The Order 1886: Technical Analysis
Welcome to my In-depth analysis of Ready At Dawn’s new game, IP and Engine with their first step into the AAA development and as I said in my spoiler free review link below they have come heavy and hard with what is a superb piece of Pixel pushing power, the likes of which are truly ground-breaking in its presentation.
These sections are titled Attention To Detail as I will go in-depth within the technology, design, aim of these games and all things that you can only find at this level here, so prepare for a detailed look at The Order 1886 and what it the talented team at RaD have achieved whilst setting the new benchmark for real time visuals..
With the huge quantity of Post Processing, dynamic Lighting, physics and heavily abundant Alpha effects you would think that the game may makes concessions in its performance. But it has this area covered perfectly with overall general play being a rock solid and stable 30fps presentation throughout cinematic's and hectic gunplay. Even when you have gorgeous looking buildings bathed in saturated Sun light with heavy use of HDR lighting, throw in some Alpha effects smoke and specular lighting within the gun-play it all holds stable and smooth throughout.
Even close quarter satisfying brutal melee is not match for the unwavering framerate staying north of 30 at all times that the PS4 all seems to handle with aplomb. The only time it dips and these are really small is when you have huge GPU heavy scenes and large GB’s of data are shifted between shots for Mesh data, Textures and physics on cloth with it dropping 2 frames at time and similar to Acuity the physics jump as they are set in the scene. But unlike that game this is pushing far more on the GPU with much better performance within a Native display, outside of these scene changes the engine and machine handles the visuals at the target refresh of 33ms.
The game can very, very occasionally drop in action but these only happen when you fill the screen with a huge Alpha, Specular and physic fueled explosions. These can dip by 2-3 fps for a second with it dropping another couple if you happen to pull in a Trophy whilst at work as the hard drive/OS calls are made on top. Outside of the incredibly minor moments it never drops a frame and is a solid performer 99% of the time allowing you to enjoy the battles and deal with this rebel scum!
Now this is where the gloves really come off and RaD show just what they and the PS4 are made of, and they do not disappoint. As I do not want to spoil it for anyone and I mention more in my review but the opening section of The Order is really a defining moment in this generation and I am not exaggerating when this is the new Gears Of War of this generation, it truly looks, feels and is on another level compared to all other games that have come before. You spend so long at first questioning that this is all real-time, but it is and no other game has reached this level of Pre-rendered sheen before. The meticulous detail in each and every object is simply without rival at this point with other games like Second Son, AC:Unity not able to compete. From the way brass, stone, bricks, leather, steel all look completely accurate and believable to other great techniques in the game. Refraining from using the pretty standard now SSR methods (Screen Space Reflections) that simply used the Depth Buffer to mirror what is viewable on screen within the viewport allowing the reflected area be it a puddle, floor or whatever else it wants to bounce back at the player, with it being a very minimal to free CPU overhead effect you can see the benefits but it does have weaknesses even more so in a 3rd person game like this.
