. There’s also plenty of London’s iconic tube system to explore. There’s even a sequence on-board a huge fancifully designed airship, The Agamemnon, that wouldn’t look out of place in a Final Fantasy game.
The characters, as well, are beautifully realised and without a doubt on par with a modern CGI movie, except, incredibly, the PS4 is rendering them in real time.
The game’s attention to detail isn’t just reserved for the spectacle. Tiny details like the different sheen of the ink on documents that you pick up and the dirt on the “camera” lens suggest that this has been a labour of love for the development team.
The graphics absolutely are jaw-dropping. But, these amazing visuals come at a cost, a cost that could arguably be in keeping with the game’s overall cinematic aspirations.
The game runs with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, similar to a Blu-Ray movie,this means that when playing the game on your HDTV there are black bars at the top and bottom. It’s common for Blu-Ray movies, but not for games, and takes a bit of getting used to. It’s still in “full” HD, it’s just the visible picture between the bars is only 1920×800 and not 1080.
The framerate is a chugging thirty frames per second, close to the 24fps we have no problem with when watching a movie, but a far cry from that video gaming sweet spot of 60fps.
Until you get used to it, the action in The Order feels very juddery compared to, say, the rip roaring frame rate of the PS4’s, almost as beautiful game, The Last of Us Remastered.
The game is, for the most part, an over-the-shoulder third-person cover-based shooter. There’s a bit of stealth and some climbing but nothing in a way of real puzzles or anything like that. It’s also a pretty linear affair, with the rather obvious path set out ahead of you.
The developers have really used their imagination to produce a range of fantastic weapons that seem oddly believable for the time.
In the game, the brilliant real-life Serbian genius, Nikola Tesla is on hand as The Order’s Q-like gadget-man, supplying all sorts of interesting stuff. An assortment of pistols, rifles, shotguns and proto-machine-guns are joined by more exotic items such as the incendiary M86 Thermite Rifle and the lightening in a bottle that is the TS-21 Arc Induction Lance.
The action is interspersed with plenty of cut-scenes. Some players may find the way that the game takes control away from them a bit annoying, but this isn’t Call of Duty.
The Order is first and foremost telling a story, and it’s a good story. To give a bit of interaction back to the player, the game uses quick-time-events. These Simon-says button mashing sequences are the scourge of modern gaming and a design fad that I thought we had seen the back of.
Admittedly, the QTEs in The Order are more in context than most, but the resultant insta-death due to a poorly-timed button-press can still be annoying.
Still, overall, I found the gameplay fun even though I think some other games have done it better.
As I played the game I started drawing some parallels with Crytek’s Xbox One launch title, Ryse: Son of Rome.
Both games are visually impressive. Both games are more about the story than necessarily about the gameplay. Whilst The Order has a better premise, it’s is Ryse, though, that seems to come out on top in putting its narrative setting to better use.
Even though both games slightly overuse QTEs, The Order offers marginally better gameplay, whilst Ryse may provide slightly better replay value.
Both Ryse and The Order make for excellent launch day graphical showcases, though, unfortunately The Order: 1886 has arrived over a year too late.
The Order:1886 is the definition of flawed genius. A fantastic setting and glorious graphics are almost enough to get it by. Unfortunately, the solid but uninspired gameplay isn’t quite enough to propel the game into excellence.
Whilst the story is good and the gameplay polished, it does lack a bit of substance, sometimes feeling like an extended tutorial that doesn’t quite take off.
It’s a shame, as it is still an astounding effort by Ready at Dawn; a developer that should be lauded for trying something different and pushing the medium in this way.
The Order ticks more boxes than most games around at the moment.
Whilst doesn’t quite live up to the hype, it’s still a good effort. As a piece of interactive entertainment, the developers have almost nailed it with a great premise, good story and some very accessible gameplay.
Whilst I can understand that it might not be for everyone, despite its flaws I really enjoyed it. In any case, I’m sure that the inevitable sequel will seek to iron out some of its predecessor’s wrinkles.
The Order: 1886 is out now on PlayStation 4 and I’d recommend it to players that enjoy stunning graphics and a good yarn in their games.
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