As Sony’s first big PS4 exclusive of 2015, The Order: 1886 arrives with a fair bit of pressure on its virtual shoulders. The hype has been mainly surrounded the game’s visuals, with very little attached with the gameplay. In most cases, that’s anything but a good omen. Is The Order: 1886 all style and no substance, or does it actually deliver on all fronts? The answer is somewhere in between…
Game: The Order: 1886
Developer: Ready at Dawn
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
(Review copy provided by Sony)
In the interest of fairness and being open, I should probably start by disclosing I have a beard. That’s right, I’m fond of good facial hair. Why am I stating this? Well, because most of the characters (male of course!) in The Order: 1886 have glorious looking beards and mustaches. They truly are a sight to behold, much like the rest of the game itself. The Order: 1886 is the best looking console game I have laid my eyes upon, so far anyway. There’s no other way to put it. The environments, character models, weapons and even the clothing, everything about the game’s visuals screams quality. There’s an incredible amount of detail present too, a fact which is most apparent when you’re given the opportunity to look at certain objects (mainly weapons) a little more closely as the game progresses. The lighting is immaculate and thoroughly impressive also, adding to the atmosphere in a few sections late on.
Running at a glorious 1080p and 30 frames per second, there’s not one standout negative thing I can say about the visual side of The Order: 1886. If pushed hard, there was one occasion where the frame rate dropped slightly for a couple of seconds, but that really is me nitpicking. Also, I guess you could say it’s not the most colourful game, and you’d be right. However, this is Victorian London we’re talking about here. Let’s face it, that era wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Plus, the colour palette more than suits the tone of the game, and that’s what matters the most. Like I said, it’s hard to really fault the game’s visuals. Sure, it’s a linear, more directed experience than most, making it a bit easier to focus on the visual fidelity, but that shouldn’t take anything away from what Ready at Dawn has done. When you first take control and begin to move around, it is a genuine “wow” moment. The difference between cutscene and gameplay visuals are minimal to say least. Stunning, simply stunning. The black bars on the top and bottom of the screen are the only thing I can think of that might annoy some, but they’re present for a reason and serve to add to the cinematic nature of the game.
Okay, visuals aside, nothing else about The Order: 1886 particularly stands out. That’s not me saying the gameplay is terrible, it’s just that for the most part it all feels too ‘safe’. It might sound harsh, but the gameplay style is a combination of Uncharted and Gears of War with plenty of QTEs (quick time events) thrown into the mix. For the first 30 to 45 minutes of the game (more on the length later) you barely feel in control of what’s going on. It’s basically just move forward a little, QTE and cutscene, those three things occasionally in a different order. Half way through the first chapter, when you do gain more control over proceedings, that’s when The Order: 1886 gets better and a whole lot more enjoyable. The gunplay is solid, up there with the likes of Uncharted, complimented by some decent enemy AI. It’s a shame then that the gunplay is somewhat underused. You see, there’s a nice variety of themed weapons, but you don’t really get to use them properly. There are a couple of decent shootouts in the game, but nothing that you could label as a memorable set-piece. The battles that should be amazing end up being a QTE-fest, which is ultimately quite disappointing. Given the direction the story goes, I was waiting for at least one quality set-piece battle, but sadly it just never surfaced. You do see a woman’s breast and a naked man’s penis though, so that’s something I guess…
As I said, it’s a real shame because the gunplay is actually pretty good, with some genuinely cool weapons on offer. You have your standard pistols, rifles and machine guns, but it’s the themed weapons that are the most fun to use. You have the M2 Falchion with a secondary fire option that stuns enemies and the massive Thermite rifle that you can use to burn enemies to a crisp. The latter is criminally underused in combat scenarios, it’s sad. So much more could have been made of it, resulting in an epic battle or two. Staying with the gunplay for another short moment, the slow motion Blacksight feature is an interesting addition. Playing out in a similar way to Red Dead Redemption’s Dead-Eye mode, you fill up a meter by taking out enemies and then press L1 to go into slow motion, making it easier to take out a large group. To be honest, playing on the medium difficulty, I didn’t feel the need to use Blacksight that often. In fact, at times, I forgot it even existed. It’s a nice enough addition and can help you out if you’re in a pickle, but you could get through the game without it if you had to.