The main fault’s with this technique is low sampling i.e. a lot use ½ resolution sometimes lower so based on the pixel samples you take and cast it can result in looking low quality at times, interference and “ghosting” of edge detection with the side, top of screen and foreground objects, characters but most damning of all its wiping of the reflection when not on screen. Being originated by Crytek you can see how they share cube maps with then an overlay of SSR when present. Crytek know this limitation by mixing it with Static Cube maps and blending them as needed to hide some of these errors. As like The Order Crisis 3 has a fixed scene and Lighting Cube maps work well but even having Probes dotted around the scene to help with these they will never work fully for viewable angle of static scenery and no dynamic reflections at all. Here RaD use cube maps as the scenery plus TOD are static (like Crysis 3) to the scene so they can use much better quality reflections that are nearly but not quite accurate from all angles but more than good enough to convince most of the time. They also allow good detailed reflections in shop windows or any other vertical area/object that SSR cannot achieve without expensive Planar or dynamic cube reflections needed which then adds in Culling and frustum issues and overhead. But to aid this they have used a newer technique that looks to be derived from Analytical Ambient Occlusion Capsule Reflections with presenter Proxy’s that are scattered across the game on pretty much all reflective materials with them being attached to the characters and passing a Depth pass within the Forward render allowing a full 3D representation of the character models but obviously minus any colour samples that SSR can take from the reflected pixels within view .These can be a Brass pan, steel bucket, door knocker, a bunch of teapots and even on the corner of a Suitcases. These not only reflect yours and other characters in them from the appropriate level and distortion based on the curvature and properties of the object itself but from multiple objects at once. This could never be achieved with SSR with it also working on dynamic objects in the game that can be moved or shot, extending to the ground having it work to reflect characters back with a depth view that again is far more appealing and achieves more than current SSR techniques. With the lack of Colour depth and this process also (most likely) used to manage the Ambient Occlusion of shelf shadows on the models its lack of colour information means within the world of Brass and steel it works perfectly and accurately but a mirrored surface would not convince at all. Visually it really is in a class all of its own and to think within a year we have games that look like this, you will have and see so many sight throughout the story that astound. The environments, skin which includes Sub Surface Scattering most noticeable on ears, nose within scenes as you see here but also in play within actual gameplay also, the entire game is real-time throughout with no video files even playable within the engine itself. With it supporting DX11 from its creation by Chief technical officer and joint founder Andrea Pessino and the team that is fully their own creation and design and truly is a testament to the talent of such a small team.
Moving onto another area it also excels at, its Image Quality presented in the Letter-boxed 2.35:1 ratio of a Blu-Ray movie that in no way hampers the scene with the Wide angled FOV all designed from its inception to be part of the presentation, also having the zoom dolly affect when in and out of cover to widen your view further still. As expected the 4xMSAA solution being able to achieve its near faultless Pre-rendered looking and delivery on my statement of being the cleanest game this generation. With MSAA being bound to geometry only and a hardware feature within the GCN cards it makes all edges of objects smooth and jaggy free, even thin lines like the tension cables here are artifect free which just adds to the Pre-rendered CG looks. The only issue with MSAA is that it has no effect on Textures so things like specular edges or details within objects have to be rescued elsewhere. This is taken managed through a combination of composite work applied to the textures and a temporal solution to manage the cases where these are missed and overall it works superbly. With only vary rare and occasional instances of sub-pixel noise appearing within some objects and highlight maps, but these non withstanding RaD achieve their intended goal of eradicating the “Jaggies” throughout.
And this allows you to appreciate the art, effort and style on offer within the minutiae details contained. Ever fabricated sheet, stitched leather glove, brass hook or even irrelevant flyer where even the ink catches the light with a raised detail from the normal’s and appropriate Fresnel calculation. And this stunning level of work goes further still with skin types and blemishes visible across characters, the single mesh skin of hands fold and deforms at the wrist convincingly realistically, even when talking you can see the lips sticking together at times from the dry mouth. It is without rival and the teams unwavering desire to render Victorian London and its inhabitants with no expense spared be they Human or animal. Again trying to stay spoiler free but here you can see the deformation of a mesh from Human to Werewolf is seamless and utterly convincing with its animation system again allowing it to look like its target of Pre-rendered. And this leap in animation is a large as the rest of the visuals, never has the smallest nuance been evident outside of a Pre-Rendered movie, surpassing the Pre-renders in games like Ryse, Uncharted with even the most subtle actions in place. Physical character movements all look to be Mo-Capped of the highest order, even NPC characters opening a gate or collecting fee’s all move with a convincing grace that belies its real-time render. Facial details are even more impressive, eye movement; grimace and even a discreet flirtatious eyebrow raise are all simply glorious in execution and implementation. Having the ability to see and feel a character mood or intention brings so much more depth to scenes that are now a reality in this generation, even highlighting a mischievous but comical groped moment from La Fayette. The game has some Emotional scenes across the range and these are amplified even more by the physicality’s described here.
