Some of the best games of last generation were small, short games that desired to craft more focused, well-realized experiences. One of the largest debates of last generation was the debate if these games -- which usually went for higher than expected costs compared to other games of a similar size and score -- were justified in their amplified price point. My easy to remember little catchphrase that I arrived at was: I'm happy paying premium price for a premium experience.
With the recent release of Sony's latest PlayStation 4 exclusive, The Order: 1886, this topic has resurfaced. Everyone has been debating whether or not The Order: 1886 is $60 worth of entertainment for a very short single-player third-person shooting title, without any multiplayer or other meaningful replay value included. This question can only be meaningfully answered by the individual, but it's the job of the reviewer to reflect upon their experience with a game and try to give the consumer an idea of what the full game is before they make their final decision.
So let's really break it down: is The Order: 1886 in fact a premium experience? The short answer is very much a clearly resounding no. The Order 1886 feels underdeveloped in almost every single faucet of its design apart from its production values. But even with such breathtaking visuals, they feel wasted on what will be one of the most easily forgotten and uninspired games of this entire generation.
The Order: 1886 takes place during, well, the end of the year 1886 in an alternate history London. In this world, King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table survived the fall of Camelot to fight an eternal war against werewolf supernatural forces that have hunted humanity since its conception. Now simply dubbed "The Order", these knights have finally found a foothold against the werewolf lycan threat thanks to the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, the utilization of Nikola Tesla's intellect to develop powerful new weapons, and most importantly the discovery of a mysterious substance known as Blackwater which allows the knights to recover almost instantly from fatal wounds and extend their normally short human lifespan.
You step into the boots of Sir Galahad, one of The Order's most well-respected and deadliest members. Under the command of his mentor Sir Percival, Sir Galahad and his peers investigate a disturbingly recent series of events including a sudden infestation of lycans, sudden escalation of the local anti-establishment rebel faction, and a horrifying set of serial murders from a figure known only as Jack the Ripper. Slowly, Sir Galahad discovers a dark connection between these events, stumbling upon a monstrous revelation which threatens to not only to tear apart the British Empire, but also Sir Galahad's very own Order.
The premise of The Order: 1886 is perhaps its most promising, and simultaneously most mishandled aspect. The Order 1886 revolves around its cinematic framing and storytelling, even to go as far as to force the entire game through a widescreen lens. Significant portions of The Order's length is made up on cutscenes and quick-time event scenarios, which isn't a problem if it's all done well. Ultimately the problem is that The Order lacks the masterful touch to realize its cinematic and narrative aspirations.
This primarily is due to The Order's undeveloped plot and characters. Characters lack the proper background and development to feel fully dimensional, and the various twists and turns of the plot are incredibly predictable and tastelessly introduced. It's all science-fiction genre cliche after cliche, which makes The Order's potentially exciting alternate universe criminally unrealized. All of this is brought together by the end of The Order with a bizarre ending which makes absolutely no sense, and wraps-up almost zero of its introduced plot or thematic elements.
And most of this is not only because of the writing and plot structure, but of The Order's miserable pacing. You can tell that hands and eyes that are not familiar with the cinematic lens directed The Order. Almost every scene, sequence, quick-time event scenario, and even every piece of dialogue is too long, awkwardly constructed and lacking refinement. Everything related to The Order's cinematic aspirations feels like the premature realization of a rough draft, lacking the artful touch to properly shape The Order's cinematic storytelling goals.
Such roughness even applies to the core gameplay and interactive moments of The Order. While it has a surprisingly solid foundation of satisfying cover-based third person shooting and traversal mechanics; the design is superficial and lacking in depth. The Order barely has enough weapons to cover the atypical shooter armory (assault rifles, submachine gun, single-shot rifle, etc) with only a couple of unique weapons (example: a gun that shoots a bolt of lightning) which are used far too sparingly to really leave a lasting impression.
And The Order's pacing problems apply to the design as well, because most combat scenarios like turret sequences, boss battles, sniping segments, instant fail stealth missions, and more all feel like they go on far longer than they can provide satisfying and escalating entertainment for. Multiple times while playing The Order I thought to myself: "OK, I'm done with this combat encounter now!" Which is bizarre because all that awaited me outside of it was bad cutscenes or walking around a dull, empty environment without any story development or meaningful collectibles. It constantly feels like I was in a lose-lose situation in The Order.
Even The Order's lycan enemies -- one of its most immediately distinguishing features -- is some of the worst enemy design I've experienced in a game in a long, long time. With the story hyping up this human versus lycan centuries long war, I was hoping from some sophisticated level design and AI interaction. But no, you always fight the lycan enemies in the same small environment, with the lycans spamming their single -- literately single -- attack pattern over and over again. All they do is run at you, you hit a button to dodge, they run back to their cover, then you do it all over again until you fill them with enough bullets to end their sad, monotonous existence. That's it. It's ungodly horrible.
What does fair quite a bit better is The Order's production values. There's been a lot of noise made over the impressive technical graphical design and character models of The Order, and to be fair it's well deserved as the game does look absolutely incredible on both ends. Apart from Ryse: Son of Rome, I haven't played another more technically detailed and gorgeous looking game than The Order. It does have to be said that there a couple of caveats regarding this: the aggressive widescreen nature of the game surely helps them render this world, and the game fails to take you to any exciting places to really flex its artistic muscle. But regardless of these facts, The Order is still quite the game to look at.
The Order even has strong audio design. The voice acting is incredibly on point, which makes it all the more disappointing that the material they are performing is weak. Ambient and more visceral combat sound design all sound good, with all of the weapons satisfying to fire. What really stands out on the audio front is Jason Grave's strong soundtrack, which brings some life to the world of The Order. It's a period appropriate classical score, but with a level of dirt and grime to it that solidifies the violent and grim world of The Order. It's Jason Grave's best work since Dead Space 2, but it's a shame it's for such an underwhelming and undeserving game like The Order: 1886.
And indeed, no word describes The Order: 1886 better than underwhelming. On every front it's a lacking and underdeveloped experience. Every single aspect of the game feels like it needed more time to flesh out, supported by cruddy pacing and lackluster design as a whole. The Order wishes to be a memorable cinematic story experience, but poor cinematography and predictable amateurish writing and story development unravels that dream. The Order wishes to be the next big cover-based shooter, but a shallow armory and overlong encounters take that possibility off of the table. The Order wishes to demonstrate how power the PlayStation 4 is, and while it is an incredible looking game, it all just feels wasted on this boring and unmemorable title.
The Order: 1886 will certainly not be remembered as one of the worst games of this generation. That is, of course, assuming if anyone remembers this dull, lifeless and unrefined experience in the first place.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)