The Order: 1886 Review: Mo-Capped Splendor with a Side of Gunplay and Stealth

The Order: 1886 Review
out of 5

Developer Ready at Dawn’s Sony PlayStation 4 exclusive The Order: 1886 is a risky Triple-A title that looks the part of a superstar but cannot seem to strike all the right notes. It pushes the fusion of gaming and interactive storytelling perhaps further than any video game before it, and that alone will alienate many players whose expectations are unintentionally misplaced at anything other than the gorgeously drab, slow burning, more than partially passive visual experience that it ultimately is.

The Order: 1886 preaches narrative and storytelling first with run-of-the-mill cover-based shooting, a few stints of stealth, and cleanly implemented Quick Time Events (QTE) serving to help push the altered reality period story revolving around an ancient order of Knights along a narrow, forced path. It’s not uncommon to traverse intricately designed rooms and exteriors where there’s literally nothing to do but get from point A to B. There’s ample industry-best visuals to soak up that make fine use of the intentionally nearly monochromatic color palette, but unless there’s a white dot i.e. the game’s interactive marker to approach and initiate an event or optionally pick up an item to examine in the hunt for Trophies, the general mantra is “look all you want, but don’t touch.”

QTEs are controversial in their own right among gamers as many despise them despite their implementation. If there did exist a correct guide to using QTE in a video game then The Order: 1886 should be one of the first games mentioned. I want to be caught off guard by QTEs that don’t disrupt the flow and this experience occurred numerous times throughout the course of the game. Something like having to quickly react to a QTE prompt while otherwise going through the motions of jumping across a ledge successfully kept me on my toes when the action is otherwise taking a break.

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As a shooter there’s a variety of historically accurate weapons mixed in with a handful of science fiction firearms developed by Nikola Tesla. This is part of The Order: 1886’s rewriting of history into a world where technology is well ahead of its Victorian-Era London time, thanks in full to a young Mr. Tesla and his Batcave-like laboratory.

Tesla’s heavy firepower such as the Arc Gun, Thermite Gun and Combo Gun, as well as a couple futuristic accessories such as an interactive Monocular and device to short circuit electrical panels, are only available to make use of in select chapters. Without a multiplayer component these moments with the coolest guns are far too few. The inclusion of the real-life Tesla character and what he can offer is a stroke of genius, but under-utilizing what his presence brings to the creative table is a grave oversight.

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Standard gunplay peeking around and over cover gets an injection of a modified QTE with Blacksight, an offshoot of the Blackwater liquid that Knights drink in order to heal their wounds. Once a meter is filled by killing enemies or pounding the X button after drinking Blackwater to revive from the brink of death, Blacksight slows down the game temporarily to execute a kill shot by using the right analog stick to move the aimer to one of those white dots. It’s an effective tool in the box for the few harder gunfights, but otherwise easily forgotten as other weapons shot naturally usually do the trick.

Gameplay balance couldn’t have been on the agenda for Ready at Dawn as The Order: 1886 jumps between long stretches of pure cut-scenes and walking around to a massive firefight against waves of enemies and then back again. There’s no real challenging gunfight until Chapter 3 of 16, and then it’s another long stretch of chapters before anything comparable comes along, including a few chapters comprised 100 percent of cut-scenes. On one hand this is slightly bizarre and unwelcome, but on the other it offers an element of surprise — except when a large cache of weapons happens to be laying around just outside the next room or area.

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The Order: 1886 will ultimately be remembered for its unusually heavy reliance on a movie’s worth of cut-scenes and total game time that runs roughly six hours in length. I didn’t time the cut-scenes, but looking back it feels as if half the game is spent watching Sir Galahad, his Knights of the Round Table that comprise The Order, and a host of other characters chatting casually or plodding through a moderately engaging story line steeped in history with a scientific/supernatural element mixed in. It’s a tall order to expect a North American audience to latch onto narrative set on another continent with sometimes thick accents, in another time period, where the likes of the mundane “United India Company” play a huge role. I struggled to manage and keep track of all the names and places until the latter chapters as they don’t exactly roll off the tongue, yet thankfully there’s an option to turn on subtitles when in doubt or aurally challenged.

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If you’re going to spend a sizable portion of a game watching instead of interacting then the visuals better damn well support that risky design direction. Apart from a little clipping here and funky looking eyes there, The Order: 1886 is worth experiencing for its historically accurate photo-realistic visuals and solid voice work alone. We’re talking mo-capped characters whose bottom jaws appear to shift as they ponder and pieces of paper and photographs that bend as you handle them. It’s a shame Ready at Dawn couldn’t have pulled off at least basic multiplayer or cooperative modes as this world lends itself to multiplayer mayhem and exploration beyond the constraints of the core story. Further consider a few story threads were left hanging like a chad and I wouldn’t mind a sequel set in this meticulously detailed world if the game’s criticisms are taken to heart and properly rectified.

The Order: 1886 was reviewed on PS4 and furnished by Sony Computer Entertainment America for the purposes of this review. It is available March 20, 2015 exclusively for PlayStation 4.

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