Developed by: Ready at Dawn Studios Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment America Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
This console generation has had its full first year. We’ve had plenty of great games and some serious flops. There were some games that were broken badly and others that flew to great heights. With year two coming round it’s time for all the systems to really show what they can do in the exclusives department. The Order 1886 is a new IP created by Ready at Dawn, a studio whose only well established games were on the PlayStation Portable a little ways back. Does The Order 1886 bring the thunder or is it something that crawled out of a gutter? Read on to find out!
Style all in order:
I will start with this because it really goes without saying: this game is GORGEOUS. Ready at Dawn clearly strove to hit a fidelity that is almost unheard of. It borderlines photo realistic. It’s nuts. Graphics are not the only thing this game has going on for it in the design department. You have to be either dedicated or insane to commit to the level of detail the artist have put in place. Everything runs on the in-game engine. Everything. The weapons are visually pleasing and plausible given the era the game is supposed to take place in. And the architecture has more flair than London has fog. Everything moves around in 1080p at 30 frames per second; the frame rate is flawless for the direction this game has taken. The game sports “widescreen” style that allows you to really soak it all in and it’s quite satisfying. But a game cannot be visuals alone. How good is the story and how does it play?
On a brisk London morning:
You can tell this game was designed to tell a story. This is where the game hits its middle ground. The story is fairly good. It’s not great for a few reasons: the content of the story is pretty cliché. You play as Gallahad, a Knight of the Sacred order, whose mission is to maintain the balance between the humans and Lycanthrope. On his way to stop a group of escaping convicts they begin to discover a treacherous plot that will threaten the very balance of the world itself. See, cliché. Pacing is also a bit of an issue. The game is relatively short, so the expectation was kind of non-stop. The actual pace is stop for a bit…sprint…walk….sprint etc. There is an issue with the cutscenes going on for a bit too long at points. Because of the interactive nature this leads to some issues for me. The story itself is actually quite mature in its presentation, both visually and on a written level. Where The Order 1886 will hook you in is through its cast.
A true Knights honor lies in his line delivery:
The characters and the sense of the world. Galahad is likable, as are his fellow Knights. The only characters that we don’t get any reasons to care for are some of the NPCs on the other side of our gun barrel. I always felt the cannon fodder was really bland. The game also has several historical figures involved, like Jack the Ripper and my personal favorite: Nikola Tesla. Tesla’s presence gives the technology a huge boost in authenticity and really adds to the steampunk motif. I need to mention that the acting in this game is phenomenal. The casting is perfect. The delivery of their lines could have been done with phony accents and possibly induced some serious eye rolling. This is avoided not only with the talent of the cast, but with some very well thought out writing. No line ever felt out of character or out of context. The writing lends itself to the overall story and characters. The world building done in this game begs for this to become a series. I ate every bit of the lore I could dig up. There are some logical gaps however. During one of the chapters there is a sequence where you have to kill impostors to prevent an assassination, but the guards you encountered before were possibly legit and yet you kill them anyways. I can more or less over look this but I really wanna know how the characters didn’t realize that. Apart from that, the world is easily believable. It’s wicked easy to get immersed, despite some short comings with the mechanics.
Polished as the palace:
Ready at Dawn went to great lengths to share their new universe with us. The games is incredibly well polished. It’s polished to a fault in fact. This is due in part because everything runs in engine, and part of because how well the game is tailored for its cinematic themes. There are times when you can’t really tell when you should be holding your controller to press a button or just sitting back and enjoying. It’s incredible how well they got the game to seamlessly flow between the two, but they went a bit overboard. The amount of cutscenes in this game are fairly hefty. There needs to be some kind of indicator on when to expect gameplay elements during the cutscenes that require player input. Otherwise, the mechanics when you’re moving around and exploring are just peachy. The game gives you opportunity to appreciate most of its set pieces before a fire fight. Quick Time Events that occur flow easily and make sense to their on screen context. The controls are simple and very responsive. Aiming, strafing, and taking cover all left me feeling satisfied. There are only a couple of things I feel they can make adjustments to: first, they need to add the ability to move around a corner of a cover spot to get to another part of the structure would make fire fights and stealth flow better. Deus Ex Human Revolution absolutely had the right approach. Second, using the button prompts to activate things or pick things up are contextual to the characters point of view, not the relative position of the object. This is a bit odd. If these two things can be fixed in future installments I would be grateful. Oh, and speaking of gunfights…..
