Anarchy in the U.K.
By now The Order 1886 hardly needs an introduction. Developer Ready At Dawn’s fantastical shooter, set against the dingy backdrop of 19th century London has been plagued for months by a press that seems all but eager to see the studio’s first major console release fail. Rumors of a savagely short playtime and rampant quick time events have endlessly dogged the game, much to the chagrin of the developer and Sony die-hards alike. Now, The Order is finally upon us, and we can finally see if RAD’s gray and dreary rendition London, replete with supernatural ghouls and tried-and-true gunplay, can rise above the furor of its detractors to become the Playstation 4’s first killer app of 2015.
Right out of the gate it’s worth mention that yes, The Order 1886 is a short game. How short, you ask? Well, my playthrough on the game’s default difficulty setting took just over six hours. If money is tight and you’re having trouble justifying plunking down sixty dollars on a fleeting experience, The Order is certainly not the game for you. However, those who do take the plunge will find the game does offer mildly entertaining, if ultimately hollow experience.
The Order 1886 puts players behind the fiercely mutton-chopped Grayson, also known by his knight title Sir Galahad, a member of the prestigious Order, responsible for protecting the nobility and upper crust of British society. Centuries old, the Order has been locked in a conflict with the half breeds, supernatural entities such as werewolves and vampires who’ve attempted to make the sodden streets of London their eternal buffet. As if secretive groups of murderous lycanthropes weren’t enough, heavily-armed revolutionaries have taken to the streets in an effort to topple the throne. Suffice to say, Sir Galahad and the Knights of The Order certainly seem to have their work cut out for them.
Though you’d never guess it from the molasses-paced movements from the game’s main character as he saunters from point to point, soaking in the moody ambiance of the rain-slicked streets of Whitechapel in-between firefights. It’s abundantly clear from the beginning that developer Ready At Dawn is very proud of the work they put into crafting The Order’s stunning vistas and crumbling streets – and it certainly is gorgeous – but these frequent sightseeing pauses are often uneventful and serve to do little more than pull you out of the world the studio so dearly wants to immerse you in.
The same can be said for the abundance of quick time events – obviously an unwelcome souvenir from Ready At Dawn’s previous experience on the handheld God of War titles – that pop up all too often in the game’s opening hours. Even still, they’re at least well choreographed and consistently entertaining to watch, but they always seem to pop up at just the wrong time, pulling you out of the experience. Thankfully, once the game finds its stride a few chapters in these tiresome tasks fall to the wayside as you progress through the web of intrigue that takes you from the alleyways of Whitechapel to the heart of ancient palaces in your quest for answers and revenge.
While the hobbled pace and quick time events may mar The Order 1886‘s overall package, the same certainly can’t be said for the game’s visuals. Ready At Dawn has done an unbelievable job of harnessing the Playstation 4’s raw graphical horsepower, crafting a game that stands as a sturdy reminder of the system’s serious visual chops. From the immaculate facial expressions of the game’s supporting cast to the haunting lighting and painstakingly detailed environments, The Order 1886 comes dressed to kill, frequently leaving me wondering whether I was in control of my character or locked into a cinematic sequence. The game runs well as well, even during the most heated firefights.
Unfortunately, while the game’s main cast looks absolutely stunning, it’s disappointing to see that enemy models are so plain and repetitious, with only a handful of different foes to confront you, most of which look the part of bowler hat wearing brutes and demented chimney sweeps. A little more enemy variety would have gone a long way towards spicing things up, especially considering the fact that despite the story’s emphasis on the supernatural, surprisingly few Lycans join the fray, and when they do their brain-dead AI makes them more of a nuisance than anything as they mindlessly charge and retreat, offering an exercise in redundancy rather than an exhilarating encounter of the furred kind.
When it comes to The Order’s moment-to-moment gameplay you’ll feel right at home if you’ve played Gears of War, Resident Evil 4, or any other third-person shooter released in the past decade. most areas consist of narrow pathways and cobbled streets lined with cover points where you stop-and-pop, rinse, and repeat until you eventually reach a more open area that becomes essentially a shooting gallery, filled with red barrel tropes and mindless enemies as you hide behind cover and pick off seemingly endless droves of gun-toting goons. The Order’s boilerplate gunplay feels mostly weightless, and even though the alternate history setting offers some exciting technology such as Tesla cannons and thermite guns, the majority of the armaments you’ll use on your six-hour adventure are the standard pistols, shotguns, and carbines you’ve likely used a thousand times before in much better games. That’s not to say there’s no fun to be had, and the game controls exceptionally well, with some of the best cover mechanics I’ve seen in some time, but with such rote mechanics you’ll be hard-pressed to recall a particularly memorable encounter by the time the credits roll.
It’s a crying shame Ready At Dawn chose to play it safe so frequently, because the groundwork laid down in terms of stunning presentation and the rich, lovingly-crafted fiction all show the hallmarks of what could be the start of a formidable franchise. However, for every two steps forward this linear adventure takes you, it slowly lurches one step back through its formulaic gameplay mechanics and tepid gunplay. Even still, the strong performances by the game’s supporting characters and well written storyline kept me engaged, despite all of The Order’s shortcomings because I genuinely cared for the characters, and wanted to see just where the story was going next. It’s too bad the story is cut seemingly arbitrarily short, and many of the tantalizing threads in the story’s tapestry are cut short, never to coalesce into the grand epic Ready At Dawn may have envisioned for the game.
All in all, it’s hard to recommend The Order 1886. With a story that can be plowed through in a sitting or two and nothing in the way of additional gameplay modes, it’s hard to come back for more of this largely linear adventure unless you’re just dying to track down all of the random audio logs scattered throughout the stages. While certainly not lacking in terms of presentation, Ready At Dawn’s roots as a handheld game developer are readily apparent when you consider the game’s most harrowing moments pop with all of the aplomb of a wet firecracker when compared to other titles in the genre. Ready At Dawn’s Playstation 4 debut may have had its sights set on London’s hazy horizon, but potential buyers would be wise to set theirs on Redbox or wait until this gallant knight marches dutifully into the nearest bargain bin.
Final Verdict 2.5 / 5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment ; Developer: Ready At Dawn; Players: 1; Released: February 20, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99