An absolutely beautiful game with a unique setting and shooting perfection, does The Order: 1886 have enough depth to keep players interested?
Game developer Ready at Dawn is known for their PSP games, which some of the best on that system. Daxter was a surprise hit and their two God of War titles were great in portable form and really shined with the remastered PS3 Origins Collection. However, Ready at Dawn’s first original foray into the console market has been met with incredibly divisive feedback. From the moment this game was revealed, it seems that it was destined to be critiqued under a microscope. With the emphasis on “cinematic gameplay” and black bars for that “cinematic feel”, it seems like divisive is what defines the hype around the game. Lambasted for being “another cover shooter”, “linear”, being more movie than game, or for being “too short”, are these critiques valid? Read on to find out.
The Order: 1886 takes place in, you guessed it, 1886. In this alternate history game, you play as Sir Galahad, who is part of a group of knights called the order. The order is tasked with hunting down the lycan threat of half-breeds; men who can turn into werewolves. There’s mystery and intrigue afoot and it’s up to you to get to the bottom of it.
Comparisons of The Order: 1886 to “cover-shooters” like Uncharted or Gears of War are not unfounded. There’s plenty of that in the game, plus some light platforming a la Uncharted, but after playing for just a few minutes, the game that The Order: 1886 reminded me of the most was Heavy Rain, an adventure-style title that’s similar to The Walking Dead. It’s an interesting blend of gameplay; take two parts Heavy Rain, one part Uncharted, then sprinkle some Gears of War, Resident Evil 4 and The Last of Us on top for good measure. I think the perception that The Order is just a cover shooter probably contributed to some of the divisive feedback it received. While there is a good amount of shooting and what is there happens to be excellent, the game’s emphasis is on its narrative and delivering a specific experience. The game is linear and scripted by choice, this is a ride that Ready at Dawn has crafted and I think they have done an excellent job at. There’s little exploration to be had in this game and while some may view that as a negative, I actually prefer it as it keeps the story and pacing in check and having linear progression always means a stronger narrative. Open world games struggle with stories, even the behemoth that is GTA gives the player too much freedom and sometimes will acrifice the story and pacing by default. I’m not saying gameplay freedom is a bad thing, it’s why GTA is fun, but the opposite is fun as well for its own reasons and The Order shouldn’t be criticized for doing what it sets out to do. It’s like saying you don’t like surrealist film and then criticizing a new surrealist movie that comes out. If it’s not for you, that’s your prerogative. Keep in mind The Order isn’t a Gears of War/Call of Duty style game where you’re always shooting. It’s more of an adventure game a la Heavy Rain or The Walking Dead, heavy on cutscenes and story, as such the pacing is slower than some Gears/CoD game that’s always amped up to 11.
With that being said, focusing on the narrative worked well for Ready at Dawn. It’s one of the few videogame stories that is actually well done. The characters are developed and interesting and actually easy to differentiate. I had recently played Far Cry 4 and Dying Light, both of which are really fun open world games, but in those I struggled to keep track of who’s who or what my motivations are. It’s pretty clear the “story” in those games is just a throwaway. Conversely in The Order: 1886, we have a game where the story isn’t just a throwaway, it’s the focus and it shows. The game splits up its time pretty well as the pacing is excellent. Cut scenes are heavily used to progress the story and QTE’s make an appearance as well but they are never overused and feel better utilized a la Heavy Rain as opposed to something like God of War or Call of Duty where they come across as tacked on. The QTE’s are relatively easy and even the shooting gameplay isn’t too hard, it’s clear that the developers didn’t want any point to be frustrating or inhibit the narrative’s progress.
Mini games are also present in the form of a door unlocking one where you have to click L3 and R3 simultaneously at the right time when an object is passing through a marker; this one is the more used and my least favorite overall. It’s not bad and never was frustrating, it’s pretty unique actually but it takes generally more time than I’d like to invest since it’s used fairly often. My favorite “gimmick” mini game was the Morse code one where you input it via the DualShock 4’s touchpad. This was only used once but I found it the most fun. There’s a lock picking mini game as well which is pretty well done, more fun than the one in Dying Light at least.
The setting is one of the first things that really helps the game to stand out. Not too many games are set in Victorian London with some steampunk-esque influenced designs. Already the environment is a breath of fresh air, compared to the overdone “military” or “zombie” motifs that have been omnipresent in games for years. The Order’s presentation is absolutely top notch and this cannot be reiterated enough. The graphics are as good as everyone says, easily the most impressive console game to date. Its visual style harkens back memories of when I first played Killzone 2, a beautiful, yet dark game with stunning realistic soft lighting effects and a film-grain filter that contributes greatly to the game’s style. Everything sports a clean look, free from “jaggies” and this is really aided by the game’s lighting which looks stunning more times than I can count throughout the game. The minimalistic and disappearing HUD also ensure that your “Share” button will be getting a lot of use, and when I finished the game I had taken 374 screenshots, because so much of the game just looks beautiful.
