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Review: The Order: 1886
The Order: 1886 Review
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If a game is short that doesn’t mean it's rubbish. Games should be precisely the length they need to be. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Portal, they’re both short, but they’re among the finest games ever made. Besides, a lot of people simply don’t want to trudge their way through 50+ hour experiences. Being short doesn’t equal being bad.

Nor does being linear. The Uncharted and Half Life series are linear, but nobody complains about it. Instead they celebrate two of the most entertaining series available. Done well, a linear game is just as good - if not better - than any game boasting multiple routes and options. Being linear doesn’t equal being bad.


Phwoar. Check out that muzzle flash!

QTEs and interactive cutscenes aren’t entirely bad, either. While they may occasionally feature on gamers’ lists of top grumbles, these things also feature heavily in Shenmue and Resident Evil 4 - two of the most lauded games in history. Interactive cutscenes and QTEs can be brilliant. They certainly do not equal a terrible game.

The Order: 1886 isn’t a terrible game, but it is mediocre. It does all of the things mentioned above and - crucially - does them without flair, then piles on numerous over-familiar contrivances and stale old game conventions. When elements like this are stacked on top of each other and executed as poorly (or as mundanely) as this - that is bad.

Here’s my best attempt to describe the first few hours of The Order: 1886: you walk for 10 seconds, then you watch a three minute cutscene which may or may not include a button click or QTE, then you walk for ten seconds, then another cutscene, then you walk for ten seconds before maybe climbing a ledge to reach the next cutscene. The Order: 1886 repeatedly spoils its chances of creating any sense of pace or flow.

Interactive cutscenes aren’t bad, but cutscenes that feel like an interruption are. Interactive elements that feel utterly pointless are bad too. The Order: 1886 is full of both. Even more importantly, the cutscenes often depict action that would be far more compelling if the player was given direct control over the action. But that’s harder to design. It’s far easier to make a cutscene with a few timed button presses. The game loses something as a result.


He'll never see it coming.

As The Order: 1886 goes on, the situation improves slightly, as extended action sequences begin to pierce the cutscenes with increasing regularity. The shooting in The Order: 1886 feels a little blunt and sluggish, but it does its job well enough. Far less competent are the levels within which these shootouts take place. The first couple barely require the player to move, instead encouraging you to pop in and out of cover to take potshots at whack-a-mole enemies. One short shooting section takes place on rails.

The highlights come towards the end of The Order: 1886. A shootout on a zeppelin provides some thrills and later shootouts at least reward the player for moving between cover. There’s an attempt to liven up the gunplay with inventive weapons too - a grenade launcher, a gun that fires electricity - but they don’t raise The Order: 1886’s action beyond fairly standard third-person shooter fare. It’s all exploding red canisters and convenient waist-high cover laid out within uninventive levels.

There are two stealth sections in The Order: 1886, one of which is short while the other is longer and far more tedious. In the latter, players are tasked with navigating a nighttime garden and taking out guards by executing a timed prompt. But the conditions for being seen are muddy and the price of being seen is an insta-fail. Worse, if you miss the kill prompt you find yourself right under the nose of the guard and they often won’t react for a second or two before noticing you. You just kind of awkwardly stand on their toes for a while.

At the end of this longer stealth section I made my way to the directed location, only to find that the 'open door' prompt didn’t want to appear. After a few minutes of wandering around, questioning what I should do, I noticed one last guard in the distance. I stuck a knife in his neck and the game whirred into life again. I returned to the door and the prompt appeared. It was my understanding that this was a stealth mission, but skipping a murder was not an option.

There’s a few instances of this kind of thing in The Order: 1886. Things like having to wait a few moments for an NPC to arrive so they can open a door my character was perfectly capable of doing himself. Things like an early shootout that rushes you along by having an enemy chuck a grenade out of nowhere, instantly killing you with little or no warning. None of these are massive problems; in isolation they’re more like minor grievances, but they speak to the game’s main failing: it’s trying to control you all the time.

