Insomniac Games may have taken a half-step outside of the House of PlayStation, but Sony may have already found the studio’s replacement in Ready at Dawn. Much of the conversation surrounding Victorian adventure The Order: 1886 has centred on its storyline and steampunk art style, but after a short hands-on demo, we came away more impressed with the release’s weapons than anything else.
The early chapter that we got to play – which, perhaps to the game’s detriment, has appeared at every convention under the sun since E3 2014 – serves as an introduction to the Thermite Rifle, an olde-worlde weapon that fires flammable powder out of its main barrel. The twist here is that, contrary to expectations, you’re meant to shoot the gas above your enemies, and then light it up using a flare which is assigned to another button.
There are a couple of different ways that you can work with this: setting fire to the explosive particles sprays inferno all over your foes, bringing them down in arguably the most inhumane way imaginable; alternatively, you can use the flare first, and ignite it with the powder, resulting in a more explosive option. Both actually work well, and separate the game from standard third-person shooters – even if the developer hasn’t effectively communicated that.
The problem is that it’s a gimmick, and there’ll need to be a lot more of those to keep the game interesting over the course of the campaign. The studio’s already teased an outrageously overstocked shotgun and, of course, a Tesla manufactured lightning weapon, so we’re hopeful that the full release will deliver the goods. Perhaps the bigger question is whether the studio will stray from its partially believable universe in order to give you a weapon wheel a la Resistance: Fall of Man.
If the jury’s out in this department, however, there’s one area where everyone can agree: it looks incredible. Despite being several months old at this point, the demo that we played is still light years ahead of anything else currently available on the PS4 from a pure visuals perspective. Cut-scenes and gameplay segue seamlessly, without any judders or noticeable changes in quality. It’s a cliché that’s been used many times before, but here it really does feel like you’re playing a cinematic.
Of course, that could end up being the game’s biggest downfall as well. One section sees you dragging one of your allies out of the line of fire, with the camera quickly switching to an Uncharted-esque over the shoulder viewpoint, where you need to pick off approaching enemies on a nearby balcony. The aiming is a bit fiddly here, with the studio clearly attempting to simulate both antique weaponry and your character’s current struggle. Fail, though, and you’ll face an instant death.
And it’s this kind of thing that the developer desperately needs to avoid. The cinematic approach works in titles such as The Last of Us because it’s complemented by a lot of gameplay variety; from stealth to all-out action, you can approach the encounters in Naughty Dog’s seminal survival horror in several different ways, and you’re rarely penalised for any of them. Here, it does feel like you’re playing a shooting gallery at times.
But we’re not giving up hope just yet. The imagination that’s gone into the Thermite Rifle alone proves that the outfit is prioritising gunplay alongside story and visual fidelity, even if its pre-release marketing plan has struggled to reflect that fact. If it can dream up a few more equally entertaining firearms, and some encounters involving both humans and the ancient enemies known as the half-breeds, then this could be a jaw-dropping roller coaster ride through Victorian London.
Are you desperate to glide across The Order: 1886’s painstakingly rendered cobbles, or is the cinematic approach making you feel a little uneasy? Doff your top hat in the comments section below.