The Order 1886 Review
This is a British broadcasting announcement for The Order 1886, Britain is at war with Rebels, with Lycans and bureaucracy. Do you want to fight the oppressors in the name of Queen Victoria, for freedom and liberty? Then step forth good knights and prepare to do battle with the horrors of Victorian London on your Playstation 4 console.
Dramatic and authentic intro aside welcome to my own highly anticipated review of The Order 1886 from Ready at Dawn. Having earned their stripes with the God Of war games and Daxter on the PSP they have now decided to make the plunge into AAA PS4 development and what a splash they have made, right now the internet is awash with “The Order this” and “1886 that” with the burning question on the hearts and minds of many...”Yeah but how long is it?”, putting aside the personal nature of this question.. ahem...until later lets concern ourselves more with the more vital questions of quality over quantity and the world we are thrown into.
We meet up with our protagonist Sir Galahad early on in the opening sequence as we are dropped into the altered history of RaD’s view of Victorian London, and it is not the only thing that will drop as you start as you mean to go on with this game and your jaw will spend much time aghast and touching the floor. I am not exaggerating here when I say that the opening sequence not only sets the mood and tone for the game but is one that is really, truly a watershed moment this generation. If/when you play this game do yourself and it a favour lock the door, close the curtains and turn up the sound system/headphones and prepare yourself. I was in awe for the opening section for many reasons, the premise, the sound and greatly just how visually impressive and hard this game hits you on-screen with a native display – letterboxed into a 2.35:1 presentation that has the same Pixel 1:1 mapping as a Blu-Ray movie within its 1920x800 resolution- with crisp vivid detail, sumptuous lighting and shadows all backed up with exquisite cinematography work, animation that works so seamlessly to give that unbelievable feeling of uncertainly if this is all running on your PS4 and not just some Pre-rendered CGI movie sequence, but then it hits and you are in control and you never see or notice any handover. I will not spoil this start as it is vital to the story and the tone of the game but it is a great opener for this story and hopefully the trilogy and much more grandiose story arc this universe has. Sir Galahad or Grayson to his mum is a vital and high ranking officer with King Arthur’s squad created back on the round table many centuries ago. Leading this elite group is long timer of centuries Sebastian Malory or Sir Percival. A descendant from Le Morte d’Artur author himself Thomas Malory with Lady Igraine or Isabeau D’Argyll being the only female member. You may have noticed the significance of the code names and these are handed down to the knights from the founders of the table and only 1 Knight may hold the name with the names being cast down as one passes. Having to earn your name and rank in The Order is also part of its charm and Marquis De Lafayette is new to the group with no alias assigned and fresh from the victory of the French revolution with some American work thrown in he looks good for a 52 year since dead soldier. But this is an alternative world with the truth being based on fact but with timeframes, technical abilities and historic accuracy adopting more a “poetic” licence but still within the realms of possibility.
But what do these Knights uphold and protect you ask, well not only the good name of the Queen and the sovereignty but some would say more importantly the survival of the human race against most possibly the games most compelling aspect the surge of extinction from the segmented race of Werewolves know as Half-Breeds. These Lycans where born many centuries ago when mankind split and a new sub-race of mutants evolved. But these are anything but Primates instead having equal intellectual powers but far more physicality able to rip out the larynx of a human or Knight with ease, these Lycanthrope’s – Greek for Wolf Man- based on early folklore are now a real threat, one that has been a bitter struggle for the Knights. But with the 19th Century revolution of steel, brass, steam and alternating currents comes a pivotal point for the Order able to turn the tides in their favour. With the help of Nicola Tesla who is to Grayson’s as Q is to Bond, and the James bond influence is not only here, Lady Igraine has the feel, strength, guile and inspiration of the strong character that was Vesper Lynd played superbly by Eva Green in Casino Royale, here voiced brilliantly by Alice Coulthard who brits may recognize from Emmerdale. And the tense, flirtatious relationship that they both shared is mirrored between Galahad and Ise –His nick name for her -. The relationship they share is one of mentor and student but the undertones are hinted at early on in the game that there is more under the surface, no shrinking violet she can hold her own in a “mans” world with elegant but determined grace.
