Despite months of apprehension caused by fairly mediocre preview feedback to this game, I took the hit and purchased The Order: 1886 on release day. The first major PlayStation 4 exclusive since Driveclub last year came in the form of this supernatural third-person shooter from Ready At Dawn, best known for their portable God of War titles. The game takes place in a mysterious past London where the guns are made of science and everyone has fantastic facial hair.
Summarising the game is difficult, since it welds together a number of different themes, but it’s essentially about The Order, made up of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, who, by the power of Blackwater, can live for hundreds of years and heal themselves after taking near fatal harm in combat. Their mission is to fight half breeds (or werewolves) known as Lycans, despite spending most of the game actually fighting humans who form part of a rebel alliance.
From the get go, the game is incredibly cinematic, seamlessly transitioning between lengthy cut scenes and tense moments of gameplay, all through rather unnecessary letterbox screen dimensions. Naturally, and quite fairly, most of the criticism aimed at Ready At Dawn prior to the game’s release was why they chose to make what was essentially an interactive film, with about as much user input as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, but with less choice over the outcome.
Almost immediately it’s hard to disagree with this criticism, as you sit through lengthy ‘chapters’ almost entirely made up of cut scenes, occasionally broken up with vapid investigative sections involving lots of slow walking and inspecting objects at length, admiring the game’s fantastic visual attention to detail. If you enjoyed pressing X to pay your respects last year in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, you’re in for the time of your life with The Order.
When you’re not watching cut scenes or following onscreen prompts, you’re thrown into levels in various scenarios mostly involving the classic cover system shooter style that most gamers will be very familiar with. If you’re a fan of this format, which I definitely am, then the developers have mostly succeeded in creating a worthwhile experience. The guns are satisfying to shoot, with many featuring novel ‘science’ powers using electricity and incineration. As a mega awesome knight you also have the power of ‘Blacksight’ at your command, which is a nice bullet time style skill allowing you to auto aim at enemies and finish them off in style (when it doesn’t just aim at a pillar next to you instead).
The problem arises, however, when you quickly realise that these moments are extremely repetitive whilst also being few and far between. When you do get a chance to play out an entire chapter almost uninterrupted by lengthy cut scenes, you spend a lot of time moving from one open area to another, fending off an army of bland henchmen for what feels like endless waves, then moving on again. The climactic points of action are confined to cut scenes and absolutely loaded with quick time events, which, if missed, are just repeated from moments before failure, with no randomisation of button commands. Occasionally when you get the thrill of coming across the Lycans, the combat is underwhelming as they loop around the room, taking repeated runs at you whilst you shoot them in the face long enough to get a chance to hit the right button to finish them off.
It’s a shame that these creatures (which underpin the entire game plot) are underused, as they look disgusting and are fairly terrifying when first encountered in cinematic cut scene form. They are part of the overall beauty of the game’s design, which does feature fantastic looking characters and costume design. The environment is absolutely stunning, featuring a variety of mouth wateringly well conceptualised areas, despite being a bit too constantly grey and gloomy. Ready at Dawn succeeded in making one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, which is why it’s come as such a let-down to many that the gameplay isn’t up to scratch, particularly with a heavily hyped exclusive looking to aid Sony’s victory in the ongoing console war.
All the great cinematic production values of the game, including high standard voice acting, great musical composition and impeccable set design just doesn’t make up for the frustratingly boring and rehashed gameplay that feels so uninspired and void of innovation.
Another frenzied issue in the run up to the game’s release was the news that you could apparently beat the game in around five hours. Whilst I found this slightly untrue, given that I had to retry several phases and spent a bit of time looking round for collectables, it is still very short. I tend to forgive games for this if they have great replay value, but this game lacks even that. The gameplay isn’t gripping enough and the desire to go back and gather missed collectables in previous chapters for trophies/achievement’s sake is absent by the fact that the menus do not give any indication of which chapters you missed items on.
Stepping away from the fairly harsh criticism of the game for a moment, it does still have some great features. As mentioned, if the third person cover system mechanic is a format you are fond of, then it does it well, and I did get quite hooked on finishing chapters without stopping because of this. Ready At Dawn have also succeeded in throwing the occasional differing types of gameplay into the mix as well, with moments featuring careful stealth, long range sniping and traversing obstacles in the environment to continue the adventure. I personally found the story entertaining enough, despite dragging at points where they’ve jammed in way too many cut scenes without interruption. The theme is a novel idea and it would make a great movie, which is obviously well-known to the studio, given how the game turned out.
Perhaps the months of over the top hype surrounding the game led to it not doing itself justice, but it really is hard to escape the obvious let downs and criticism. In all my years of gaming I’ve never felt so desperate to not have to press any more buttons based on onscreen prompts, and I’ve never felt such momentary excitement at the chance to dive back into a fairly underwhelming series of shoot outs. Oddly, for a game that sells itself as supernaturally themed, these ideas only momentarily feature in gameplay, even if they do play a heavy role in the storytelling.
Despite the game’s issues, it’s worth a play if you can hire, borrow, or purchase it cheaply, but I would struggle to justify the game’s current value for the reward you get. The Order: 1886 is, overall, a dull and lifeless trawl through an admittedly beautiful historic London, with the occasional ‘good enough’ bit of action that doesn’t live up to the expectations that Sony led us to have. That said, the knights are certainly dreamy.