The PS4 has been out in the wild for 16 months now and a three-toed sloth could easily count the number of triple-A exclusive titles available for the platform. It’s tough going for the PS4 owners out there who need to have their purchase of the console vindicated. If you’re starved for PS4 exclusives you’ve no doubt expected the arrival of third-person shooter, The Order:1886 with all the seriousness of a heart attack. It’s been in development for the last five years, so was it worth the wait? I fancy my English accent, twirl my moustache, and head to Victorian-era London to bring you this review, old chap.
Developer Ready at Dawn, as you might know (I didn’t) has a history in re-shoeing existing games for play on the PSP. Thus, The Order:1886 represents their first attempt at original content on the current generation of the PlayStation platform.
The Order:1886 starts with what is so commonplace in modern gaming—a day 1 patch. Mercifully this one is only 66 MB. You are then promptly transported to an alternate history London, where you take on the role of brave Sir Galahad, a knight belonging to an ancient order of knights who are—and have been for thousands of year—engaged in a battle to rid the world of nasty half-breed monsters (Ed: We like our monsters fully bred, thank you very much). The year is 1886 and technological advancements in weaponry and travel have aided the knights in their crusade, but a new threat rises up and threatens to upset the delicate balance. The good knight Galahad and his trusty companions must investigate.
The first thing you’ll notice about The Order:1886 is the prominent black bars at the top and bottom of your screen. Do attempt to adjust the picture. They control the horizontal and the vertical. The visuals you see are presented in 2.40:1, an aspect ratio that you’ll recognize from feature-length films. On most modern TVs that support a 16:9 aspect ratio, it results in the letterboxing that you see in-game. This forced perspective is a design choice by the studio to achieve a cinematic presentation. After having played it through, I would have liked the choice to see what the game would have looked without the black bars of nothingness. I would have also liked to experience the presentation in 60fps, but it is locked at 30fps in order to get close to the “cinematic feel” of a movie (that natively runs at 24fps). Another thing about the visuals: if you are in the habit of playing with the subtitles on, you may need to bring out the reading glasses, or a reasonable-sized telescope. The subtitles are aggravatingly small.
Initially I found Galahad’s normal movement to be stiff and laboured. The run mechanism is awkward in confined spaces—it’s akin to the roadie run in Gears of War, just not done as well. Perhaps it’s because of Galahad’s age. It’s more likely that the look and aim sensitivities were set too low by default. Kicking those up a few notches improved the experience for me.
The pacing is initially slow but there were no settings available to fix that. I had gotten to chapter three and still felt like I was playing a tutorial stage. I had entered a few brief skirmishes but it seemed most of the time was spent watching the story slowly unfold. It picks up in the middle thankfully. However, each stealth sections brings an abrupt end to the action. If you come into the game hoping for a bombastic experience like Uncharted, you may be in for some disappointment.
For the most part, the enemies you encounter aren’t particularly clever. They try to overpower you with numbers rather than any clever tactics. It feels cheap and in the later stages, it’s an irritating way of upping the difficulty.
The armoury is nothing out the ordinary save for the ornate furnishings on the standard pistols, machine guns, rifles, crossbows, and grenade launchers. There are a few noteworthy pieces such as a launcher that lets you cover an enemy in Thermite and then set it on fire, or the Arc Induction Lance which gives enemies the shock of their lives. But their use is limited for trivially short sections of the game. The triple-barrelled shotgun is particularly effective if a little expensive on the ammo. Overall, the guns are fun to use and I even got a trophy for killing enemies with all the different weapons on offer.
As I highlighted earlier, your shooting is interrupted by stealth sections where you must pass undetected. The developers certainly put the “Quick” into QTE. If you miss a silent kill by a less than a timeous press of the triangle button, that section needs to be restarted. You’d think the order’s gunsmith and all-round genius Nikola Tesla would have thought to make a silencer for a pistol, for those times when a quiet kill is in order (Ed: Although the silencer was only invented in 1902, you WOULD think that Tesla would have come up with it by 1886…).
When the game isn’t leading you by the nose, there isn’t much reason for you to wander off the prescribed path. The only collectibles to be got are audio recordings that you’re unlikely to listen to because they are only accessible from the game settings menu. Other games piped the audio out from the DualShock 4’s speaker so the player needn’t have to pause the play. That feature would have been handy here.
If there is one thing that The Order:1886 has going for it, is its looks. This is one GORGEOUS game. I’m in informed that the developers visited London and took tens of thousands of photos of the architecture, the textures of the building, and even the cobblestones in the lanes. The attention to detail certainly shows in squalid sections of the city through to the stately mansions of the privileged rich. The characters too are wonderfully garbed and animated.
Looks can only go so far though. In the end, when the credits have rolled after a weekend of play (on the medium difficulty), we find an adequate story that doesn’t answer all the questions that it poses. I suspect this may have been done in the hopes of landing a possible sequel in the future. And perhaps in the future Ready at Dawn can build on the foundations to produce an exclusive title that PS4 owners can truly be proud of.
Final Score: 7 Exclusive Prawns out of 10
Developer: Ready at Dawn
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Age Rating: 18