The New Order.
The Order: 1886 is an incongruous experience that is at times both frustrating and restrictive, yet brilliant in it’s world design and dazzling with its technical achievements.
Released on PlayStation 4, Developed by Ready at Dawn. Published by Sony.
The Order is a third person shooter set in alternative history, Steampunk inspired version of Victorian London. It is a time of the industrial revolution, where busy factories fill the sky with fog. Where advanced technology, powers weapons and vehicles unlike anything we have seen before, and where ancient dangers- the Lycan werewolves have resurfaced to bring death to the streets of Whitechapel.
It’s on this backdrop that you play Sir Galahad a modern day knight who is a member of The Order, an ancient organisation formed by the original Knights of the Round Table.
The first thing that needs to be said is that the graphics are quite simply, extraordinary. They are unlike anything that has come before in any console game. So beautiful are they in their motion and detail that they look superior to the prerendered cutscenes of many other games.
From the second you begin playing, the light reflection is bordering on the photorealistic. Objects in the world properly convey a sense of their material, of their construction.
Look down the road and you can see a horse & carriage. Look left to the horizon and you can see a train on a raised train track. Press the L2 button and you can zoom in for a closer look.
Sunset reflects in puddles evocatively amplifying the mood of a level. Dust particles can be seen in sunbeams. Pick up a doll and you see it’s soft, matted texture. Stand over a vent and air blows on clothing so it subtly, ruffles it. Gusts of wind blow Sir Galahad’s air so gently, so naturally you almost want him to brush it back into place.
But it’s not just your surroundings that visually impress. It’s the people you meet.
The developers have used innovative motion capture techniques with head cams on actors so it captures their facial movements as they move to create a truer more natural acted performance. You look at characters and zoom into their faces and can see their pores, and the wrinkles behind their eyes. and it is striking how improved visuals are better able to convey the reality of this being a real person in front of you.
Of course top quality graphics don’t equal gameplay, but what this illustrates is that they wonderfully immerse you in the world you are in so it appears more real then ever before
Developers Ready at Dawn have expressed how they have wanted to deliver a cinematic experience. This is immediately noticeable in that the game is presented in the 2:40 aspect ratio of epic Hollywood movies. So you get the black bars at the top and bottom which means there is less screen estate, however the narrower proportions do enhance the sense that something epic is taking place. Personally, I didn’t notice them at all as I watch and enjoy movies in the 2:40 format so it’s not an issue for me. But for people who don’t like this letterboxing that you get in movies – then I can see it will be an issue that you find difficult to ignore.
There is also a dirty film lens effect which older cinema goers will be familiar with.
Depending on lighting conditions, it cleverly simulates string and dust and scratches which occasionally be seen on the game’s camera lens which enhance the feeling that this is an aged game from another era.
Combat is standard cover shooter play where you predominantly face human enemies. In the early stages I found it to be rather pedestrian in it’s execution. You arbitrarily must walk from point A to B.. You have a gun, you duck, you shoot. Nothing inspiring but it functions well enough.
A problem arises that after the initial combat near the start there is a pacing issue, so after the first couple of gunfights there is little combat until near the latter half, more of which I will speak about soon.
But the latter combat sections have larger sized areas, more places to run and hide across and, in sequence, feel more intense so that the latter half feels becomes more exciting.
There is also a special bullet time style mode. You have a meter that fills the more you are hit, when it fills you use it to slow down time and shoot multiple opponents by moving the right stick to find a sweet spot on them, then pressing square, but I rarely was able to use it successfully. This was made more confusing by its later being used slightly differently as a Quick Time Event.
One latter level had me face a hoard of humans but as I ran for safety I discovered I’d run into there respawn area. I had guards appearing out of thin air on top of me and shooting me!
As befitting the steampunk setting there are a variety of weapons that have been infused with anachronistic technologies. As well as the pistol and combo gun there is the ARC gun which charges up an electrical current so it can literally blow peoples heads off.
There is the thermite rifle which shoots out a cloud of aluminum oxide paper, which is followed by a flare which sets it alight into a mass of burning metal.
However often you get hold of one of these sweet and powerful weapons and then a cutscene follows where they are taken away from you.
Which brings me to the game’s one fundamental flaw – which is that it repeatedly takes control away from you.
