Friday 19 January 2018

The Order 1886 review: Look but don't touch

The Order 1886: Beautiful to look at, not so interesting to play
The Order 1886: Beautiful to look at, not so interesting to play
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

OH the heartbreak. Rarely have such peaks of achievement sat cheek-by-jowl with such troughs of unfulfilled promise.

The Order 1886 (PS4); rating: 6.5/10; age: 18+

Let’s brook no argument here: The Order 1886 is simply stunning – but in one respect only. Graphically, its grimy rendition of Victorian London has no peer on a console. The visual subtlety, detail and depth to the characters and locations make you stare in awe at the screen – and then the PS4. The action glides seamlessly from cut-scene to gameplay and back again – never breaking a sweat. Creator Ready At Dawn – previously known only for some excellent PSP efforts – has genuinely set a new benchmark.

If this is what’s possible so early in the console’s life-cycle, imagine what’s being cooked up, for instance, by the acknowledged virtuosos at Uncharted/Last of Us developer Naughty Dog? Although maybe they’ll never top The Order.

The stun factor whips up more than enough enthusiasm to carry you in the opening chapters, where a somewhat disjointed plot takes root.

The Order 1886: This level is set aboard a giant zeppelin
The Order 1886: This level is set aboard a giant zeppelin

You’re a member of the eponymous Order – a small band of “knights” dedicated to protecting the monarchy against rebellion and, er, werewolves. You’re handy with a shotgun and possess superpowers (fast healing, bullet time). But despite Ready At Dawn’s talking up the storyline, your motivations and those of your opposition seem muddy at best.

RAD are also in thrall to Heavy Rain for its QTEs and Gears of War for its cover-based firefights, neither of which come off as equally convincing as their inspiration. You spend your time watching lengthy cut-scenes (possibly incorporating a QTE or two), followed by a brisk walk and then perhaps enter an enclosed area where you just know you’ll face a stream of enemy fodder.

These lumpen pockets of action – stymied by dumb enemy AI and baldly linear  level design – come to life on the rare occasions when you’re handed one of the few steampunk weapons – such as the ones that shoot bolts of electricity or clouds of flammable gas.

By now, you’ll have noticed a broad range of design inconsistencies that don’t sit with the sheer brilliance that produced the graphics. Most rooms and areas are full of lavishly detailed but utterly inert objects – mirrors and glass don’t even show a reflection, for instance. You can’t talk to any NPC, even though many seem to have a story to tell.

The Order 1886: The werewolves make occasional appearances
The Order 1886: The werewolves make occasional appearances

Some areas force you to walk at snail’s pace, others require a stealth approach that causes instant death if you break the rules.

So many situations shout “ILLOGICAL” or, more likely, “we didn’t have time to program for this!” Ready At Dawn may claim it’s all in the service of the story. But when the plot is this full of unresolved threads, it smacks of a game with insufficient development runway for take-off.

Lacking multiplayer or anything in the way of unlockable weapons or character development, The Order is a one-shot deal. You’ll play it through once, that’s it. It’s tempting to recommend it purely as an aesthetic experience, a tech demo glimpsing the future. On that basis alone, prepare to be amazed.

 

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