Thursday, March 12, 2015

Beautiful, But Flawed - The Order: 1886 Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: The Order is a game trapped in time. It's easily one of the most gorgeous games of this console generation and shows just how powerful the PS4 is. On the other hand, the gameplay and level design feel like it would have been fresh and interesting five years ago. If you're looking for an entertaining story with very typical shooting mechanics, it's worth a play through. If you're looking for a new and exciting shooter or a game to play over and over again, keep looking.  

Video games as a medium are constantly looked at through a comparative lens with movies. This makes perfect sense, as movies have been around for some time, are common place and easy to relate to, and are viewed in a similar fashion as video games are: through a screen. Ready at Dawn CEO and creative director of The Order Ru Weerasuriya has taken this comparison to heart, hoping to create an uncompromising cinematic experience for the player to enjoy. While Weerasuriya and the team at Ready at Dawn has nailed the cinematic aspect of games, the team seems to have put aside the gameplay portion as an after thought, creating an entertaining, yet divisive exclusive for PS4.

The Order: 1886 takes place in a fictional version of London in 1886. King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table are not only still around, but are fighting off the dark things that go bump in the night, including werewolves Lycans. Players take control of Sir Galahad, who, with the help of his team of knights, must help fight off the Lycans and, at the same time, solve the mystery of a rebellious faction that is taking roots in the London underground. While the story won't earn any awards for originality, it's entertaining enough to play through and hits the perfect beats of alternate history, mystery and even a little bit of horror. Beating the game left me entertained and excited to see where the story could go were this game to become a franchise. 

The game is absolutely gorgeous.

The characters themselves feel like they have years of baggage between them, making them feel very strong and interesting. Galahad is a headstrong, charismatic yet flawed knight who runs with his gut feeling more than logic or the orders he is given. Nikola Tesla is the geeky inventor who practically fawns over Galahad whenever he sees him. Lafayette is the playboy, charming and funny to watch on screen while Isabeau is a willful woman with a convoluted history with Galahad. The chemistry between the characters is fantastic, which makes the focus on Galahad give little screen time to everyone else. This fits the story well, but I definitely wish there was some more time with this cast because they are instantly likable and compelling. 

The greatest character in the game has to be this alternate history take on London itself. The gorgeous graphics really bring out the grimy, filthiness of the London back alleys and make you feel like you are there. The historical feel helps keep the game world grounded and relatable, while the addition of dirigibles and electricity cannons helps differentiate the game world from reality enough to feel unique. The engine the game is made on is a technical powerhouse, with the lighting acting in realistic manners, casting eerie shadows off of every object on the map while reflecting off of reflective surfaces in such a real world manner it's breath taking. Many times I had to simply stop the game and just look around at how beautiful the game is, especially in scenes where there was rain falling and puddles on the ground.

The game looks so good, so why hide it with darkness, everywhere?

The lighting, despite being a great strength, is also one of the game's biggest weaknesses. On more than one occasion I had trouble seeing a room clearly because of the lighting, even with the gamma setting turned up all the way. This is due to the cinematic lighting used through out the game, and though it adds a very serious feel to the scenery, it isn't as beautiful when you are having trouble navigating the environment or trying to shoot at the group of enemies across the dark room.  

Which brings us to the gameplay of The Order. The Order is a third person, cover based shooter, and as such, works well. The shooting mechanics work well and there are a large number of weapons to pick up and play with throughout the game. But that's all that can really be said about the mechanics. There isn't anything really new or exciting here, which is such a shame, because the setting lends itself to such creative opportunities. 

Enemies come in wave after wave like a shooting gallery as you progress through the linear levels. There are really only three types of enemies: regular joes, enemies with shotguns and enemies with grenade launchers. This means you'll be shooting through the same amount and type of enemies from beginning to end, without much variety, aside from the Lycans. 

Aside from shooting human enemies, Lycans will also challenge Sir Galahad from time to time.

Humans aren't the only enemies that are in the game, though it often feels like it. Within the 16 chapters, Lycans are taken on in three small sections, with the beasts rushing towards Galahad who must dodge and shoot until they are weak enough to be taken down with a QTE. The fights aren't tense so much as boring at their best and frustrating at their worst. There are two QTE heavy boss fights with beefier versions of the traditional Lycan which are much more enjoyable, but overall more cinematic than satisfying gameplay. 

Aside from the lack of enemy variety, there is also a lack of weapon variety. For a game that showed off a lot of creative weapons in it's promotional materials it really doesn't have anything that hasn't been used before. There are pistols, rifles, shotguns and machine guns. The four "science" weapons, as they are called in the game, consist of a rocket launcher, a grenade launcher, a lightning cannon and the thermite rifle. Each of these weapons is used in one or two sequences, which is a pity in and of itself. But aside from that, the weapons aren't very interesting. The termite rifle is essentially a machine gun with a built in grenade launcher and the lightning cannon acts like an overpowered shotgun. Sure the shooting mechanics work well, but I can't help but lament the wasted potential behind creating creative hardware to utilize, like in the Resistance franchise or Sunset Overdrive, rather than the generic, everyday guns seen in every other shooter.

The levels look amazing, but play like they were built in 2008.

The final nail in the generic coffin is the level design. Though the environments are gorgeous, the setting of London in 1886 does not lend itself to creative environments. Combat is at it's best when the areas are claustrophobic, shooting down alley ways while hiding behind barrels and boxes. However, the game often throws Galahad and crew into a large area where waves after waves of enemies simply fill in and shoot. There isn't any creativity added to the level design, so there's no way to flank the enemies or move other than from one cover spot to another. Once again, this isn't a huge problem, but it feels like a missed opportunity to deliver a smart, creative shooting experience rather than a generic shooting range with random targets. Between the lack of variety in enemies, weapons and level design, it seems like The Order really dropped the ball on the fantastic setting it has created for itself.

Outside of the shooting and story driven segments there are a few sneaking missions, which work well to break up the pace and are fun, but nothing new or exciting. There are also collectibles to find throughout the game, but unless you are going for the trophies, there isn't much substance to them, which once again feels like a missed opportunity to create interesting stories and help flesh out this take on London even further.

I wish to see where Sir Galahad and the Order are going and hope for a sequel.

The most curious thing about The Order: 1886 are the choices made while developing the game. Aside from the obvious issues pointed out above, there are a few things that feel dated and forced on the player rather than helping. Why can't audio logs be played while walking in the environment? Why can't Galahad run at all times rather than being forced to walk from place to place? Why, if using QTE's, can they not be creative and add to the experience rather than being simply generic? Despite the issues The Order has, the game is still a game that should be played, though once beaten, you'll probably never come back to it. It is the best looking game that should have been released 5 years ago, and if you can handle that then it's worth the 8 to 10 hour running time.

7.0 out of 10

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