The Order: 1886 review

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A shattered promise is worse than no promise at all. The Order: 1886’s near-complete lack of intrigue, energy and entertainment is an act of emotional sabotage in the face of its pre-release hype and guarantees. What was billed as an evolution of narrative complexity and delivery within the videogame space has revealed itself to be little more than a blueprint on how to get everything from character development to basic interaction wrong. A palpable, sour, distasteful disconnect exists between the promotional gusto underpinning this project and its eventually realised form.

Where there was supposed to be the breaking of new ground is a stretch of turf so well-trodden that it contains no definition whatsoever, a flat, monochromatic space so predictable that it immediately feels more caricature than serious. If you’ve been playing games with any kind of regularity over the past decade then you will have already seen everything The Order has to offer. What’s more, you’ll have already experienced it to a higher quality. A tired, awkwardly-paced and awfully-written campaign is held feebly aloft by a scaffold of quick-time events, aimless (and enforced) swooning over graphical fidelity and shooting gallery sequences of distinct mediocrity. More often than not this is a game that feels like a vanity project, an exercise in stuffing every last pixel and polygon into every hair of drearily rendered moustache. Such a focus on extraneous makeup is simply inexcusable in the face of such limp game design.

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You play as Galahad, a knight of The Order and a strong-minded individual intent on seeking out the truth despite his peers’ reluctance to act out of turn. As he romps his way around an alternate, steampunk-inspired vision of Victorian London he uncovers the supposedly secret realities responsible for an increasingly powerful peasant rebellion and a string of mysterious murders.

Only, it’s not a secret at all. Given the clumsy writing and direction, the vast bulk of mystery can be laid bare with marginal cerebral activity within the first few of the included 16 chapters. For a game aimed at adults, the plot, dialogue and personalities on show are patronising to say the least. If the only book you’ve ever read is Where’s Wally?, there’s a chance you might be impressed by the storytelling. Otherwise, set your expectations to zero.

Question marks over the leading characters’ believability within their realm are raised consistently and from the off. Galahad, accompanied by Lafayette, a French knight so clichéd you can’t help but envision the Tricolore underwear he must be sporting, must embark on a mission to quietly infiltrate the slum-like Whitechapel area thought to be the epicentre of the rebellion. Immediately you’re suspicious of the pair’s suitability for the job. Instead of carefully traversing a set of wooden planks pinned across a passage leading to the district, Lafayette simply crashes through them, shoulder first.

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He’s proud of his accomplishment, whereas the player can’t help but think he’s an idiot for doing such a thing on a shut-up-and-stay-in-the-shadows mission. Minutes later, after dealing with a grunt that failed to notice your deafening home improvements, the bumbling buddies try to blend into a crowd gathered to listen to a rousing speech on the corruption of London’s ruling classes. The knights are spotted, to their surprise, and make a hasty getaway. Seemingly, they’ve neglected to realise that their gaudy, expensive clothes couldn’t possibly stand out any more obviously amongst the poverty stricken masses.

We’re told that these are great men, heroes of their time and champions of their environment. Clearly, they’re not. The overarching idea of a Victorian London beset by fantastical problems is an interesting one, but the lens through which you see the tale is so amateurishly constructed that you can only laugh at the action as it stumbles drunkenly around in front of you.

Even worse is that you’re given no freedom to even temporarily remove yourself from the tedium. Cutscene rolls into quick-time event, which rolls into cutscene and into shooting and back again. Sprinkled across this predictable formula are some of the most ill-conceived moments of enforced stealth you’re ever likely to experience and mini-games (lock-picking, circuit overloading) that, like everything else, favour visuals over quality of interaction.

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The design presents you with such a narrow beam of focus that you never once slip into character as Galahad and believe that you’re a knight on a quest for truth and justice. Instead, you’re dragged through proceedings and told what to do, what to look at, what to feel. This would be perfectly acceptable rollercoaster if the writing, acting and directing were on a par with even the most questionable of Michael Bay offerings, but it’s simply not.

The Order clearly sees itself as some sort of bridge between the world of games and cinema, but it fails miserably to create the essence, tones or rewards offered by either medium. Its only saving grace is that it offers so little by way of new ideas that you feel immediately safe in the knowledge that it’s not going to suddenly ask you to do something that you’ve not done hundreds of times before. You don’t need to worry about how to play or what to do, you can simply slump into a mild coma and have at it.

Other than that, it looks technical impressively. On an art design level it could better frame its world, but the graphical output does admittedly do a fine job of demonstrating what this hardware is capable of. The likelihood, given the relative youth of the PS4, is that things are only going to get better. If nothing else, then, The Order: 1886 makes us excited for the kinds of visuals we can expect in the future from other, better games. That’s something, at least.

3
A case of extreme hype and zero reward