If you are expecting a large amount of innovation from the Order 1886 you will be disappointed. We’ve already pretty much innovated to the point where they may not be any major leaps left to make. Third person shooters have had a lot of innovations over the past decade or so. Gears of War was a game that brought most of these innovations to the forefront and set new standards. My main problem with Gears was how sticky the cover system felt and I never quite felt like the cover worked the way I wanted it too. The Order 1886 is great about making sure it functions better than expected. Cover works as you would expect it. It’s easy to get in and out of cover. However, as I mentioned before, the ability to move around a corner is totally missing. Once in cover you can peer just above the cover or to its side and then take aim. This where I encountered an issue with combat.
The game lets you have two weapons at a time, a side arm (usually a pistol) and a primary weapon (usually a rifle). Lining up your shots is a very smooth experience, though the results vary when actually using the firearm. No two weapons feel the same, which is both a blessing and a curse. This lets you find a weapon you really like and allows you to stick with it…unless the story dictates otherwise. The targeting reticule changes depending on which weapon you use. The differences make using certain weapons a pain.This is jarring from a visual and usage standpoint. I cannot fathom as to why they went this way. I can understand that each gun should handle differently, but the way you should be able to aim should be universal. This made certain useful guns more difficult to use for a rather counter-intuitive set up. Which is damn shame because the weapons available are fantastic. Pistols, carbines, full autos, snipers, rocket launchers, they’re all there. There are some truly unique weapons in this game too, like the Arc Rifle and the Thermite Rifle are as fun to use as they are cool in concept and execution. Some weapons have a secondary firing mode that allows you to add some extra bang to your arsenal. The Falchion auto rifle for example has the ability to fire a non-lethal stun blast. This lets you either get a nice clean shot in, or you can go in for a totally satisfying, brutal melee takedown. During stealth sections, you are also given the opportunity to use these brutal take downs….except these are ALWAYS fatal. This causes the moral issue in the story that I mentioned earlier. They are splendid when you execute these right at least.
I almost forgot to mention the set pieces in relation to the action! The locales you see are all gorgeous yes…..but do they work for fire fights or portions where stealth is necessary work? I can honestly say the architecture goes far past just looking pretty. When combat focuses on cover and strategic positioning having places for cover and movement are crucial. It’s easy to get to the cover you want and there are usually multiple ways to accomplish those goals. It keeps things fresh. The stealth segments may need another trip to the drawing board however. Some of them are linear to the point of being mindless. Another sequence further in gives you more freedom but because you can’t move around corners while remaining hidden leads to some instant fails. I never got mad beyond mild frustration though, which is a credit to the game itself. I enjoyed myself enough to not let this bother me too much. I was never really disappointed no matter what was going on in game.
I hear the wind howling:
The last thing I really need to mention is the sound design. This games sound design is top notch. The sound of your gun being fired is exhilarating. Hearing the wood crate you’re hiding behind splinter because someone shot it lets you feel the danger of your cover being literally blown away. I can can give a ton of examples as to why it’s so good (Tesla coil cracking with bolts anyone?), but it all meshes so well and the fact the noises don’t completely block each other out when things are hectic is praiseworthy. The composing for this game is also something to consider when it comes to quality. The soundtrack was composed by Jason Graves and his work here is stellar. Deep use of cello, bass and vocals make the most intense moments even more nerve wracking and enjoyable. The tender moments were also very heightened with these pieces. I will be looking to buy the soundtrack if it is ever released because it is truly a fine piece of work.