I first played Order 1886 at PAX Prime in Seattle last year. It had been a game that I had been greatly anticipating up until that point but the demo was so poor that it made me question how refined the finished product would be. I usually purchase big, exclusive releases like this the day they come out, but based on the demo I played and the worryingly strict review embargo that was placed on the game I decided to hold fire. When I was offered the game by a friend some weeks later for the reduced price of £30 (the cheapest I could find anywhere else was a whopping £45 second hand) I took the plunge. Although the game has been solidly improved since that horribly patchy demo it is still not without its problems.
The Order is essentially a cover-based third person shooter, much like Gears of War, with the occasional stealth segment thrown in for good measure. Like Gears of War you can carry a small arm, a more beefy weapon (sniper rifle, shotgun, some imaginative but criminally underused scientific weapons), and either smoke or explosive grenades. Each item is assigned to a d-pad button and can be switched at the press of a button. In order to progress through the game, you need to make use of the liberally placed cover items that litter every environment by using the O button. From the safety of cover you must then peep cautiously around corners and take care of wave after wave of enemy before you can progress. Unlike Gears, The Order is wholly single player. As a staunch single-player only gamer, it comes as a breath of fresh air to me that some developers are still brave enough to spend the entirety of their time on the core game instead of allocating time to botching on an ill-conceived multi-player element. I make mention of this fact, however, as I am aware that this single-player only approach could be a massive turn off for players who value online play and might be the reason they decide not to purchase.
The events of the game take place, unsurprisingly, in the year 1886. You take control of Sir Galahad as he and his fellow Knights of the Round Table battle to keep order in an alternate-past London where citizens are threatened by both aggressive rebel uprising and marauding lycan half-breeds. Following a botched undercover mission to the rebel stronghold of Whitechapel a violent story of treachery and double-crossing unfolds. The plot makes use of actual settings and historical figures (Nikola Tesla makes an appearance and Edison is referenced) while taking liberties with other aspects of the age (zeppelins are in widespread use and some nifty gadgets that are well before their time are the brainchild of the aforementioned Tesla).
The above combined elements make for an intriguing setting and there is no denying that this dreary fantasy London is beautifully imagined. The city itself and the fantastically realised lead character design sets a new benchmark for video game graphics that will take some beating. From the very beginning of the game you are in awe of how much detail has been put into every facet of the title's aesthetics: from the fabric of Galahad's clothing, to the lighting effects that play off the marble floors you walk across; from the fabulously detailed cityscape off in the distance, to the fully furnished rooms of the windows you walk by, every effort has been made to make the game as realistic and immersive as possible.
For all the world looks amazing, however, you can't help but feel it to be an empty one. There is very little to interact with in each chapter and very few civilians wandering the streets making the city feel somewhat deserted. To make matters worse, the few interactive items you do encounter have either no relevance to the game or do little to drive the narrative onwards. Sure, there are a handful of newspapers that relate to recent goings on around the capital, but the majority of the other items are either shipping itineraries or patient lists that you can barely make out or needless nods to other games such as LittleBigPlanet.
As well as the astounding visuals, The Order is also very technically impressive. I didn't encounter any noticeable slow-down whilst playing and this takes into account the many moments in the game where there are large numbers of intricately developed enemies crowding the screen at once. I didn't encounter any of the multitude of other glitches that occur in similar titles such as characters passing through the environment or similar and the load times for a title with such detailed graphics are almost non-existent.
Most of my gripes with The Order relate to its most important aspect: gameplay. When I played the PAX demo in September last year, one of my biggest worries was to do with the patchy enemy AI. While improvements have obviously been implemented they were, unfortunately, not extensive enough. The movement and actions of enemies still defy belief; they are routinely either extremely gung-ho or adopt a crouched defensive position is plain sight, begging to be slaughtered. When you off one enemy, another will dart from a hidden position into the exact same spot as his fallen comrade, often meaning you can just leave your crosshairs where they are and down three or four enemies without adjusting your aim. Controls can be problematic too. Galahad has a huge, slow turning circle and breaking cover can be annoyingly finickety - both of these issues will cause you to take unnecessary damage on a frequent basis.
