The Order: 1886 Review – Old School Mechanics

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Publisher: Sony
Developer: Ready at Dawn
Platform: PS4 (exclusive)
Release Date: February 20, 2015

When The Order: 1886 was first showed it was touted as an example of the PlayStation 4′s power. Gorgeous visuals in a Victorian setting, unique guns, and a compelling story — it was going to be everything you could ask for in a third-person shooter. While the promises were noble unfortunately the PS4 exclusive doesn’t quite live up to it’s billing. While there are some things The Order does splendidly it’s not enough to hide the fact that it’s a new gen title held back by some very dated gameplay mechanics.

The Order takes place in a dope rendition of Victorian London, a world where both werewolves and the Knights of the Roundtable exist and have been fighting each other for centuries. At the outset of the game, the werewolf threat has grown, seemingly aided by a group of human rebels, and London finds itself besieged by the monsters. At the center of all of this is Sir Galahad, a centuries-old knight who finds himself pulled into a conspiracy involving everything from magic water to a young Nikola Tesla. The story is as outlandish and predictable as it sounds.

Visually, The Order is stunning and easily one of the best looking PS4 titles out there. Moving like a cut-scene in motion, hitting you layers of texture, surface effects, sultry mists and cinematic lighting, and highly detailed environments. Ready at Dawn’s artists have done a fantastic job of melding steampunk and high-Victorian art and design.

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From the opening scene its obvious that The Order wants to be cinematic in its presentation. It succeeds in that aspect but that is also one of the main things that bog down the game. You’ll have to endure a lot of long cutscenes that you can’t skip through and that detracts from the overall pacing. I will say though, The Order has some of the best examples of in-game cinematics that I’ve ever seen — even if they can run a bit long. The game appears in a letterboxed format, one typically reserved for films but when applied to a video game the results are not ideal. Because of the tight screen you’ll have difficulty getting a bead on the action especially in high intensity fire fights. When I would take cover it felt more like I was being pinned down than strategically planning to return fire. Maybe this was developer Ready At Dawn’s intent all along but I would prefer my movies and video games remain seperate. Another thing that was nicely done were the transitions between the cutscenes and the live action. You’ll transition into and out of action in a completely seamless fashion with no difference in visual quality between the cutscenes and the part where you’re walking around. They’re so seamless in fact that often times you’ll be caught off guard because they jump right into a quick time event (QTE) that may call for you to disarm a guard who’s trying to kill you. Because there’s no load times between events, be prepared to have Galahad die a few sudden deaths as I experienced when I didn’t hammer on X quick enough and got my head blown off.

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Gameplay wise The Order doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before in shooters. Cover shooting is the basic line up the target and popping out to kill enemies who conviently allow themselves to be taken down. It’s almost like they don’t know they’re in the middle of a gunfight as easy as they make themselves willing targets. Galahad has unlimited access to something called Blackwater that he can down to replinish his health when he takes on too much damage. While the Blackwater gives him an air of invulnerability, it’s almost necessary as you’ll be hit with a share amount of bullets. The hardest part of the gun battles is the shear amount of enemies that you’ll have to dispatch before the area is clear. You’ll also have to be on guard for gunners who will run right up to you and shoot you at point blank range. In these battles you will be teamed with a fellow Knight, but be warned: do not count on them for much assistance. In one battle I was teamed up with a female Knight against about five armed rebels. Curious to see how well she would hold up, I stopped firing my weapon only to watch in horror as she took aim at a guy and unloaded on a brick wall instead. It wasn’t until I popped out and took the guy out myself were we able to clear the area. So don’t count on much help from the A.I. in battles as they are mostly incompetent. While I don’t think it was the developer’s intent there was one moment I thought was particularly funny. As I was taking cover behind a wall, I attempted to peek around and take a shot only to have Galahad scream out to no one in particular” “I don’t have a clear shot!” While I assumed he was talking to me the whole randomness of it was pure comedy.

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In the more intense gun fights Galahand as the ability to engage a mode called Blacksight. When Blacklight is engaged you can use it to focus/target deadly adversaries quickly when manually aiming would not be fast enough. You can replenish the Blacksight meter by killing enemies in combat (including melee) as well as by mashing (X) after you drink Blackwater (when downed in combat). After awhile combat does get a bit tiresome as there is no variation. On the occassions you come across werewolves they offer a bit more of a challenge even if though their attacks are scripted. Werewolves will run at you to take a swipe at your neck then turn around and hightail it back around a corner or take cover behind an object. It is when they are retreating or running at you when they are most vulnerable. Fill a werewolf with enough lead and you’ll be prompted to finish it off by pressing triangle and delivering a cinematic sword right through the beast’s chest. The rare fights against werewolves are the best parts of The Order’s action, mostly because their hit-and-run attacks are fast and less predictable than trading gunfire with the standard enemy.

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The BMR Endgame

The Order: 1886 set out to blur the line between movie and video games and while they pulled it off, that is the very reason why its cinematic values yields restrictive gameplay. There is also no multiplayer mode and the game can be completed in about 7 hours. It’s a shame because The Order is a stunning graphical showcase but unfortunately that can’t cover for a title that is more flash than substance. – written and compiled by DJ Rhude

BMR Rating: 6.5

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.