Lafyette is the comic touch and even though his scenes are never long enough to flesh out his youthful charm, wit, flair and exuberant passion for action and the ladies he is brilliantly voiced by Frederik Hamel with the great level of aplomb and French eloquence slipped in. The VO work in the game is exemplary on the whole from the austere and traditional methods of the Lord Chancellor to the authoritative and dutiful Percival voiced by Scottish actor Graham Mctavish and aside the Scottish connection to Sean Connery he seems to exude the same influential and avuncular actions to Galahad as Juan had with Conner McCloud in Highlander. Unlike these the knights are not wholly immortal with them having the ability to live much, much longer than mere mortals and heal from serious and even prolonged fatal injury. Using the power of blackwater to enhance not only lifespan, but speed with a finite use of slow down bullet time enabling some of the cooler moments in the game within gunplay. The origin of this and just what it all means has had some surmising Vampires and the like but I will leave it that it is explained in the game and keeps it enjoyable. And this is a key part to the game with the story and narrative as a whole being such a vital part of the experience of the game and explains many reasons as to why RaD have kept this close to their chests and I advise anyone even remotely interested in playing this to stay away from any spoilers as it will ruin and greatly reduce the games impact.
And that impact can be hard and viscous at times, the gunplay in the game is well put together within the standard TPS cover, shoot, run melee approach which works well as a whole. A few tips is stick the game on hard – This is a rule I have had since last generation on all games as I find that Hard is the new Normal – and then AI becomes more difficult to take down with improved levels of self preservation. With the open space shootouts that happen throughout the game all being very easy to spot within the area you walk into– Please check out my In-depth analysis to learn more on performance, but short cap is no worries at all - offering up some explosive barrels, waist high walls and the like. Adding to this is the quick cut of action camera when performing one of the many randomised and scenery based take-downs in the game. Reminiscent of any Uncharted, Gears Of War style with the added visceral impact of the TLOU efforts, not quite as brutal but satisfying when you pull them off in an orchestrated style within combat. Weapons add into that with standard hand guns, revolvers and semi-automatic unwieldy hand cannons to long range snipers, Thermite rifles with its dual spray and burn, lighting gun that can obliterate a man’s head from his shoulders. But the Shotgun does offer up the most fun with its explosive delivery and impact, taking off heads, arms and legs when unleashed. But ammo can be scarce for this (on hard at least) so as Indiana Jones was once told use it wisely. Within the open areas of gun battles the game also turns its hands to horror and suspense. With some dark and gloomy areas showing that if RaD ever did a full on survival horror game it would sure as hell scare the bejebus out of you, with superb design within these sections greatly enhanced by the faultless visuals and lighting model offering up dynamic lights which include bounce light (See Global Illumination) and multiple sources. Great use of particles on smoke, shot guns that emit point lights on characters and scenery that even create shadows at points.
As a game it certainly has a good balance of action, exploration with some simple puzzles and certainly feeds the hunger for those (like myself) that love to admire the beauty in a game and this has it in abundance. From the vivid character animation and traits to the sunken paves in the streets or the stained brass pillars or rusted post boxes. Each and every object is realized through a physically based shader model that employs the roughness, energy conservation and Fresnel calculation into them. Now I have said before that this is a new technique that is common to the CGI film world but new to this generation and right now RaD have without question or doubt set the new benchmark for this in game and they have set it damn high. But check out my detailed Technological Analysis link below to learn much more with more information on the process behind the engine components that offer up such a diverse and authentic world that feel like you are in the period or walking through a museum from my Preview back at E3 last year.
From simply mesmerizing visuals on the rooftops of the squalor’s of the East End to the dank alleyways and brothels and the foreboding clinical architecture of the Hospital, every scene, set-piece from every hair, cloth or brass barrel it is all created and rendered in intricate and blinding details that cannot be under sold or received. This is without question the biggest leap in Real-Time rendering ever seen and that comes no matter what your platform of choice resides to be. But and I am sorry to say there is one it is not free from criticism or fault. The first and most blatant is not its length which I will remove immediately as an issue as it falls into the exact level/length of this type of genre a story driven linear narrative so for me on hard, no aim assist not rushing through but not dawdling I completed it just over 10 hours this being longer than Uncharted 1 or Ryse for example, it lasts long enough to enthrall and not overstay or feel Grindy that can be common of so many games like Unity, FarCry, Dying Light to name but a few recent examples. But unlike these game and others it does lead you just a little too much, this is no more apparent than in the On-screen prompts which never stop happening no matter how far into the game you are or the investigating of objects many immaterial to the plot, you can choose to not look at these but then you will not know if they are important or not. This continues with the extensive use of Cinematic's in the game with the start being a high point and also a stark showing of how much control RaD do not want you to have at points. Nothing shows this more than when exploring you are unable to draw your weapon unless it is a set point in the game to do so, after a shootout ends and turns to puzzle or exploration you are returned to no more than a passenger with you able simply look around and see which way is up. And this story and world are something that has been a passion for the team and this is evident throughout the game, but the need to control many aspects of the players experience to the point of frustration at times is mildly disappointing, at points you have a plan laid out only for it to not be allowed within the aspect of the story. Again weapons are not as vast and diverse as hoped or are you able to carry them over outside of the missions they are allowed to be in and this level of control is the game’s biggest weakness. Harking back to the days of its muse Uncharted and God Of War where games flowed through cut scenes more than within the game itself. Uncharted 2/3, Half Life and certainly TLOU got the balance right with the amount of breadcrumb work and free control merging at a level that felt linear but not enough at times to remove all the biggest moments from your grasp and even TLOU had moments where it still did that. And The Order 1886 does not do this all the time and it does allow you to have that control in places but sometimes it is limited in scope and others it is not present at all with you being a passenger enough times for it to affect your engagement in certain moments. But it does not stop it from having flashes of great moments, the Hospital section is a stand out moment of both pacing, style and design that delivers a high point. But they ruin key areas by limiting the possibilities of a confrontation that are at odds with other sections of the story or game. It is the stunning presentation, world and lore that has been crafted that makes these moments more frustrating as you just know that it could have been even better, which I am sure a sequel will fix many of these sections. Example more of the Branching melee sections that allow a sequence to continue even if you make a mistake that happen here, are so few as too appear as if time, budget and maybe team size had factors in some of these omissions and decisions. The reuse of the only 2 Lycan encounters throughout the game are a clear example of just this and how frustrating a waste this is.
