So, here it is: Sony's first brand new IP blockbuster for the PS4. Needless to say, the pressure is on for developers Ready at Dawn. We've seen them work wonders with the God of War series on PSP, so let's see how they handle creating something from scratch with the grunt of the PS4 behind them.
The Order: 1886 is a third-person single-player shooter set in a steampunk vision of Victorian London. You are Galahad, a Knight of The Order, sworn to protect the realm from everything from rebellion to half-breed werewolves.
The steampunk take on Victorian London is mainly focussed around the weapons, but there are other touches, such as the abundance of airships looming overhead. With games rarely using Victorian London though, it does make for a remarkable change of scenery.
Graphically, it's one of the best-looking game ever made. It comfortably out performs Assassin's Creed Unity, even without Ubisoft's gallery of glitches. I lost count of the amount of times I'd stop in Ready at Dawn's London just to pan the camera around and think 'this looks real', even at a clothes line above an alley.
As excellent as the detail is though, I'd struggle to say the game is nice to look at beyond a technical standpoint. Victorian London was a shithole after all and the studio has done a great job of capturing this, warts, gloomy weather and all. Black Flag still takes the gone for 'nicest' visuals thanks to the constant barrage of postcard perfect tropical beaches.
When a game looks this good, the developers' enthusiasm for their own game can often get the better of them. Being forced to look over some items by rotating the analogue stick for ages until a prompt appears feels awkward, like someone at the studio is sat behind you demanding your appreciation for their efforts. Well, that works both ways. Why does every desk drawer or cupboard contain the same items? Why the hell do puddles not move when you stand in them? Why did Duke Nukem show up in mirrors in 1996 but Galahad doesn't nearly twenty years later? And no, he's not a ghost.
It's hard to get too annoyed by these inconsistencies though, especially when you're only ever a minute or two from being stunned by the visuals, the facial motion-capture or the way the dialogue benefits from VO actors making a genuine effort to add some gravity to the scenes. I'm not so sure why there's so many Northerners in London though.
I've not really mentioned much about playing the game (that thing you interact with) yet have I? Well, it's about half an hour before you get to fire a gun and you better be prepared to take a back seat for long stretches. Yes, the game is only about six hours long, that rumour is true. Worse yet, I'd say proper gameplay only takes up half of that.
For so much of the game you're forced to watch cutscenes (unskippable even on a second playthrough) or you're 'walking' through a cutscene as characters talk with you only able to amble along at a fixed pace - something I do not consider to be gameplay at all. Whole chapters are spent this way.
Occasionally, you do get to shoot something, which is nice. The cover options are much better than an earlier version of the game I played last year and the 'snap' is much more clinical. The soft-cover technique is also a great addition - back away from cover and you'll remain crouched as you fall back or move to a new cover and won't have to press the cover button again to attach.
Aiming feels fluid and the guns carry enough weight to make shots count. Enemies react to individual bullet impacts, so you have a reliable sense of feedback even with longer shots. I was surprised that most of the enemies are human though, with the half-breeds barely making appearances in both combat and story.
Despite the steampunk setting, weapons feel very familiar with a range of pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, grenades and rocket launchers available. The thermite weapon is the only innovative shooter as it fires a cloud of thermite, which you then ignite with a secondary flare shot. It's chaotic and mesmerising to behold, but a little vague (you're firing a cloud at a time effectively). It's actually more exciting defending yourself against opponents with the gun as it's capable of breaching your cover easily.
Galahad isn't the smoothest of movers, in fact, he's only capable of a dodge roll if someone throws a grenade and you follow the prompt. So forget about rolling away from shotgunners that flank you. There's a rechargeable focus mode that slows down time for you, but precise aiming is severely limited in this Red Dead knockoff mechanic that you'll forget is even there.
Let's talk about quick time events (QTEs). Yes, they're annoying and used for most boss fights. None of them are particularly engaging and just require the occasional input while you watch events play out. At least God of War's are exciting and enjoyably epic.
You won't mind the regular QTEs though when you're playing the game's dreadful stealth sections. Get seen once and it's back to the start of the lengthy hunts. While sneaking behind an enemy, you have to wait for the opportune time to hit the triangle prompt, or you'll stumble and die. These scenes are all the more annoying because you're fully armed, but the story has a lame excuse for stealth that's soon promptly forgotten as everyone decides that's enough of that and starts blasting the hell out of everything, which should have been an option from the start.
The 'cinematic' widescreen borders are there throughout and add nothing to the experience. It's been incredibly frustrating reading interviews with the director saying that they help blur the lines between cutscene and gameplay when there's barely any distinction between the two during these transitions, you're only ever given control to carry on walking while characters chat. It smacks of arrogance really when you consider how many times Uncharted 2 handed the controls back to you during level demolishing set-pieces.
Going back to the game's short length, we're surprised to see such poor replay value on offer with The Order: 1886. There are items to find and newspaper clippings to read, but there's no checklist to allow you to track your progress and the newspaper writing is ridiculously small to read. Even the subtitles seem to be conceitedly small, perhaps not to get in the way of the game's 'cinematic' nature.
At least I can report that my time with the game was entirely glitch free though. No crashes, no floating faces or clipping faux pas. The AI occasionally get in your way, but at least you can't accidentally kill them. A bug-free game shouldn't be such a plus, but after some of the disasters of 2014, it's good to see a studio do some decent quality assurance for a change. it's just a shame none of their testers were brave enough to suggest that there wasn't enough actual game to play. What we're left with is one of the prettiest pieces of average you'll ever see.
- Ground-breaking visuals
- Well-acted script and decent story
- Gunfights have a nice heft to them
- Poor value for money
- Not enough actual gameplay
- Terrible stealth sections
The Short Version: The Order: 1886 is visually astounding throughout. Graphics fans will adore every grimy nook and cranny of the Victorian London setting. Sadly though, the game around it is crushingly average. The shooting sections are fun enough but far too few and far between, and much of the game is spent watching cutscenes or being forced to walk through one, so much so that it rarely feels like you're 'playing' the game at all.
6 – CAPABLE: The key thing to remember here is always try before you buy. There'll likely be some rather glaring flaws, questionable value or perhaps a distinct lack of imagination, but games that earn a 6 will generally be very capable indeed and probably still provide a good deal of fun to genre fans.
Developer: Ready at Dawn