The year is 1886 and a secret order of knights are keeping London safe from groups of rebels and “halfbreed” monsters using airships, EMP, and machine guns. Hang on – is this really historically accurate?
Welcome to The Order: 1886, a steampunk reimagining of the Victorian era. The first thing that will strike you is the game looks gorgeous – and is now the PS4 title to beat in the looks department.
The setting accentuates this. The London of the game is detailed and feels dense – even if the linear nature of the game doesn’t allow for much exploration. For history nerds, it is pretty fascinating: much of the game takes place in the Palace of Westminster, with architecture that will seem familiar to anyone who has ever visited the real building. That said, the developers have taken a few artistic liberties: real Parliament doesn’t have Nikola Tesla building weapons in the basement or the meeting table for a secret order of knights in Central Lobby.
This level of detail extends into the rest of the game too – with places like the Underground station capturing the feel of a real tube station, whilst not being a replica of any specific station.
Unfortunately, whilst there are some nice surprises, there are aspects of the plot which don’t quite live up to the handsome set decoration. Early in the game we see main character Galahad take refuge in a brothel, shortly after saving a woman from being beaten. You know, just like in a tonne of other games, as it is a shortcut for “edgy”. Sigh.
On the more mechanical level of how it actually plays, things are actually pretty good. The developers seem to have taken the attitude “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and as such there isn’t much new. Its basically Spec Ops: The Line, but set in the 19th century. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but despite the rich setting it does feel a bit too familiar: Find cover, shoot some guys, move to different cover, shoot some more.
There’s even explosive red barrels helpfully dotted around just like in every other game. To a certain extent, devices like this can be a useful way of signalling a gameplay element in an unfamiliar title but it just seems to underscore the lack of original thought.
Perhaps the worst gameplay element – and I realise this is my own bias here – is the game has yet another lockpick simulator. Just like in everything from Assassin’s Creed to Arkham to Skyrim, there are moments when the gameplay will pause so that you can play a frustrating mini-game where you have to fiddle with the joysticks to simulate the thrill of lock picking.
The other frustration is perhaps just how little you get to control. As has been reported in the run-up to the release, the game is very heavy on so-called “quick time events” – moments during cutscenes when you have to hit a button on the controller at the right second. There’s quite a lot of them – and even entire fight scenes that play out with little interaction from the player. It looks lovely, but you kind of wish you were the one taking down the enemy.
But don’t let that get you down – the game still provides a reliably slick experience. Let’s face it – when you go to see the latest Marvel film, you know the hero is going to win, and there’s going to be some shooting and explosions along the way, yet it is still a fun ride. Why take the risk on an obscure art-house film? The Order seems to take the same approach here, even if it is a bit of an interactive story book at times.
The Order: 1866 is Spec Ops meets Assassin’s Creed meets Tomb Raider – and this is no bad thing. What’s painful though is that it is almost great. It suffers the same problem of Watch Dogs, an interesting premise weighed down remaining a little bit too formulaic. Though like Assassin’s Creed in 2007, it shows a lot of promise – and the inevitable sequel could be truly remarkable.