The gunplay is backed up by some incredibly brutal stealth and melee takedowns. The latter you simply initiate by getting close to an enemy during battle, waiting for the triangle prompt to pop up and press the button. You can be shot and lose health during these takedowns, so I’d recommend waiting until there are one or two enemies around rather than a massive group. Common sense really! The stealth takedowns work slightly differently, tasking you with pressing triangle at the right moment rather than just pressing it. It brings some semblance of skill into the mix, but you mess it up and it’s instant fail. That leads me nicely onto the stealth sections proper, where instant fails if you get spotted are the order of the day. They’re actually not that hard, but the fact that you can’t try and “fix” the situation if you’re spotted is a bit weird. It’s simply instant fail and back to the last checkpoint you go. Loading times are one or two seconds max, so it’s a minor annoyance rather than a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Tying up the gameplay side of things is the cover system, which is a bit hit and miss. You see, Ready at Dawn has included what they’re calling a soft cover system. If you exit cover by simply moving away from it rather than pressing X you go into a soft cover state where your character stays low and goes into cover automatically. This sounds great in theory and, for the most part, works really well, but in stealth sections or occasionally during combat you’ll get attached to cover when you don’t really want to. The obvious remedy here is to press X to properly leave cover, but when you’re used to cover systems in games like Uncharted and Gears of War this can lead to some unintentional awkward gameplay at times. I was comfortable with the system before the credits rolled, and I’m sure most of you will be too, but I thought the it was worth a mention nonetheless. Speaking of mentioning things, not that it’s a huge part of the gameplay, there’s a quite interesting use of the DualShock 4’s touch pad early on in the game (won’t ruin it for you). Personally, I thought it was a nice little touch (no pun intended), worthy of a tiny shout out at the very least.
As you’d expect, there is a story present in The Order: 1886 and it’s surprisingly decent. Set in an alternate version of Victorian London (in 1886 obviously), you play as Sir Galahad. You’re a veteran Knight of Her Majesty’s Order, tasked with keeping the world safe from half-breed monsters. After doing that successfully for centuries, a new threat emerges and it’s up to The Order to investigate. I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil anything, but after a slow opening the story really comes together nicely. So much so that I was genuinely interested to see what happens next. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not up there with the likes of Uncharted or The Last of Us, but you can tell Ready at Dawn is a studio blessed with some ex-Naughty Dog talent. Slow opening aside, when everything does come together it’s thanks to well realised characters and their dialogue. The voice acting is excellent and it’s backed up by some top notch background music, only adding to the weight of the story. Jason Grave and Austin Wintory’s ‘The Knights’ theme is particularly brilliant, epic even. After initially thinking the story would be a bit by the numbers, I finished the game wanting more from The Order: 1886’s universe. That’s the biggest compliment I can pay it, story wise anyway.
If you’re thinking, “okay, story mode sounds good enough, what else is there?” Well, that’s it. The Order: 1886 is all about the single player campaign mode, there’s no multiplayer or any other extras. It’s not that long either. My first playthrough, on the medium difficulty, took me around 6-7 hours. I wasn’t timing myself, so I don’t know the precise time, but that’s the estimate. How much of that was actual gameplay? Hard to say exactly, but I’d say around 5-6 hours. Now, for a game that’s being sold at most online retailers at £40 (or slightly more), that’s a tough sell. Apart from going back to collect a few things and look at newspapers, there’s very little replay value with The Order: 1886. It’s a good game, but the whole value for money debate is sure to pop up on social media and beyond. At the end of the day, it’s down to individual opinion. Gaming is a subjective medium after all. Some will find the 6-7 hour campaign plus the astounding visuals to be worth the price of entry, whereas others won’t at all. Yours truly would fall somewhere in between both camps. It’s just a shame that (inevitably) the length debate will overshadow what is a decent new IP and its impressive technical achievements.
In terms of the visuals, The Order: 1886 lives up to the hype and then some. It’s without a doubt the best looking console game out there at the moment. The story, slow start aside, is surprisingly good too. On the gameplay front, it’s decent, but ultimately a mixed bag. There are plenty of good ideas present, but they’re sadly underused in favour of QTE sequences. Strange. That said, I genuinely hope it does well as I think there’s the potential for a special sequel. Seriously, Ready at Dawn could have the beginnings of a great series here. I just hope The Order: 1887 or whatever it’s called has a bit more substance to match 1886’s incredible style.