The Order: 1886 – Review

Title   The Order: 1886
Developer  Ready At Dawn
Publisher  Sony
Platform  PS4
Genre  Third Person Shooter
Release Date  February 20th, 2015
Official Site

What constitutes as a videogame these days? In a time where games such as Gone Home, Proteus and anything from Telltale are challenging perceptions of traditional gameplay by placing more focus on story, characters and exploration, and less on direct, player-controlled action, it’s an increasingly common question, one where perhaps there is no clear right or wrong answer. Some believe it’s the levels of interactivity which dictate whether a game has the right to be called one, while others say a strong narrative or emotional experience can make up for the absence of any kind of shooting, driving or platforming mechanics. Both theories have their pros and cons, but in the context of either, where does The Order: 1886 fit in?

Ready At Dawn’s first foray into original IP is a disappointing cutscene-heavy, gameplay-light third person shooter, albeit a technically sound one, without an intriguing enough story or memorable enough cast to match the acting chops, script or premise to keep things afloat. Where it matters, no single element of The Order excels enough to compensate for another’s inadequacies, and there’s very little actual game here. The cover-based combat is too insubstantial and unremarkable to get the pulse racing, and the plot, revolving around an ancient order of knights and their long raging battle against werewolves (here referred to as Half-Breeds), as well as a growing rebellion, is difficult to get behind, especially when the most notable traits about protagonist Sir Galahad and his fellow knights are their splendidly rendered facial hair. They’re a well-written, well-acted and well-rounded bunch, but they’re nothing special, and far from iconic, which just about sums up The Order: 1886 as a whole.

If you hadn’t guessed it, the year is 1886, and we’re in London, although it is not how you might imagine it to be. This is a city gripped by supernatural goings-on, and technology has advanced far beyond what the time period suggests: the capital’s skyline is adorned with zeppelins fourteen years before they’re due to take their first flight, and the advent of wireless communications allow our heroes to keep in touch with one another from afar (imagine that), while other gadgets and doodads aid them endlessly in their efforts to maintain peace on the cobbled streets. As Sir Galahad, you’re swept up in a rather predictable conspiracy that could tear the titular Order apart from the inside and threatens the safety of not only London but the entire world. If only that were the largest concern.

The root of The Order’s biggest frustration lies in its infuriatingly persistent habit of taking control away before the action has a chance to get going. Dreary and unskippable cutscenes are punctuated with short-lived shootouts and lengthy periods of walking, where you can only follow the game’s restrictively (almost claustrophobic) linear and uneventful path. Where other games might take such opportunities to flesh out their universe and characters a bit more here, The Order is content with letting virtually nothing happen. There’s little friendly banter to lighten the mood, hardly any backstory explained, and few eye-catching distractions barring the odd collectable item, which you could hardly miss even if you tried.

The problem is The Order really wants to be a movie, the cardinal sin in gaming, and it’s apparent from the get-go that it’s got its priorities the wrong way round. The opening gambit sets an alarmingly worrying precedent, the first ten minutes requiring nothing more than a few button taps and pushes of the analogue stick, while the following thirty establishes the bland rinse and repeat formula of trudging from one sparse and heavily signposted firefight to the next, watching a cutscene or two (or three!) along the way. What’s worse, some chapters later on in the game are literally extended cutscenes entirely, and as the game goes on the length of them and the walking distance between seems to increase, while the shootouts remain short throughout. Or maybe it just feels like it.

When it does eventually permit you to pull out your gun while hunkered down behind cover, The Order is pitifully basic at best. The camera pulling in close to keep your view of the battleground partially obscured (think Ghost Recon: Future Soldier) is a nice touch, although it’s still far too easy to pull off a headshot, and while the majority of weapons sound fierce and feel great, this is cover-shooting at its most humdrum. Fights feel unexciting and lack dynamism or agency, playing out pretty much the same no matter what boom-stick you hold in your hand. A bullet-time mechanic called Blacksight feels largely inessential in the grand scheme of things, and enemies follow predictable patterns and rarely attempt to outflank you – not that they (or even you) get much chance in such confined spaces. Honestly, The Order’s level design makes Gears Of War, Uncharted and Call Of Duty look like sandboxes, and when some levels do marginally open up on all-too-rare occasions you still feel as if you’re on a tight leash.

