Now that the dust has settled a bit, let’s have a one-way discussion about the PS4’s exclusive release that arrived this past February titled The Order: 1886. This isn’t a review of Ready At Dawn’s ambitious, but ultimately flawed and failed attempt at making the equivalent of a cinematic gaming experience, but rather an editorial – and maybe a review – and a cautionary tale to those who would attempt to develop beyond their means. This is a reminder of that old saying, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
First, let’s admit that if you paid full price for this hot mess then you have some incredibly huge cojones. It’s not easy admitting you’ve purchased a “lemon”, especially when you’ve been told by the person who sold you that lemon to suck on it. As you may have guessed, I paid full price for this interactive cinema. A movie on wheels, or rails, so to speak. The setting, themes, and idea of the whole game were enticing. How could a Victorian era, Steampunk-centric, Action and Murder Mystery game taking place in a dark and dreary England showing off the height of the industrial revolution, steeped in conspiracy involving werewolf and vampire mythology, absolutely fail to deliver the goods on what could have been a truly epic gaming adventure?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way people, The Order: 1886 is probably the shiniest turd ever created. Gamers can argue about graphical fidelity all they want, but you simply cannot deny how good looking this game is. For a console game, this puppy is better looking than the vast majority of PC games out there! Oh yeah, I went there. The premise and setup of the story isn’t bad either, and not a single character in the game is voiced badly. The game is dripping, nay, oozing with atmosphere and detailed environments. So why do I feel like I was promised a lap-dance only to discover my pocket had been swiftly picked?
This is probably going to confuse gamers that are aware of this title but have yet to play it, The Order: 1886 is one of those great games that never was. All of the pieces are in place. The cast, crew, set, props, and even the moody soundtrack are all there. The problem has nothing to do with timing, lighting, make-up, or arrangement though. It’s the interactive areas of the game that fall drastically short of well, interaction. The on-rails nature of this cover-based corridor shooter, while spectacular looking, offers little in the way of meaningful action and player interactivity. I have no problem playing highly scripted games, I’ve played and enjoyed many throughout my 35+ years (yes I’m pushing 40) of life. I don’t mind sitting back and enjoying hefty cutscenes either, if the tone and setting are right. The problem is that The Order: 1886 doesn’t give players enough actual gameplay.
It’s clear to me that Ready At Dawn, the development studio behind The Order: 1886, have worked hard at creating a highly stylized and detailed game world. That world I’m talking about is one just begging to be explored in great detail, and while some of the background story can be uncovered through the discovery of news paper articles, missives between enigmatic figures, and audio logs, it always feels like there is something else missing. The player can pick up a number of items throughout the game, giving them a detailed “once-over”, but you never actually get to use the majority of these items, they’re basically strewn about the environment to tease collectors and trophy hunters. It’s a shame really, because the shear amount of detail that’s gone into picking up and looking at items ultimately becomes a pointless endeavour and a time waster, or filler.
When you’re not simply roaming through the awe-inspiring environments and looking at items, or listening to dialogue between a couple of the main characters, you’ll occasionally engage in action sequences or the ever popular “quick-time” event. I personally don’t mind quick-time events. I think they have a place in gaming, and when used properly, they can turn a cutscene into an actual situation for the player. The cutscenes are actually fine in The Order, the dilemma is that gameplay roughly falls into 3 catagories: Explore mode – simply run down corridor or street, Combat mode – fight off a predetermined number of enemies using cover-based shooting, Quick-time event mode – fight, subdue, or flee, mostly during boss battles or cutscenes. None of these “action” sequences are particularly good or well made. There simply isn’t enough good gameplay to go around. Any interesting or intense situations are depleted by dull action and increasingly tedious battles. Sadly, the gameplay involved is nowhere near the level or standard of the game world and its architecture or artistry.
This all makes The Order sound like a mediocre game, but it’s not. It’s actually an ambitious game, with mediocre gameplay, and that’s both sad and unfortunate. Considering how much work went into creating this detailed world, and how much money it must have cost to produce the entire game and then distribute and advertise it, you’d think that both the story and game length would deliver a moderate gaming experience. The story isn’t bad, but I did notice a couple of unresolved plot holes that made me cock an eyebrow and question whether or not I missed something with the accompanying sound of “hrrrmmmm!?!?” in my head. Having played through the full game twice, finding all of the collectables, and getting a Platinum Trophy for the game on my second playthru, I know for a fact that I didn’t miss anything, and that the actual story did indeed have a couple of plot holes.
I can accept plot holes though. I’ve played about a few thousand games now, and even the ones I’d consider very good or great, have all had plot holes. What I can’t accept is how short the game is and how little there is to do. Unless you’re actively trying to aquire all of the trophies, there is no replay value in The Order. I know that multiplayer modes have become something of a gimmick over the past decade, but I honestly believe that The Order could have benefited greatly with the inclusion of a co-operative mode, and even an online competitive multiplayer mode. There are enough areas and levels that multiplayer would have complimented the gameplay nicely. I sincerely believe that The Order could have delivered a multiplayer experience akin to something like Gears of War. That would have been great, and I think the lack of these additions has proven to be a serious blow to The Order and indeed how well the game will sell and be received by gamers in the long run.
Ready At Dawn has some serious problems to face in the foreseeable future. I can’t see them adding an online multiplayer mode to the game as DLC or releasing a worthwhile expansion that includes the additional mode. Instead I think they’re either banking, or rather hoping, that they’ll be able to make a better sequel to The Order, but given the grand misteps and mistakes that were made in releasing The Order as is, I think that the team behind the game should question where they want to take their next game, whether it’s a sequel or an all new excursion.
If you could use the judgement of a game in order to distinguish how much job security someone has (and in a way, you can), I’d say that the artists, programmers, sound designers, and technical engineers including testing and Q&A, all did their jobs and followed through. I don’t however, think I could say the same for the creative director or design lead though. Attempting to make a movie out of a game, or a game into a movie has been done before, and with better results. The team lead or project leaders behind The Order had big dreams that fell mighty short. It’s still tough to say whether or not it’s time for them to prepare their resume or not, only time will tell, but in the game industry time moves pretty quickly.
I really wanted to like The Order: 1886. There are many things that I like about it. The characters and story are both engaging and engrossing, but the gameplay… ack, the gameplay. For all the production value that went into making the game, I definitely do not feel that I’ve received my dollar-to-gameplay value out of the game. Even though it must have taken a hefty budget to produce The Order, it never should have hit store shelves for the costly amount of $59 dollars. The price would have been far easier to swallow had it been sold for $39, or even better, $29 dollars. Asking gamers to cough up this much cash for so little gameplay though, is both unreasonable and ridiculous. A turd is just a turd, no matter how much spit, paint, or polish you give it.