Finally, the PlayStation 4 has an exclusive game that shows off just how powerful it is, and the sort of photo-realistic graphics it’s capable of. Meet The Order: 1886. It’s as beautiful a game as I’ve seen on any platform, anywhere.
Unfortunately, it’s also one of the shortest. I finished it in just under six hours, and that was without skipping any cutscenes, a handful of deaths and repeating some of the quick-time events I missed the first time around, leading me to believe the 5:30 play-through that was posted last week is entirely possible should you nail every section first time.
For a game that costs R799, that works out to R133.16 per hour of entertainment which I’m sure you’ll agree is actually quite steep. Especially as once finished, there’s little to no reason to play the game again.
It’s essentially the videogame equivalent of a truly unique book that can’t be read twice and all of the excitement, appreciation and disappointment that entails.
The game’s primary hook is its alternate-reality setting of Victorian-era London, where creatures like werewolves are real and weapons like Thermite-launchers, electricity-spewing arc guns and smoke grenades are not only possible, but in active use by modern Knights of the Round Table.
You’re one of those Knights, a mustachioed, middle-aged badass called Sir Galahad. The game starts off with Sir Galahad’s imprisonment for an unknown, but clearly serious crime, and jumps back to the events that led up to it. This initial sequence introduces players to the third-person controls, Galahad’s heavy breathing and the quick-time events that crop up throughout the rest of the game.
Getting Galahad back to the point where we see things going pear-shaped for him takes up 80% of the game, though, as the player must be guided through his slow but sure realisation that all is not as it seems with, shall we say, the order of things.
To lay the foundation for Galahad’s subsequent realisations, we must witness his regular day-to-day Knightly routine first, which is doing the bidding of the Council that oversees all Knightly action.
As the game gets going, Galahad and his squad, led by his close friend Sir Perceval, head off to deal with a rebel threat emanating from Whitechapel. Because this is a game, they do that by shooting suspected rebels with high-powered fantasy weaponry as they move from place to place, gathering clues and quashing resistance.
The action unfolds from a third-person perspective, and naturally makes heavy use of the cover system made popular by the Gears of War games. If you’re familiar with the mechanic, you’ll find yourself quickly at home with The Order’s controls: enter cover with O, aim with L2 and the right analogue stick and press R1 and R2 to fire. The gamepad buttons switch between weapons.
But it’s not all about shooting: some levels are stealthy, allowing Galahad to sneak about and stab unsuspecting guards from behind as he makes his way between objectives.
The shooting and sneaking is punctuated by fairly regular quick-time events that force you to press the right button in time during close-quarters combat sequences.
I found these to be a little annoying as I’m firmly in the camp of people who loathe QTEs, but I was especially bleak about QTEs that required I point the camera in the right direction before the required button symbol appeared, which led to more than a few misses on my part as I wrestled with the somewhat awkward controls (and my own rather slow reaction times).
Also, how is it 2015 and developers are still using quick-time events, despite the gaming community’s almost universal disdain for it?
Still, these moments and the 2.40:1 letterbox aspect ratio that sees black bars above and below the action lend the game the cinematic feel the developers were clearly going for.
It’s a looker
Over the course of sixteen chapters, Galahad makes his way through the squalor of Whitechapel, several London Underground stations, a deserted hospital, a few industrial areas and – most notably – a massive, gorgeously detailed dirigible called the Agamemnon, all of which look utterly, gob-smackingly incredible thanks to a level of detail and polish I’ve never seen in another game.
Characters, too, look convincingly real, somehow managing to avoid the haunted, empty look of computer-generated characters that usually take the viewer down into the Uncanny Valley and break any sense of immersion. No siree, these characters look as good as any you’d find in a detailed CG movie like Final Fantasy.
Which is a good thing, as quite a bit of my six-hour playtime was spent watching long cutscenes unfolding before me, with the occasional quick-time event thrown in to keep me on my toes.
Photo-realism made real
Everything in The Order: 1886 has a hand-crafted, spit-polished look to it, and the overall effect is of astonishing realism. I often found myself just gaping at what I was seeing, wondering how on earth Ready At Dawn did it.
The transformation scenes – you’ll know them when you see them – are particularly brilliant, looking better even than man-to-beast transitions seen in Hollywood movies. Clearly, Ready at Dawn’s visual effects people are good at what they do. That, or they really wanted to work in the movie industry but could only get jobs as game developers.
After staring at it for six hours, I can only conclude that The Order’s visuals are genuinely an order of magnitude more beautiful than even legendary lookers like The Last of Us Remastered and Metro: Last Light, and that’s saying a lot. If you like eye candy, this is the game to get right now.
No exploration needed
Unfortunately, as good as levels and people look, they don’t feel particularly alive and there’s not much to do in them but pass through and shoot things.
Occasionally you will come across an object that can be picked up and examined LA Noire-style (complete with wrist-rotation), but these don’t add anything significant to the game apart from a trophy for examining them all, and are usually found not too far off the beaten track.
That’s also because there isn’t much that is off the beaten track to start with, since levels are so tight and linear, leaving no real reason for gamers to go back and re-play them if they’re not Trophy-hunters who absolutely must unlock every one.
I think the most memorable item I found was a stuffed Sackboy, one of the Easter Eggs in the game. It had nothing to do with Galahad or his story, though, it was just a fun find.
Which is a good thing, really, because The Order is a very, very serious game.
It’s basically an interactive movie
As much as I commend the developers for making The Order look as good as it does, in the end I came away feeling like I’d played through a very linear, very serious narrative that was more an interactive movie than a game. Sure, the shooting is very game-y, but it felt like busy-work that separated movie and QTE sequences.
There are also no moments of levity to ease the weight of the story, or to make the characters feel like anything but caricatures of humour-less policemen, and while that may suit the overall tone of the world it makes for some pretty heavy going for me as a gamer, and something I didn’t particularly enjoy. Your mileage will likely vary, of course.
Topping it off is the fact that there is no multiplayer to extend the life of The Order: 1886 beyond your initial playthrough, no decisions that affect the final outcome and therefore only one ending. Expect to buy this one, play it, and trade it in right away or leave it collecting dust on your shelf forevermore.
But is the story any good?
To be honest, The Order’s story is a little dull for all its weight, and more than a bit predictable. From the get-go, I knew something was up with certain characters and I got a sense of where Galahad’s story was going, and it all seemed to unfold somewhat inevitably, with only one notable surprise that I genuinely didn’t see coming.
It’s still enjoyable to watch your suspicions bear fruit as you won’t be 100% sure how things will unfold, but when they do you’ll find yourself nodding along sagely rather than gasping in surprise. I did, anyway.
All that said, The Order: 1886 isn’t a bad game per se, it just doesn’t offer the same kind of thrills or longevity that other games do which, in this age of tight purse-strings (particularly here in South Africa), is enough to encourage gamers to rather spend their money elsewhere.
But if you want to see the prettiest game on the PlayStation 4 and pay R799 for it, then The Order: 1886 should be at the top of your must-buy list.