The Order: 1886 may be set in the late 19th century, but its presentation is anything but ancient. Ready at Dawn’s inaugural home console escapade is not only the best looking game on the PlayStation 4, but we’d argue that it’s some way ahead of the best looking PC titles, too. Granted, it’s not running in 4K resolution, and has black borders at the top and the bottom of the screen to enhance its ‘filmic’ look, but this is still a real technical triumph, boasting flawless image quality and some of the most authentic environments that we’ve ever seen. The question is: has the ex-God of War developer built an actual game around its outstanding graphics?
Our demo opened with the knights atop a zeppelin. In this alternate history adventure, an ongoing conflict between humanity and a faction of bestial brutes named lycans has accelerated the industrial revolution as we know it, resulting in a steampunk-esque interpretation of the Victorian era, where soldiers wield shotguns alongside their pocket watches. It’s a beautifully realised universe, enhanced by some seriously stellar artwork, which seamlessly marries the familiar with fiction. In fact, this unusual amalgamation can be brilliantly bewildering at points; a train coach, for example, appears perfectly period appropriate – until you see clouds through its windows.
However, a lot has been made of whether this is actually a game – and it’s a complication that’s been propelled by the publisher’s reluctance to actually show the title for a prolonged period of time. This perception perhaps stems from the fact that cinematics and gameplay often intertwine, with the visual fidelity remaining consistent between components. It’s something that’s going to irritate purists, too, as an early rappelling segment makes it unclear when you’re actually in control and when you’re not. Inputs in this area never amount to more than pushing the stick in a certain direction or tapping a button, but you do have free rein over the camera to pivot as you wish.
Of course, this isn’t the summation of the title’s mechanics, and the majority of our demo adopts a standard third-person shooter guise. Movement feels deliberate and weighty, with the game adapting dynamically to different circumstances, increasing the urgency of your motions should the situation require it. Similarly, your character will crouch should a stealth sequence arise, with the L3 button toggling a contextual sprint regardless of your circumstance. The camera’s pulled up close, so can feel a bit claustrophobic, but the widescreen format allows for a reasonably large field of view, which allows you to soak up all of the title’s sublime visual flourishes.
Playing as Sir Galahad, you’re augmented with a variety of combative techniques – as well as, we have to stress, some exemplary facial hair. The opening segment sees you adopting a clandestine approach, as you creep behind torch wielding goons, and shove knives in their necks. There’s a neat trick here which introduces an element of timing, but because your objective requires you to remain covert, an error will see you taken back to the nearest checkpoint. To be honest, this feels decidedly old-school in an era where the likes of The Last of Us allow you to segue between different playstyles, and is a bitter disappointment – especially when the visuals are so advanced.
The quick-time events are similarly archaic, slowing time as you tap out button sequences like you’re playing Dance Dance Revolution with the DualShock 4. One instance early on in the demo does ask you to use the analogue stick as well, so there’s the opportunity for branching paths here; you can, for example, use a fire extinguisher to clock your enemy around the head, or search around for other options. None of this is especially gratifying, but the on-screen action is at least punchy, which helps to provide a little satisfaction as you mash out the right sequence for some seriously brutal haymaker blows.
Comparably violent is the gunplay, which has improved a lot since we played the title’s previous demo. While we thought that the thermite rifle offered a nice gimmick, we felt that it was meek and frail, whereas the firearms in this new demo are incredibly satisfying to operate. A slow sniper rifle sequence sees you spotting rebels – human enemies of the knights, whose intentions remain unclear – in a ballroom foyer, before letting rip through a bobbing telescope. Then, as more foes funnel in, you’re free to submerge yourself into the combat bowl, diving between cover and attempting to pick off approaching enemies from above and below.
There’s none of the variety glimpsed in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’s recent gameplay demo, but it’s frenetic, and boosted by some great sound effects, which enhance the weapons beyond their otherwise modest capabilities. The artificial intelligence is somewhat brain dead, but a later kitchen sequence – the same one that was shown at PlayStation Experience last week – does provide some evidence that enemies will flank, and even change their position relative to your own. This is still a title in which you’re going to find your body count ranking in the thousands by the time that you reach its credits, though, so if that’s something that doesn’t appeal, feel free to roll your eyes now.
The plot does seem intriguing from the few snippets that we’ve seen, however, with hints towards greater political strife on top of the core werewolf threat. The voice acting is strong, too, with a variety of British accents and dialects accurately represented, which makes a refreshing change for a title of this kind. The music is also outstanding, focusing on scratchy string instruments and bass tones, providing the whole experience with an oppressive tone. Granted, this could get fatiguing after a few hours, so we hope that there are a few slower, daintier moments to contrast the non-stop bombast that we encountered over the course of our 30 minute taster.
And that’s perhaps the biggest problem with this demo: it’s still not enough of a cross-section to form any meaningful conclusions about the game. The constant back-and-forth between gameplay and cut-scenes will almost certainly frustrate purists, but fans of more cinematic experiences won’t be too jarred by these transitions. Meanwhile, the gunplay is hectic and deadly, but it doesn’t appear to show much ambition outside of traditional third-person shooting. Finicky stealth aside, though, the only inarguable point that we can provide pertains to the presentation, which puts the title head-and-shoulders above everything else on the market.
Will that be enough for it to make history?
Has this game got your coat tails in a twist, or will you be leaving it in the century upon which it’s based? Show us your facial hair in the comments section below.