But we must not miss another key set of ingredients to the games composition of features, Post Processing is quite literally used to perfection here. Both a High sampled Motion Blur that tracks both Camera and Per Object with a direction and velocity map which again just further seals its Movie look aim. You can see as I slow it down how each limb, object all flow with the relevant amount of noise based on the movement. Depth of Field or DoF is also a lesson in execution with it filtering in and out based on your viewpoint and foreground, with cut scenes it is higher quality still focusing on the centre piece in question and subtly diverting you from the other areas just like a Director of Photography would. With bokeh also used in parts the entire collection added with a Film grain and Chromatic aberration that is very liberally applied to give that faux camera error. With light catching the dust on the Digital Camera lens along with scenes being bathed in resplendent HDR sunshine in one scene and colour corrected in the next to evoke the appropriate mood for each section or scene. The dense areas of London looks so convincing you can almost feel the smog on your skin, the air looks thick with atmosphere using volumetric light allowing the distance rooftops to feel further away in the pollution filled skyline. This colour grading is again another technique used in movies that games are now applying; it is what gives films, directors a certain tone. Michael Bay loves Oversaturated, oranges and yellows, Ridley Scot or Christopher Nolan using blue tones in many scenes. They help set the mood and ambience of a scene but in games this can be achieved through the render process rather than movies with stage lighting and then further post processing. This is why the E3 Uncharted 4 demo looked like it did, totally separate colour levels falling into the dark midnight blues with high specular, the opening of The Order 1886 is again the best example in the wild we have to see how all these come together to create the gob smacking results. See how different the models and mood is from the flamboyant, happy lighting here at Whitechapel and the gloomy. Blues on the London slums at dusk. Colour is a huge part of any visual impact and RaD has excelled here throughout the game.
Lighting is used throughout the game as much, with specular flashes bouncing off scenery based on angle and distance, see here at the muzzle flash from Ize flashes and expands/fades as she moves back or here as the enemy shot lights up Galahad and themselves as it travels removing AO shadows and even casting one from Galahad as it passes. Shadows are also of the highest quality I have seen and no more appropriate than in underground sections. Every object in the scene casts dynamic shadows from your own and other’s light sources enabling multiple shadows from one object that all employ Umbra, penumbra process across the range. This is how light being occluded by an object is pure dark in the centre (Umbra) and then blurs smooth’s out at the edges and the further away from the light source it is. Best show here as I walk toward the railing see how the shadows starts thin and blurred but as I get nearer it becomes thicker, more defined with the edges becoming less and less blurred the nearer I get. This also see character shadows cast within 3D space into the distance rather that being a 2D projection of geometry within the scene like some other games use. With other lights casting shadows it creates such an atmosphere in the scenes that you -or at least I- never wanted to leave even though in real-life I would have ran a mile.
All of these effects merge into presenting what is the most cohesive and breath-taking game yet released this generation bar none. With the audio work having just as much lavish care and attention with each footstep clocking on cobbles streets or puddles, echoes yells that reverb and occlude, the satisfying thud of the rifle or cannon like explosion of the duellist pistol. From the visceral impact of a punch or next snap, too the distance snarls of the Lycans or terrifying voice as they hunt you. The sound design is as well implemented and vital as the visuals, voice acting throughout is not only of equal level of the BEST in the business (and yes I include TLOU in that) but the recording, processing and integration are handled without fault as is the score. Being such a strong and emotional piece that fits like a glove with the signature Knights theme being one you will simply want to listen to again and again. But in some scenes and sections it adds imposing fear or builds the tension as you anticipate what is to come. In the games more emotional sequences (and there are a few that will have even the most hardened man’s bottom lip quivering) its impact and use cannot be undersold, good enough for me to now have on my phone for any car journeys or quiet downtime moments, like the rest of the presentation simply stunning and faultless.
Ready at Dawn have delivered a new era and benchmark in games, right now they are sitting at the top of the merging of Technical and artistic skills that have been woven together within a world, game and ultimately an experience that you have to see for yourself, in peace with no spoilers on a great sound system or headphones with a well configured large screen to really appreciate its beauty and stunning technical achievement. If Gears of War and God of War had a baby The Order 1886 would be its much younger, far more attractive and bewildering child that also defines not only a generation from a visual, presentation point of view but also marks the point that all other games will be judged by! no matter the platform.
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