One very minor issue I had was that glass didn’t break when you shot it; in fact nothing happened to it, which is a shame, considering Resistance: Fall of Man back in 2006 had absolutely amazing looking broken glass. The aspect ratio with the black bars isn’t noticeable once the game starts and it does somewhat add to the cinematic nature of the game. Plus, if the black bars were necessary in order to facilitate the game looking so good, it’s a no-brainer that they made the right choice. In addition, the aspect ratio helps provide a more up-close and personal, intimate view of the game, focusing your eyes as they have less vertical peripheral distractions to concentrate on. The world that was created is really a fantastic one, but there is a conscious decision to keep the pacing and the story in check. For those who want to grind for loot and level up or explore every little nook and cranny for some pointless collectable, this isn’t the game for you. However, The Order does a few collectables like audio logs you can find and there are newspapers and pictures in the game which add a bit to the backstory with some of the pictures providing excellent foreshadowing.
In addition to absolutely stunning graphics, the game’s audio excels on every level. Not only is the orchestral score an integral and impeccable part of the game from the menu to the credits, but all the other audio including voices and sound effects is executed to perfection. The game’s excellent voice acting combined with excellent facial motion capture effects works very well to convey emotion. The hand-in-hand combination of the audio with the visual incorporates many subtle techniques from the characters, creating a more immersive experience. Whereas some games will use English actors to play French characters, The Order: 1886 employs excellent and authentic voices that really add to the game’s high-quality experience. Sound effects are also pivotal to a game like this and The Order exceeds with flying colors; this is a game that warrants good headphones or a surround sound system to really appreciate it. I played with the Sony Pulse wireless headphones and the virtual surround sound worked perfectly. Being able to detect where a threat was coming from was easy thanks to the excellent audio design. Gunfire sounds awesome to put it bluntly. I always hate when games have big guns and they sound so weak when they’re shot.
When I was first given control to shoot, I fell in love instantly. This game has absolutely perfect shooting, it just feels so smooth and it’s a cinch to aim. I’m very picky when it comes to aiming in games, a lot of games have it either too loose or too sluggish, but like some fairy tale porridge, The Order gets it just right. Auto-aim is on by default but even when I turned it off, I had little trouble aiming. I really hope more games copy the aiming and shooting in this game. All of the guns sound fantastic, a nod to the impeccable sound design. It’s just a pleasure to shoot stuff in this game, the feedback you receive, the fluid aiming, it all comes together perfectly. There were numerous times where I’d die on purpose just to replay a section and I did this pretty frequently. I probably doubled my playtime of this game just dying and retrying sections and I didn’t mind it one bit. I died a few times due to the movement, which can be somewhat cumbersome when the action gets heavy, but overall the slow movement works well in this game, adding a weight to the actions of your character. My only issue is that I wish there was some kind of survival horde mode where you fought against waves of enemies with all the different guns at your disposal. There’s a part near the end which is somewhat like this, but having a mode dedicated to this would have been perfect. Hopefully this type of mode makes it in the sequel, along with some online co-op. The shooting is just too good not to want more of. Other games need to take note, because this is how it’s done. I can’t emphasize enough how sublime the aiming and shooting in this game is.
While there are standard guns, like rifles, pistols, shotguns and machine guns, they all have a unique twist to them, giving them a kind of rustic feel but with some alterations thanks to the ever-helpful Nikola Tesla who is your weapons’ manufacturer. For example, one machine gun has an alternate fire which fires a burst of air that stuns enemies for a couple seconds. For example, there’s a machine gun pistol, a magnum that fires two shots at once, and my personal favorite, the room-clearing Three Crown coach gun shotgun. Easily one of the best shotguns ever seen in any game, this gun never gets old and the destruction it unleashes is powerful. The sheer fun that exudes from using these unique weapons is aided by the fact that despite only being able to carry one sidearm and one main gun simultaneously, ammo and weapons are plentiful and there’s never a need to hoard ammo. Not to mention there’s a handful of very unique and very fun weapons including a lightning gun and a thermite gun. The weapons here are anything but generic and it’s refreshing to see some innovative weaponry in a game that isn’t Ratchet & Clank. When I think about it, The Order: 1886 can at times be best described as gun porn; the visual muzzle flashes in dark environments, the loud audio, it all works together gloriously and it’s the reason why I have no qualms about dying in this game, because it means more fun gunplay ahead. Besides the gunplay, there’s also melee combat triggered by pressing the Triangle button near an enemy when prompted, which triggers a scene in which the enemy is violently dispatched, emphasized by the brutal animations and sound effects. With so much fun to be had from shooting, it would have been nice to have engaged with more battles with non-human enemies. I feel that this was underutilized and any battles against lycans played out the same way. There was tension initially but it diminished over time as the game prompts you to hit X to dodge and then you shoot the lycans as they run away, that’s it. Plus, the two boss battles in the game play out the exact same way which is a bit underwhelming. More enemy variety would have been nice, but fighting against the lycans was enjoyable and created a tense environment especially when you heard the sound of them getting closer. Gameplay is also varied up a bit with the introduction of Blackwater, which is a mysterious drink reportedly from the Holy Grail that heals the knights when they’re close to death. When you’re downed and you drink the Blackwater, you’re given a boost of health which can be a nice lifesaver at times. The other feature is Blacksight in which the game slows down and you can target multiple enemies in rapid succession, allowing you to easily bring down the enemy’s numbers.