The developers have been so determined to make a cinematic game and one method they have used is to include cutscenes full of exposition, full of dramatic story with characters huffing and puffing the plot to us. This in itself is not a flaw! The Metal Gear Solid games are renown for their heavy use of cutscenes. I personally enjoy them and think they are a terrific way to reward players with some downtime after a level of heavy fighting. However the problem arises in that there is an imbalance between gameplay and non-gameplay.
For one 15 minute section all I did was watch cut scenes interspersed with a bit of walking for interaction. The art of a great story is letting you play the game and layering the story on top of it.
And it is the walking that was a real problem. You are shown how to run, by pressing L3. But for so much of the game, particularly the early section, you are prevented from doing so. Instead you are forced to plod around and it feels slower than walking in quick sand.
On occasion a game might briefly prevent you running for special emphasis or emotive effect, as in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 where you play a terrorists walking through an airport shooting civilians. But in the order it is not a one off, it is used multiple times.
You can also duck for cover and jump over low objects – but again, only when the game allows you, there is no consistency, you can’t always use them which is infuriating.
The developers have created a set of movements and controls and physics and give them to the player, them block the player from using them! You should be able to use them when you want. This restriction ruined the sense of control in the game and infuriated and frustrated me.
Quick Time Events can make cutscenes interactive – but in The Order there is an overreliance on them. They are great to complement main gameplay – but they shouldn’t form the meat of the game.
There are times when you are in combat with Lycans and have to quickly dodge out of the way to avoid being attacked, but whilst fun at first it is very simplistic. The fantastical creatures are grossly underused and I would have liked to have a full-force battle against them.
During play you find objects which you can pick up and look at and turn around and then put down again. They seem to serve no actual gameplay purpose. And you are consistently reminded to turn them around. Yes they look beautiful but the reminders irked me. It’s only later I discovered from the internet they were collectibles.
I finished the game and had the desire to go back and rediscover the collectibles I’d missed. However the game doesn’t keep a record of what you have and haven’t collected – perhaps in an effort to not seem too game-like or perhaps out of not having enough time. But it just reduced my need to replay it.
The game features a phenomenal score from Jason Graves who also worked on Dead Space and the Tomb Raider reboot.
It’s dark sombre mood and chanting harkens back to the original round table of King Arthur, and perfectly captures the brooding mystery of this ancient order and the burden that they carry.
The world depicted in The Order is very impressive. It melds a time of great social and technological change with modern fantasy ideas. The fact that this is entwined with the legend of King Arthur makes this a intrinsically British story- and its refreshing to see this done so well.
As for The actual plot involves a deep conspiracy in the heart of London and there are questions I would have like better answered and more about the history of the order that I would have like better illuminated.
Characterisation is fantastic on all levels From the nuanced motion captured movements, posture, voice acting – perfect. Considering Ready at Dawn are a West Coast American studio there was so much they could have got wrong. And there was a real danger they could have strayed into Dick Van Dyke territory with American actors impersonating Brits.
Sir Galahad is a fantastic bold new hero. Quintessentially British without that foppishness. Less Hugh Grant, more Daniel Craig. Mustachioed, bold, honourable, and perhaps a little too proud.
Isabeau is a headstrong, noble Knight. Beautiful and rounded – in just the right way.
There is a point where Sir Galahad opens a door for Isabeau as is custom for their time but she looks at him as if they both know it is an antiquated tradition that doesn’t need to be maintained.
And there is a British ethnic character who is superbly depicted as a real person without any lazy tropes.
Together, these Knights in their fantastic costume make an iconic and new order of video game heroes.
The Order: 1886 an imperfect gem. My frustration with it is that it has all the right elements built in. A world class game engine that runs with no noticeable loading. Beautiful graphics that make me want to reach out and touch through the screen. A bold new mythos with characters unlike any recent IP. But it is flawed. Not because of its cinematic approach which is a success in evoking the mood of another era. But flawed because it gives you all the great elements of the world to explore then just as you are drawn into the game it repeatedly pauses whilst it takes them away. Making you walk instead of run, making you talk when you want to shoot. If there was less handholding, less Quick Time Events and the developers allowed players the freedom to get on and play with the game then this would be a far more enjoyable experience.
It’s not to say it’s without accomplishment. Let me be as unequivocal as I can be, this is the most stunning looking console game there has ever been in the entire history of console games and the mythos has been crafted with care and love. The uneven pace in the first half noticeably improves in the second half, with more action and more set pieces which left me wanting to play more in this wonderful new world.