Ever since its in-engine reveal trailer at E3 2013, The Order: 1886, a Sony exclusive developed by Ready at Dawn and Santa Monica Studios, has been looked to by gamers to justify their purchase of the PlayStation 4. With its unprecedented graphics and cinematic feel, The Order appeared to be the first game to deliver a uniquely next-gen experience. As a result, the game was burdened with some lofty expectations that it unfortunately fails to meet. Though it looks amazing and has its share of fun moments, The Order: 1886 focuses too heavily on attempting to approximate a movie and ultimately fails thanks to disjointed, derivative gameplay that is never quite woven together to create a cohesive narrative.
Set in an alternate history London in 1886, you play as Sir Galahad, a member of The Order, an organization of knights first formed by King Arthur. Armed with guns that are far more technologically advanced than any known to have existed in 1886, these Knights of the Round Table are tasked with protecting civilization from Lycans, a race of werewolves known to many as “half-breeds.” While this conflict has existed for centuries, you begin the game as a new threat emerges. A band of rebels has begun an uprising that threatens the safety of the civilians The Order has sworn to protect. Sir Percival, Galahad’s mentor, has asked the Lord Chancellor to allow him to take a few knights to Whitechapel, the rebel stronghold. Though strangely opposed to the operation, Lord Chancellor concedes and Percival ventures out with Galahad, Igraine, and Marquis de Lafayette to stomp out the rebellion.
On the surface, this has the makings of an intriguing plot. However, no aspect of it is adequately fleshed out to keep you engaged or establish any sort of overarching narrative, which is pretty unforgivable considering roughly three out of this game’s six hours are devoted to cut scenes. Character development is sparse resulting in many moments that fail to resonate emotionally. Marquis de Lafayette is a womanizing Frenchman and Igraine is a strong-willed, independent woman struggling with a power structure dominated by men. They are clichés, but at least they have personality. Galahad, the main character, has very little. What’s worse, Galahad has no real nemesis. Though his mentor Percival and Lord Chancellor have been at odds for years, Galahad seems to be indifferent to the dispute. The Lycans seem to be worthy adversaries, but Galahad’s encounters with them are few and far between. Even the hordes of rebels that Galahad mows down with his overpowered weaponry have no clear motive. With an underdeveloped protagonist and no obvious antagonist until its closing moments, The Order fails to build to a logical climax and ultimately disappoints. What’s worse, in an attempt to closely mirror a movie, Ready at Dawn has you playing through a series of disjointed scenes, which further confuses an already muddled narrative and prevents the elements of gameplay from being combined in any meaningful way.
When you’re not watching cut scenes, most of your time with The Order will be spent trekking across 19th century London in a disappointingly linear progression. Sometimes you will be climbing up buildings and jumping from rooftops, while other times you will be walking the streets looking for your next rendezvous point. From there, you’re often left to explore some nondescript, expansive room. However, these gameplay mechanics fail to engage the player in any thought-provoking way. The Uncharted-inspired climbing is utilized too infrequently and you’re never allowed to use any sort of creativity in how to ascend a given facade. There’s only ever one windowsill or one ledge that will allow you to proceed. When you’re walking the streets of London, you’re often told on your communicator exactly where to go. When you pass from one area to another, barriers will be placed in your way to prevent you from retracing your steps. You might turn around to find a group of people, a closed door, or a fallen bookcase blocking your way. The bookcase may only rise eighteen inches off the ground, but don’t expect to be able to get around it. In this way, it feels like the game has taken all choice out of the experience. Even when you are exploring rooms for clues, you’re only allowed to look at three or four highlighted items. Whether it’s an apple, letter, or something else completely ordinary, chances are that if it’s highlighted, it’s going to allow you to progress to the next scene of the game.
Hopefully that next scene involves some action because that’s the only time this game is any fun. The Order: 1886 delivers a few stealth sequences, some competent cover-based shooting, and some dynamic quick-time events. The stealth sequences are pretty standard. You crouch behind walls and sneak past guards when they aren’t looking. The cover-based shooting is pretty standard as well. You come upon a gang of enemies, you jump behind the nearest crate, and you take your shots when the enemy is exposed. Still, these encounters feel somewhat fresh thanks to the unique weapons to which Galahad has access. Most notably, the Thermite Rifle is incredibly fun to use. It shoots aluminum iron oxide pellets with one trigger and shoots a flare-like projectile to set those pellets ablaze with the other. The ensuing carnage is always a sight to behold. It’s just a shame that these encounters are so infrequent. The quick-time events, however, are more prevalent. In fact, both boss battles in the game are completed via quick-time events. That might sound like a letdown, but the events are varied and dynamic enough to keep you engaged. The final encounter is beyond tense and Ready at Dawn does an admirable job in building tension with the use of background music and specific camera angles. It’s one of the few examples of cinematic influences enhancing the experience. The only other real example of enhancement relates to the look of the game.
Both the graphics and overall aesthetic of the game are superb. You probably won’t even believe the opening cut scene is done in-engine until the first time you are transitioned to control of Galahad. Great care has been put into making that transition seamless, reinforcing the feeling that you are playing through a movie. Both the cut scenes and in-game action are presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. There is no life bar or map. There is no heads-up display at all. To further the illusion, people and objects in the distance appear blurry. A very subtle filter has even been applied to make the game look like it’s being projected on the screen. All of this would be for naught if imperfections existed in the graphics that took you out of the experience. Thankfully, shadows, lighting, and high-fidelity textures are all used expertly to create character models and environments that are as close to “real life” as anything that’s ever been seen in gaming. Simply put, this is the best looking game ever produced.
Ready at Dawn has accomplished something truly special with the graphics of The Order: 1886. Unfortunately, it appears that they’ve done it at the expense of what makes a game worth playing: gameplay and story. In an effort to approximate a more cinematic experience, they’ve created a series of scenes rather than anything that resembles cohesive gameplay or narrative. Yes, some of those scenes contain some enjoyable gameplay, but they hardly make up for the rest of the game’s shortcomings. Play The Order: 1886 if you want to know how amazing next-gen games can look, but don’t expect much else.
2.0 Chicks out of 5