For a while there it seemed like The Order: 1886 would never emerge. Given that it was initially meant to be a launch title for Sony’s flashy new console, only recently did the steam-punk action adventure rear its incredibly glossy face. But, you know, maybe that’s for the best because while it certainly showcases the stunning next-generation graphical power of the console, its gameplay and approach to storytelling reek of last-generation.
That said, it just about works as the story of a secret circle of Arthurian-era knights running rampant in an alternate (and technologically adventurous) Victorian London as they battle against dark forces. We take to the boots of Galahad in his attempts to investigate some sinister incidents unfurling in the smoky Whitechapel streets involving werewolves, and a lot of bad, bad guys who all kind of look the same, while using some high-tech steam-punk arsenal to blow up, shoot and wreak devastation wherever possible. As long as there’s a convenient waist-high section to hide behind.
The Order: 1886 feels like a game of missed opportunities and closed doors. So desperate to tie you to its plot, there is very little way to explore the beautifully textured world it teasingly offers. It’s a game of running between shoot-outs, and quick-time event action sequences. That said, its shoot-outs are accomplished and sleek, harking back to the glory days of Gears of War, with a sense of Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted crowbarred in for good measure. Its wild flirtations with genuine history are fun and there’s enough meat to it that it’ll keep you on board for the, admittedly short, duration.
You see, it’s certainly cinematic in its looks, but not quite in its scope. There have been numerous complaints about The Order’s short campaign length and, given the fact you can’t skip the cut-scenes, the actual gameplay time is significantly shorter still. The thing is, it doesn’t feel like a game that’s too short, it feels like a film that’s far too long. Its developers almost seem to resent the fact The Order is a game and not a Hollywood blockbuster. While titles like Heavy Rain have embraced interactive movie mechanics, they’ve also proven that you need to have a compelling story to really keep that working. The Order, while amusing, sadly lacks there. Its steam-punk universe with marauding werewolves has an eerie and charismatic appeal, but your inability to really explore it is a weak decision for a story that can’t take the weight of that sacrifice.
For the most part, it’s a competent and enjoyable duck and cover shooter when it’s not trying to get you to tap out Morse Code on the touchpad or dully look through a telescope for objects of ‘interest’ (when The Order says ‘interest’, what it means is ‘plot propulsion’). Its major strength is that it’s simply astonishing to look at. It’s a game that revels in its own beauty and doesn’t shy away from it being its strongest asset. You’re able to examine objects on tables up-close for no other feasible reason than just to see how good it looks. This double-edged sword means that while everything you play looks like a cut-scene, everything you play feels like a cut-scene. Overrun with QTEs and hammering buttons as the exciting stuff happens behind the flashed commands, there’s no sense of engagement and it quickly descends into a duty-laden slug towards its finale. It’s so beautiful though that you have to question why the mirrors in the game opt for a murky film rather than show any reflection.
Ultimately, The Order: 1886 is sleek and gorgeous and its intuitive third-person action showcases how well AAA games will operate on this next-generation console, but it ultimately offers a disappointing lesson in how cinematic visuals and blockbuster stories don’t necessarily make for a fantastic game. Relying too heavily on last-generation thinking, The Order seems so blinded by its own beauty that it’s painfully unaware of how unremarkable everything else really is. Oh, fuck, is that why the mirrors don’t work?!
The Order: 1886 is available now for PS4.