One of the most noticeable problems I found was to do with how lazily implemented battles with the lycans are. You face two different styles of lycan battle - ones with freedom of movement and ones that wholly utilise QTEs. The lycan battles where you have total control over Galahad are embarrassingly simple once you figure out what to do. Basically, you can stand in one spot and fire continuously until you see the prompt to roll away. As the enemy departs the scene you can fill him with lead from behind and repeat until the werewolf goes down. After the initial encounter in this style, once I had fathomed this method, I didn't take a single hit of damage from the similar lycans encounters that followed. The two 'boss' battles in the game are QTE lycan battles which are recycled almost identically. These encounters are just as predictable: make an attack, wait for right analog stick prompt, and repeat until the enemy is dead.
What these gameplay issues amount to, in essence, is an extremely easy game. Even on the hardest setting I found the difficulty level to be a breeze. With the exception of the shotgunner enemies - whose accuracy is nothing less than 100% every time - you'll not find much challenge in The Order 1886.
As you are probably aware, if you've been reading other reviews, The Order 1886 is quite a short game and very heavily reliant on cut-scenes and cinematics. While the length of the title isn't as brief as some outlets would have you imagine you could probably platinum it in 10 to 15 hours. I didn't have much of a problem with the length of the game having paid substantially less than the retail price and knowing I could move the game on to another friend upon completion to recoup my entire outlay, but I would have been much less happy with its length had I paid full price. One of the biggest indicators of the game's brevity comes from some of the descriptions attached to the trophies: kill 7, yes, 7, enemies with stealth; melee kill 15 enemies, etc. To exacerbate things, you'll find little reason to replay the game after finishing it outside of mopping up any missed trophies (took me about an hour) and ogling the sexy outside locales one final time. There are no unlocks that become available after completion and no new difficulty setting to test yourself against.
The story, although just about strong enough to support a game that is based so heavily on cinematics, is nothing new or special. We've seen misunderstood rebel uprisings a million times before and, if you've been gaming for long enough, you'll have come across werewolf driven plot-lines too. The introduction of a new threat late on and the anticlimactic ending might also leave you feeling short-changed as they point towards two things: everything has been set up for a sequel and you've essentially paid a premium for half a game. In addition to this, the inevitable 'twist' at the end of the game was telegraphed so far in advance that I foresaw it coming at around chapter three.
Readyatdawn should take note that the blatant reuse of areas and characters stand out far more obviously in such a splendid-looking title. Some of the areas you encounter can be quite repetitious; for example, you'll traverse a number of underground stations that all look very much alike and pass through boiler rooms that are identical to ones you passed through moments earlier. Additionally, one of the Whitechapel whores must have been busy pumping out identical ginger henchmen as you will glaringly encounter the exact same bristly face on numerous occasions during vitally important cinematics (I counted the same red-headed character model at least three times in different scenarios).
The game is first and foremost a graphical showcase of the PS4s hardware and capabilities - this is evidenced by the frequent prompts to scan the environment for such-and-such or the fact that every item you pick up has to be rotated and observed for a few seconds before it can be put down. In that regard it is a massive triumph, much in the same way Ryse was for the Xbox One. Both look outstanding while flattering to deceive where it matters most: in the gameplay. The Order is by no means a terrible game and, while the story and mechanics are nothing we haven't seen before, it is definitely worth playing to marvel at the stunning visuals alone. If you own a PS4 it is an exclusive worth picking up eventually; however, I'd be hard pushed to recommend such a short title for the current retail prices being offered (£45-50 at the time of writing) so it might be worth holding fire for a few weeks until it drops in cost or until you can pick up a second hand copy somewhere.
Overall, a pleasant enough gaming experience that could have and should have been so much more. Hopefully the sequel will carry on the stunning visuals while also adding more substantial and challenging game time to the package.