By Ian Boone. Load File cuts through the hype and censure to examine the steamy innards of new video game releases. This week, Ian shoots and hisses through The Order:1886, a steampunk shooter.
Soaring above the clouds, rappelling down the side of an airship to be boarded, I lumbered between agent and witness. While Lafayette gurgled something in French ahead, Galahad’s darkening expression echoed my exact thoughts for the past few hours: Where are all the lycans I’m supposed to be fighting?
Ready at Dawn, a company best known for its work with the God of War games for Playstation Portable, developed The Order: 1886 exclusively for Playstation 4. It follows the trials of a man named Galahad in a neo-steampunk London dealing with werewolves, rebellion, and the corruption in his own knighthood. Ever since its unveiling, The Order was lauded to be the Playstation’s answer to Microsoft’s successful Gears of War franchise, a third-person action shooter for the Sony purist.
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. If you took everything smart about the Gears formula and did the exact opposite, you would wind up with The Order: 1886. I will be the first to admit that it is harsh to criticise art for what it isn’t over what it is. But when such loud shots are fired between brands, when such superb benchmarks and public expectations have already been set… comparison will not be avoided.
The Order: 1886 plays like a weird mush of third-person shooter and interactive cutscenes. For the most part, Galahad will clomp, take cover, and return fire in linear shootouts against mediocre AI enemies. Pop a few shots, wait for damage to heal, repeat. Boredom is broken up when shotgun-wielding enemies (always spawned nearby, and normally on the player’s flanks) charge up and destroy Galahad with a hail of pellet.
Most of the time, players will be under fire from trigger-happy revolutionaries, which seems quite different from the supernatural enemies The Order was founded to deal with and which were featured so prominently in advance coverage of the game. You will fight the feral Lycans very rarely in the game, and once the encounter is over you will be glad for it, as these are painfully obnoxious fights.
There isn’t a lot of variety in weapon behavior, as most everything falls in the category of shotgun, rifle, pistol, or smg. The exotic weaponry developed by Nikola Tesla we’ve seen featured so much in trailers is utilized sparingly, but that might be for the best. The lightning rifle slowly charges before every shot, and the thermite launcher has to be deployed at long range in order to be effective.
Most of the missions will see another character accompany you in battle. This seems mostly to ease your loneliness in the campaign, as your rotating buddy will contribute little in combat. Their major contribution seems to be offering a second pair of hands to move things in context-sensitive actions. Push a wagon, open a gate, lower a ladder; they do ALL of that. Just don’t expect more from them than a hearty shout at the foe.
These contextual actions poison the pace whenever they turn up. Picking up a new weapon for the first time requires a long examination you can’t escape from until you see a flash from an on-screen button prompt. Some fights are melee encounters where the entire thing is a drawn out game of Simon Says. It feels like the designers were trying to capture some of the tense, reactionary moments from games like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, but it exceeds overusage in The Order: 1886.
Without those moments when the player is left to fumble with their controller, The Order would be an even drier, shorter affair. There is hideously little to do or explore in the game. (Collectibles, secrets, and power-ups are either rare or nonexistent.) In quieter moments, Galahad can inspect objects that feed a tiny bit of lore to the player (like audio files and newspapers), but many plot elements are dropped almost as soon as they’re mentioned: At one point a headline screams that the Queen is missing, but our protagonists are too embroiled with the senseless political situation to be bothered with it.
The fantastic trappings of the game deserve an explanation that is never offered. The Industrial Revolution seemed to hit several centuries early in this alternate version of our world, allowing for air travel, wireless communication, and more in the year 1886. But it couldn’t have all stemmed from the works of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, the only two inventors mentioned in the game (and both, in 1886, were still very early on in their careers). Furthermore, I think the type of societal stability needed to bring about the techno marvels of The Order: 1886 wouldn’t exist in a world where humanity was bordering on extinction from being eaten by monsters.
With so much that is terrible in this game, apologists will cling to the prettiness of the graphics as a saving point. The Order: 1886 is no slouch in the visual department, but stylistically many questionable decisions were made. The environments and characters, for all their detail and realism, have very drab coloring. Most stages will go down in smoke-choked cobblestone streets, or dark warehouses. The best rendering technology in the world is meaningless when such boring subject matter is chosen.
WHAT GRINDS MY GEARS?
By the end of The Order: 1886, I felt like I had played a first-party title created with the same level of effort and experience afforded to movie-licensed garbage. There is a savage absence of replayability in this game. Once the campaign gets knocked out, there is no multiplayer, no alternate endings to shoot for, no enhanced difficulty mode, nothing. Collect your trophies and don’t question where your time is going.
No comparison between Gears of War and The Order: 1886 will come out favorably for the latter. Even with the first game, Gears offered an explosive package of fun. By the third, it had evolved into my benchmark of what a next-gen game should offer the player.
If a followup to The Order is ever released, it has a lot to improve on after this dismal premiere. But considering how oversold the idea of The Order: 1886 was, and how disparaging the differences are from the final product, I will reign in my expectations for the future of this series.