The Order: 1886 review
Times really have changed. It used to be that the open world games and online multiplayer battlegrounds were the outliers, rare beasts lost in a sea of solo adventures. Today, it’s the other way around – purely single-player games are so wildly outnumbered by online-focused releases and sprawling open worlds that there’s an odd novelty to them. Truth be told, not every game needs to have multiplayer modes or a gigantic open world – Dead Space 2 and LA Noire respectively perfectly attest to this. So while a brief yet explosive cinematic adventure might not be what some modern gamers want, it’s quite clearly the best way to showcase the true power of a new console just after its first birthday.
For all that times may have changed, this process is cyclic; those using Gears Of War as a dismissive comparison for The Order likely don’t know how right they are. Epic’s cover shooter came along shortly into the Xbox 360’s life and while linear in design, its visuals were able to shred those of every other game available as a result. Take it back another generation and God Of War fits the same brief, so it’s somewhat poetic that the team behind The Order had a hand in shaping Kratos into the legend he is today. At this stage in a generation, people just want to see what the console they blew hundreds of pounds on can actually do. The honeymoon period is over – smiling along with slightly improved PS3 games is a 2014 chump’s game. And in that respect, The Order: 1886 does what it came to do, because frankly, you’ve never seen anything like it.
From a purely visual standpoint, The Order is peerless. With the possible exception of hair (this will go down in the history books as ‘The Generation That Couldn’t Get Hair Right’ – expect to see more hats over the next couple of years to try and disguise this) and the odd bit of facial weirdness, it’s a technical showcase that likely won’t be matched for some time. 2.35:1 cinema widescreen, used artistically rather than through necessity according to the studio, allows for post-processing and other effects that wouldn’t be possible on a full-screen 1080p image at this level of fidelity. It’s something that few will notice or bemoan in the long run either way – it took a little adjusting to at first but we’d forgotten that the game was even letterboxed at all until we finished it and noticed that the title screen had black borders above and below. It just looks like a movie, and that’s sort of the point. It’s almost the opposite of LA Noire – where the Rockstar game had stunning characters let down by lacklustre environments, here it’s the world that steals the show and its inhabitants that occasionally drop the ball. They look great and all, but infrequent odd animation transitions and some slightly iffy facial stuff can still shatter the illusion of realism.
It’s a shame too, because this recreation of 19th Century London is frequently jaw-dropping. From the oppressive grimy Underground tunnels to the foggy streets of Whitechapel, architecture is top drawer throughout. Even those moments where you feel more penned in are rich in detail, plus it makes the illusion of scale when you get back to the city even more impressive. ‘Illusion’ is the key word there, as The Order is extremely linear in its design. The odd branch in the path may lead to an audio diary (because videogames) or a cache of ammo that inexplicably fits your ludicrous weapons (also because videogames) but generally speaking, it’s Final Fantasy XIII all over again – it’s a corridor, but it’s a bloody gorgeous corridor and it’s somewhat more acceptable for a shooter to follow this template. Most modern cover shooters and FPS games do, however hard they may try to disguise it, and not one of them looks this good.
Mechanically, The Order is solid, surprisingly so for a game that does this much. Gunplay is tight, aside from minor annoyances like the fact that not all cover can be snapped to. In fact, purely in terms of cover shooting, this is as good an example as we’ve seen in some time. While tucked safely behind an object, visibility is extremely limited (much more so than in similar games), meaning you need to peek out or fully lean out and aim in order to spot enemies. Trouble is, doing so invites bullets. Played on Hard (Normal is just too forgiving), the challenge is both reasonable and rewarding. Snipers showcase this best – once they spot you, they’ll camp your location and make anything more than a momentary lean fatal. You need to bait them by briefly popping your head out of cover, forcing them to waste a shot and buying you just enough time to drop them with a well-placed counter shot of your own.
We knew from early hands-on sessions that shooting was good, but it’s the amount of deviation from hiding behind stuff and firing cool guns that impresses most. Several sections slow things down and demand stealthy play, a short melee-only one fairly early on setting up for a more complex one later where silent ranged weapons come into play. Instant failure on detection isn’t ideal, but it’s not exactly Metal Gear – patrol routes are simple and guards are, in the later sections at least, highlighted by directional lanterns that cleverly visualise their vision cones. There’s also the odd foray into horror, with the hospital being particularly unsettling. Gruesome instruments line the chambers and beastly enemies lie in wait, giving the game a sense of tension not dissimilar to that of Dead Space. It even toys with basic platforming (don’t worry, it works) and slows the pace with what we suppose could loosely be described as puzzles – don’t expect to be taxed by either, although both are welcome in helping the game avoid being a long line of boxes to hide behind while shooting at things.
The weapons themselves are an odd bunch, ranging from the borderline useless (the machine pistol may as well fire feathers and tears) to the ludicrously overpowered – the arc rifle locks onto any nearby enemies after a brief charge and obliterates all but the hardiest in a bloody explosion, while the shoulder cannon makes up for the fact that it only gets one outing by having unlimited rounds with which to nuke a small army of rebels. The Coach Gun and various magnums are also capable of ruining lives with a single pull of the trigger, making it easy to fill your arsenal with powerful tools. Still, expect their limited ammo pools to mean you will have to slum it with an auto rifle or pistol from time to time during longer shooting sections.
While we’re no fans of the developers’ insistence on referring to its melee combat as ‘cinemelee’ (better or worse than ‘levolution’?), the action itself is satisfying. A few sequences take the form of relatively simple QTEs, but there are a couple of close combat encounters where the playbook is opened up to offer a more involved system where you select how to move or attack when you can and defend when necessary. The cinematic payoff to each brutal blow landed or incoming strike turned away makes it easy to see where that insufferable buzzword came from and, again, it’s quite unlike anything else out there – it’s almost like an evolved version of a fight scene from a Quantic Dream game in a way, but it’s far more satisfying than that sounds, due to that extra layer of involvement.
Ready At Dawn has managed to squeeze a surprising amount of variety into The Order’s somewhat brief runtime (a Hard run taking in the sights will probably come in at around the seven-hour mark), so it’s impressive to see no one section or gameplay style let the side down. Production values are insanely high, and not just visually. Dialogue and voice work are both pretty darn good and presentation from intro to finale is flawless.
But as a somewhat brief linear cinematic experience with little more to do after the credits roll than scour for the few collectibles you missed and mop up a couple of Trophies for the Platinum, whether or not you’ll feel satisfied that you’re getting your money’s worth with The Order very much depends on what you’re looking for. If it’s just a graphical showcase you’re after, this stands mustachioed head and pauldroned shoulders above anything else available on any console. If you’re the kind of person who likes to play through games multiple times regardless of a lack of reason to do so beyond simple enjoyment, you too will likely feel like you’re getting a fair deal. But if you want more for your money than a ten-hour Platinum and an enjoyable-while-it-lasts explosive romp, you should probably just hold out for a price drop or the inevitable wave of pre-owned copies – The Order is definitely worth playing, but it’s hard to accurately gauge its true value when so many games are offering so much more in terms of content.
Verdict: Yes, it’s pretty short. Yes, it’s pretty linear. But the varied action is great, the visuals peerless and production values off the charts. In terms of a pure showcase for what PS4 can really do, look no further.