But the game delivers over and over again on an experience that you will talk about with your friends, online it will generate discussion on its plot, flow and moments. And ultimately it is a game that from when you pick it up to the credits roll you never once felt bored or anything other than utterly compelled to continue on this journey of a man harrowed and tormented by his past and future. Grayson is a rough and ready man of action superbly voiced by Steve West but he is never given enough back story or exploration that allows you to truly relate to him and although the period art style, decadence are all vividly realised the feel of London owes more to Sherlock Holmes Guy Ritchie than Charles Dickens but this was and is its aim. A Blockbuster period peace that is out to shock, surprise and amaze with is stunning visuals, beautifully matched and emotional score that is certainly at the level that any big budget movie would be proud of. At some of the more emotional moments in the game it accompanies the scenes perfectly helping you feel it even more and maybe even shed a tear or 2. But the Lycan enemies are never used as often or as menacing as they should be, with the great premise, character design along with their imposing stature they should be a great part to the game but they feel almost a side quest at times to the much bigger Rebel threat and intrigue that bubbles under the surface. This is the single biggest failing of the story, almost feeling like a prequel at times with it setting up so much more yet to come. The writing, narrative is good enough to be thoroughly enjoyable with no heavy cringe moments (some mind) but is not shocking or surprising in anyway, they have some authentic English period grammar that is appreciated by its integration and execution.
So long as your expectation are in check as mine were The Order 1886 is a stunning achievement for a company’s first foray into the Big, bad world of AAA development. With them showing that they can more than go toe to toe with the best from a technical stance that at this point are unrivalled. A rich, dense world and characters which can and I hope do go on to a much bigger and better sequels which they will hopefully learn and improve on the freedom of the player within not only the world at points but more importantly the story progression and choice to allow the player to decide more of the fate and end in some scenes, meetings with less hand holding and prolonged scenes that even have QTE’s that break them up still not working fully. An update that removed the onscreen icons completely would improve a lot as would a rumoured Photo mode and maybe if it sells enough some form of DLC. A sequel that offered up Hunt the Lycan MP more or even Lycan v Human/Rebel V Human small MP add on would create a great deal more value and keep the main story characters out of it with secondary Knights and Rebels present. If story driven content is something that you enjoy and not playing or grinding for hours tracking a sewer rat or fetching a plot device for artificial game length extension this will give you that break. But the desperate waste of the Lycan portion of the story is the most tragic loss from early promise that I really hope they get a chance to address in a sequel. It is a Popcorn game that will entertain, wow and leave you with a feeling that you just played game that will stay with you long after it all ends and will be talked about a great deal over the next few months and to be part of that is not only fun but enjoyable.
The biggest recommendation I can give it is that I never wanted to stop playing and when it all ended I was desperate to play more, through all its faults, Domineering at times, prompts, guidance and overall pacing issues it is still an experience that I would not have wanted to miss and I enjoyed far more than some other games that took 3-4 times the length to finish. With satisfying and enjoyable combat mixed with great design and more cerebral, tension filled sections, soured slightly by some clunky sections & control (Activating key points can be annoyingly picky on location at times), poorer level design in others and far too many break-ups at points that could have been handled better. Ready At Dawn have arrived in the AAA space with a game that shows they mean business, with more time now the engine is done and feedback on the faults as above with the wins the game achieves it is a solid start of a generation and saga that I cannot wait to play and see more. Sandbox this game is not with far too much parenting throughout sections of the game but an enjoyable, entertaining funhouse it sure is that has the infuriating signs at points of just how great it could be, that we could see even more in a sequel.