Linearity is fine when it also offers options within that tight structure, when the player is allowed some control over how they approach each challenge. Even the illusion of choice can work well, if done right. The Order: 1886 fails on both counts and it feels slightly flat as a result. Whether you’re in an interactive cutscene or not, the game is constantly, aggressively steering you down a path, only allowing you to do what it wants, when it wants. And perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if the things you have to do along that path were spectacular, but they’re not and it’s a shame.

Considering all this, it’s a great relief that The Order: 1886’s narrative is actually pretty good. Telling the story of an order of Arthurian-style knights attempting to keep the peace as rebels and half-breed werewolves threaten to tear London apart, The Order: 1886 has a solid, twisty-turny storyline that will just about keep you engaged right up to its post-credits coda. It’s a brilliant narrative concept done well and it’s arguably The Order: 1886’s biggest strength. Or at least it would be if it wasn’t for the visuals. Oh man, the visuals.


Seriously. The Order: 1886 is massively pretty.

This is a staggeringly good looking game, with fantastic, expressive character models, brilliant costume design (I love the knights’ uniforms) and a wonderfully realised, grimy, steampunk London. Whether you’re on the rooftops looking out over the city or navigating grim, moodily-lit underground tunnels, The Order: 1886 is rarely anything but stunning. If there’s a better looking game on consoles I haven’t seen it yet. If only the game design could match up to the graphics.

On my (normal difficulty) playthrough, The Order: 1886 clocked in at around 9 hours, bringing it broadly in line with many other single-player action games. Whether a nine hour campaign is an issue for you will largely depend on your individual tastes, but it’s difficult to argue that the game would gain anything from being longer. It felt just about right. It’s far easier to argue that with no additional modes or features, The Order: 1886 does not provide great value for money. This is a full retail game, with a price tag to match, and that carries with it certain expectations.

But length isn’t the real problem here. In fact it’s arguably not a problem at all. The Order: 1886 isn’t mediocre because of its length, because it doesn’t have co-op or multiplayer modes, because it’s linear or because it heavily features QTEs. It’s mediocre because it constantly wrestles with the player, interrupting them and removing any control or agency. You play a badass, werewolf-murdering knight, but you’re rarely allowed to feel like one. Ready at Dawn have created an impressive world with a promising story, but the game itself is a minor disappointment.

 

While The Order: 1886’s score isn’t particularly memorable, the audio design is strong and the voice acting is great from all but the most minor characters. It’s a relief as the game could easily have been a Dick Van Dyke "cor blimey guv’nor" travesty.

Beautiful, both in terms of technical prowess and design. The character models, environments, motion capture and lip-syncing are fantastic, pushing the PlayStation 4 harder than any game before. Heck, even the costume design is fantastic. Gotta love those steampunk Victorian tunics.

In the first half of the game you are repeatedly interrupted to watch yet another short cutscene and it ruins the flow of the game. Things pick up in the second half, but the combat only occasionally elevates the game above standard third-person shooter fare and the stealth section is average at best.

The Order: 1886’s campaign clocks in at around 9 hours and it feels like the right length for a game of this type. However, once the credits have rolled, that’s your lot, there are no other modes. How much of an issue that is for you will depend on your taste, but it’s undeniable that most other games offer greater value for money.

The Order: 1886’s trophy list is quite unusual in that it doesn’t offer anything for completing chapters. Instead it provides a rather mundane list largely made up of "collect this" or "do this 20 times" trophies. Not very exciting then, but if nothing else it's a nice easy Platinum.

The Order: 1886 has its moments. When it gives the player freedom to just get on and play, it can be fun. But far too much of the experience feels strait-jacketed by Ready at Dawn’s overly-aggressive desire to control the action. There’s too many interruptions and too few of them feel worthwhile. Visually stunning, The Order: 1886 hasn’t got the gameplay brains to match its graphical brawn.

 
 
 
Game Info
Developer:
Ready at Dawn
Genre:

Release:

US February 20, 2015
Europe February 20, 2015

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