Thanks to ever-improving technology, video games have been able to almost catch up to and emulate both real life and the movies. That’s been both a good thing and a bad thing, though, because sometimes developers focus more on realism and storytelling than they do on gameplay, which is almost always the most important thing. Such is the case with Ready At Dawn’s much talked-about PlayStation 4 exclusive and brand new IP, The Order: 1886. It’s supposed to be a game, but it’s almost as much of a movie as it is an interactive piece of fiction.
Teased when Sony revealed its newest console, The Order: 1886 is set in an alternate timeline, wherein ancient evil and steampunk technology have come to blows during the latter part of the 19th century. Well, the final months of 1886, to be exact, but I guess that’s obvious given the game’s title.
You play as Sir Galahad (real name Grayson), an elder in the Knights of the Round Table. We’re not talking about the same group that you’ll find in history books, though, because these semi-immortal men (and women) are focused on keeping the supernatural at bay. Werewolves, in fact. And, in order to do so, they ingest a strange black liquid that makes it so that they’re able to both live a long time and heal incredibly fast.
The Order: 1886 starts with a bang then slows to a crawl, due to lengthy, exposition-filled cutscenes that sandwich short bursts of gameplay. Said issue carries through until the end, too, because whenever things start to pick up they’re soon brought back down to earth thanks to an overload of exposition. Needless to say, this isn’t the next dudebro shooter.
Describing the first part of the game would invoke spoilers, because things don’t start at the beginning of Galahad’s lycanthrope-based tale. However, when the reset button is hit, and the campaign truly begins, we’re introduced to a poorly established revolution. One between humans, it seems, which the Order itself has been tasked with fighting. Their enemies – known simply as Rebels – act like typical, gun-toting human beings, until they begin to turn into wolves. Then, shit gets real.
Expect to find yourself involved in an investigation as you proceed, because it ends up becoming apparent that things are far from what they seem. It’s a somewhat interesting storyline, but far from anything noteworthy or unique, least of all action packed. Like a lot of period pieces, this is a rather slow burn, which mixes collectible hunting and a few investigative searches in with its cutscenes and gameplay.
By the time the credits rolled, I had put approximately seven hours into the game. Outside of the cutscenes, which seemed to make up more than a third of the experience, the action was disappointingly sparse and uninspired. I wish I could say different, but it’s the truth: This may be a big exclusive, but it’s a relatively middling affair overall.
With such an interesting premise and a setting that promotes creativity, you’d think that Ready At Dawn’s highly publicized release would offer noteworthy and memorable gameplay, but it doesn’t. Despite some cool weapons – including one that either stuns enemies or sets them on fire depending on your mood – it plays out with loads of familiarity. You simply move, duck under cover and then pop out to shoot foes. Rinse, repeat and redo that over and over again and you have most of the game, outside of a couple of forced stealth sections. Even a neat blimp scaling sequence loses its memorability after its opening cutscene.
Sure, the mechanics are relatively sound and work well, but there’s nothing revolutionary to talk about here. Even when the game’s limited amount of werewolves (yes, you read that right) appear, they’re easy to dispatch. All you need to do is back up against a wall and wait for them to come at you. Shoot at them as they run, then press X to dive away from their hinted at attacks whenever need be. Eventually, each one will drop to the floor with an icon over its head, allowing you to do a close combat execution move. Simple, really.
Speaking of close combat encounters, you’ll want to note that The Order is full of quick-time events. In fact, its two boss battles are based around them, and are both almost identical. Search online and you’ll see comparisons of the two, which show just how similar they really are. It’s astounding.
During the majority of the campaign, you’ll be tapping buttons to escape from grapples, interact with the environment or open chests. It’s traditional QTE gameplay, which works, but fails to leave a lasting impression. Then again, the same can be said about this entire game, despite its developer’s attempts to introduce memorable gadgets made by Nikola Tesla himself.
Don’t get me wrong and come away thinking that there’s no fun to be had here, because that isn’t the case. When The Order gives the player control, it’s relatively enjoyable. It’s just not up to par with the best exclusives in the industry, which is too bad considering how much it was hyped. Really, by the time I got the hang of the game and started to get into it, it was over. There may be sixteen chapters to play through, but at least three of them are entirely cutscene-based, including two of the latter ones. It truly felt as if the game ended in the blink of an eye after I hit chapter twelve.
Now, where this new IP does succeed in notable fashion is in the presentation department.
Built to take advantage of the PlayStation 4’s power, and with a focus on cinematic storytelling, The Order: 1886 is an impressive visual treat that performs incredibly well. Its characters look, feel and act in realistic fashion (outside of the supernatural beings, of course) and things truly do look movie-like. What helps and hurts at the same time, though, is the game’s use of black bars like those you’d see on a non-anamorphic widescreen DVD. Sure, they add to the film-like aesthetic, with its grainy filters and over-use of detail reducing bloom effects, but they’re also annoying from a gamer’s standpoint. After all, we’re not used to dealing with such things, and losing screen space is a nuisance.
The actors, themselves, do a solid job of bringing their characters to life. From the stubborn leader to the French, lady-loving rookie, each one feels alive and real. The writing also impresses from time-to-time, but is held back by lengthy exposition and an overabundance of slow-paced dialogue. Pacing isn’t this game’s strong point, you see.
In the end, The Order: 1886 is a game that I’d love to wholly recommend but unfortunately cannot. It’s disappointing, too, because there was a lot of potential there that the developers were unable to capitalize on. Instead, they’ve given us a middling and short title that is almost more of a movie than it is a video game. It’s relatively enjoyable while it lasts, but you won’t keep fond memories of it with you for years to come, nor will you want to revisit it once the credits roll.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which we were provided with.
The Order: 1886 is a disappointing and short game that fails to live up to the hype that surrounds it. However, if you're willing to overlook its faults and sit through its abundance of lengthy cutscenes, you'll find that there's some fun to be had. It's fleeting, but it's there.