I wonder what would have happened if this game released for $40, if there would have been such an overwhelming backlash regarding the length. An included survival mode would have been a nice post-game treat, but like a movie, once this is over, it’s over. While I felt that this was a complete package, there’s a multitude of ways that a sequel can go, especially when considering unanswered questions regarding the plot. I suspect that a sequel would not only provide more content and hopefully some new modes, but my feeling is that the bulk of the time spent developing this game was spent on creating the engine on which it runs. It’s a fantastic engine and I hope it gets used in the future, for many different games, not just the (hopefully) inevitable sequel. I didn’t rush while playing through this game and it probably took me 8-10 hours on “hard” difficulty over the course of a couple weeks, which is an ideal length for me. As I have other responsibilities and hobbies, I personally don’t mind “short games”, in fact I tend to prefer them and some of my favorite games are considered short. The first Metal Gear Solid is a three-hour game and Max Payne 1 & 2 are 6-8 hour games, but because they’re so fun, I’ve beaten them more than five times each. I’d rather have a good game that doesn’t overstay its welcome than a game that drags on and beats you over the head with repetition, grinding and gameplay padding mean to waste time. The more recent Max Payne 3 is a good example of what I don’t want; a single player that drags on, an underdeveloped multiplayer that feels tacked on, and an uninteresting narrative to try and hold it together.
There’s plenty of games out there that I won’t even touch because they brag about 100+ hours of gameplay (who has time for that?), though more does not necessarily equal better. I’m going to pick an easy target for comparison, Destiny. I pre-ordered the game, (which was my first mistake) but for a game that boasts hours upon hours of gameplay, Destiny was boring, repetitive, barren and exploitative. From the masterful storytellers at Bungie, Destiny is devoid of a cohesive and interesting narrative, and instead tells you to go to a website to learn more. The game lacks a single-player mode, is full of redundant “grinding”, only has a few locations, and a bunch of very similar weapons, not to mention plans laid out for years to exploit… I mean provide future content. I’d rather just have a shorter, cohesive game than a piece of media that’s seemingly designed to exploit the user for their time and money by bashing them over the head with mind-numbing repetition.
Haters be damned, critics be scorned, The Order: 1886 is a fantastic game. In this era of broken and exploitative games, it’s nice to have a polished and complete, cohesive product for once. I don’t view short length as a negative. There’s no nonsense to this game; no stupid season passes, no exploitative downloadable content, no in-game advertising, no microtransactions, no game-breaking glitches, etc. It’s a solid, highly polished product beginning to end and it’s a shame that this is the exception now. Plus, it has strong minority female characters who aren’t dressed in skimpy clothing and the game easily passes the Bechdel test. You’d think it has everything the ever-increasingly whiny gaming community wants, but if there’s one thing that gamers love, it’s to complain, they want to have their cake and eat it too (insert obesity joke here). I waited until I finished the game to see what other critics thought and I disagree strongly with many of their “complaints” such as the guns being generic which is a complaint I saw a few times but never saw any further elaboration on. One other reviewer even complained the guns were generic ones we’ve seen in other games… right before going on to describe a handful of guns unique to The Order and then quickly moving on; the hypocrisy and lack of logic is headache-inducing. I know people love to complain but I feel their rage is misdirected. Maybe people thought this was strictly a third person shooter and didn’t enjoy the non-shooting parts? However, it’s unfair to bash a game for what it’s not since they never claimed the game was those things. Instead of whining about what the game isn’t, enjoy it for what it is; a beautiful looking and sounding game with a strong narrative and some of the best gunplay in years. Ready at Dawn has created a fantastic rollercoaster ride of a game and instead of people sitting back and enjoying the ride; they’re complaining that they can’t get off the rollercoaster to explore the utility closet.