Much like heading out to the pub on a work night, you’re going to start off extremely optimistic with The Order: 1886 but, by the time it’s all finished, you’re going to be less than impressed with your choices. This is a strangely apt analogy.
By now you’ve no doubt heard that The Order: 1886 is a lot shorter than you might like, thanks to a video that appeared online just prior to launch showing someone blowing through the campaign in about five hours. If you didn’t know about it then, you know about it now. And while it’s indeed possible to do so, you’ll likely squeeze out a bit more time than that from this steampunk/Victorian/mythological/alt-history tale of knights and half-breeds, otherwise known as werewolves.
Feeling lucky, (steam)punk?
Players take the role of, at the outset of The Order, a severely damaged Sir Galahad, who is sort of a cross between Van Helsing (the Hugh Jackman version, not the Mel Brookes one) and James Bond (minus the womanising) once you get out of his prison-break flashback and into the events that lead up to his incarceration.
The short version is that you’re a member of the Round Table, of King Arthur fame, in the 1800s. Nikolai Tesla is the Q to the player’s James Bond (yes, really), putting an assortment of interesting gear at their disposal. There’s rebel insurrection in the city (London, of course), Jack the Ripper is stalking Whitechapel and, of course, there are the aforementioned werewolves to worry about. But hey, you have electricity, thermite and knives, as well as a substance called Blackwater (which keeps you alive), so you’re about their equal. Kinda.
But the storyline, while fantastically told throughout, ends abruptly enough to be jarring, right at a point when you’re sure that things should be getting up a good head of steam. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, it just ends too soon. But you’ll see that for yourself, we’re not spoiling what is – up till that point – an enthralling story.
What you’ll notice with The Order is that everything looks absolutely spectacular. The long vistas, the up-close detail in settings, facial animation and construction, each item of clothing and each weapon, all look fantastic. Cut-scene fantastic, for the majority of the game, but there are limits to making something look this good on the PlayStation 4, it seems.
Those limits become apparent when you look a little closer at your surroundings. Reflections don’t update the way you’d expect, though that could be intentional, and there’s little in the way of physics to be seen, most of that gorgeous backdrop might as well be cemented to the floor. It’s certainly not going anywhere, no matter how many explosives you have on hand.
NPCs are a problem as well. If you’re in an area populated by AI (that isn’t trying to kill and/or eat you) their movements seem fairly natural. At first. But you’ll have an Invasion of the Body Snatchers moment or two if you just idle around where they’re doing things, they’re obviously very limited in what they can react to. Still, encounter them in passing and they look pretty good.
Most of The Order will see you partaking in ye olde third-person cover-based shooting, something that the narrow alleyways and streets of London support quite easily and naturally. You’re not going to be using boring old guns though (okay, you can if you want to), instead you’ll be playing with the Thermite Rifle, which lets you fire clouds of thermite that you can ignite when enough enemies are standing nearby for an instant barbecue. Or you can use a more Tesla-oriented weapon with the Arc Gun which lobs lightning, more or less, at enemies. Plus there are grenades, cellphones (kinda) and other gadgets at your disposal.
Combat is solid, with the weapons you can use being the stars of the show. Without the gadgetry we’d be looking at a pretty stock shooter and even with it, you’ll be best served by picking some good cover and picking off enemies like you’re in a shooting gallery. There’s no real room for movement, tactics or up-close combat, unless you’re fighting a werewolf in which case you need to aim for the head and then stick em with a knife.
The Order: 1886 could have been a better game. It could also have been a better movie and the developers were obviously attempting to strike a balance between the two mediums. It could have been a longer game as well. That drinking during the week analogy from before still applies, you’re going to go into this one with high expectations and they’re going to be met, visually and on a story level, right up until the end where you’re going to feel let down. A sequel or two might fix this but right now The Order is flawed.