Courtesy of one Nikola Tesla, a handful of select firearms do help allay, if not hold back, the staleness. The Thermite Rifle fires a cloud of flammable metal which can then be ignited with the rifle’s secondary flare shot to burn enemies from behind cover, holding down the Arc Gun’s trigger charges up a focused beam of deadly, head-popping electricity that homes in on the nearest target, and nailing headshots with the Crossbow during an abysmal late game stealth mission is the only redeeming factor about the whole cloak and dagger ordeal. But, just as you think you’re getting to grips with them, The Order sees fit to take all the fun toys away and leave you with the standard machine guns, shotguns and pistols.

Similarly underused are the grotesque, furry critters that plague the fog-smitten streets of alternate Neo-Victorian London. The horror elements that could have helped elevate The Order beyond mediocre shooter are disappointingly downplayed and terribly mishandled at that. Remember the Velociraptor-like Stalkers from Dead Space and how they prowled behind cover before rushing in for the kill? Ready At Dawn have clearly taken inspiration from them, because the Lycans here act exactly the same, the key difference being there’s no tension-upping build up to their arrival and no tangible sense of fear when they attack. Once they bluntly make an entrance, it’s simply a repetitive case of peppering them with bullets and following the corresponding onscreen button prompts to dodge their charges, before finishing them off when they’re down. It’s unexciting, uninspired, and not remotely scary.

A sequence early on in the game taking place in the blood-stained corridors of a hospital does at least make an attempt to forge a spooky atmosphere. If it hadn’t already been spoiled at E3 last year, it might have even succeeded. Making his way through the darkened hallways with nothing but lamplight to shine the way, Galahad comes face to face with an Elder, your token boss Lycan. The potential of what then could have been an elongated, tense game of cat and mouse through operating theatres and recovery wards is instead squandered on a blink and you’ll miss it scripted chase sequence where the only freedom granted is where to aim your gun. Poorer still, the scene climaxes with an inherently clumsy boss battle, one which shockingly gets recycled later on during the dissatisfying and abrupt finale, which proves to be the final nail in the coffin of what could have been the game’s standout set-piece.

Other set-pieces do fare better, though. Infiltrating a zeppelin to prevent an assassination attempt, although mired in heinous instafail stealth segments, demonstrates how varied (not to mention beautiful) The Order can be when it wants to, while a breakneck shootout atop a bridge is hands down the game’s best fight. But even they come with caveats, for the zeppelin chapter only feels varied in the context of the rest of the game being an unexciting and repetitive trundle, and the bridge-top battle is only a mild highlight by virtue of also being one of the longest. Basically, they’re minor moments of slightly-entertaining filler as opposed to the standard yawn-inducing variety which comes before and after.

The saddest thing about The Order is that we know Ready At Dawn are capable of much better. Certainly, the technical performance here was never in question. Even considering PS4 is an entirely different beast, Ready At Dawn squeezed more out of the PSP than any other developer. Crucially, though, their handheld Jak and Daxter spinoff and God of War prequels were just as great games to play as they were graphical marvels to gawp at.

The Order’s dazzling if sterile recreation of London (or parts of it, anyway) with next to no loading breaks proudly reaffirms Ready At Dawn’s artistic and engineering expertise among the best in the business. But shallow gameplay with zero replay value, coupled with an unengaging story which leaves critical plot threads unresolved in a shameful sequel set-up, can’t be excused with winning filmic qualities and high levels of polish. PS4 deserves better.

  • Ace premise and setting
  • Polished and bug-free
  • One of the best looking games on PS4 to date…
  • … even if it is a bit grey. It is London, after all
  • Cutscenes galore
  • Takes control away irritatingly frequently
  • Severe pacing problems
  • Want to know what happens next? Come back in 1887

Is The Order: 1886 a game? Very small parts of it are, yes. Are those parts any good? Not really. Their brevity is matched by their infrequency, they’re formulaic and unexciting, and there’s no discernible kind of advancement in gameplay or mechanics from beginning to end. As for the long stretches in between, they fail to deliver an engaging narrative or elaborate on the fascinating universe and its inhabitants on which the game has largely been sold. Above all, Ready At Dawn seem to have misunderstood what it is about other games’ spells of downtime that often make them so impactful and memorable – a palate cleanser can’t fulfil its purpose if the preceding events aren’t substantial enough to put the following moments of peace into perspective. It all comes off as feeling bland rather than bad, and it doesn’t take long to realise there’s a disheartening lack of depth beneath that slick and polished surface. The Order’s cinematic intentions are noble, but this is one definitely not for the players.

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One Comment

  1. Chris Toffer says:

    Such a shame given how good it ‘looks’ I had high hopes for this and really all it is now is bargain bin fodder, doomed to be remembered as one of the first limp ‘exclusives’ on the PS4

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