In a lot of ways, I suspect The Order: 1886 is retaliation fire aimed at journalists after our response to the Killzone 2 trailer that Sony showed off in 2005. For people with short memories, that was a pre-rendered, gorgeously detailed, high-octane CG trailer that tried to pass itself off as in-game footage. It wasn’t of course, and despite Guerilla Games getting impressively close to that aspirational trailer in the final game, it was pretty obvious that what Sony aimed for was not what they ultimately achieved. Fast forward eight years and Sony showed off a trailer for a game called The Order: 1886 at their 2013 reveal of the PS4. The trailer is ridiculously amazing. No game can possibly look like that and still be playable.
Well, The Order: 1886 is. With a catch.
Wow Factor 10
All other things put aside for consideration, the one thing no one can deny is the sheer technical prowess on display for The Order’s graphics. This game is an absolute beast in the visual department and was easily the best-looking console game at E3 this year. Ready At Dawn apparently feel like they have something to prove having cut their teeth on the graphically underpowered PlayStation Portable with impressive looking games such as God of War: Chains of Olympus and God of War: Ghost of Sparta. Still, it’s one thing to develop on a handheld system. It’s quite another thing to jump hip deep into the latest console hardware and show up the likes of Sucker Punch, but that’s exactly what Ready At Dawn have done. InFamous: Second Son, which was arguably the best-looking game on current gen consoles just got dethroned. In other words, if you’re looking for a game that shows off what your PS4 and meticulously assembled home theater can do, The Order: 1886 is going to be your go-to demo piece. When I sat down to play the game, I actually patiently waited for the cutscene to stop before moving around and playing and had to be told by the staff on hand that the cutscene was already over, and the amazing visuals in front of me were the actual, playable game. That, more than anything else, got an impressed gasp out of me.
Ready At Dawn have nailed everything. Aliasing is good, lighting is phenomenal, textures are sharp and detailed, and there are even some depth of field moments that give the game a startling cinematic feel. Cinematic is probably the one word people are going to use a lot when discussing this game because unlike other games, The Order maintains its top and bottom black bars even during gameplay. This is going to be a shock—possibly an unpleasant one—to some gamers obsessed with making sure those pristine graphics occupy every available pixel of screen real estate. But, according to Ready At Dawn, this is both a technical and an aesthetic choice. The Order renders at a “black-barred” aspect ratio of 2.40:1 instead of the full sized 16:9 of a typical HDTV. This gives the game both a more panoramic/cinematic feel and makes it easier to achieve the 4xMSAA responsible for the game’s smooth, minimal “jaggy” graphics. It’s honestly not very noticeable during gameplay once the shooting starts, but for the anal retentive, no, you are not using “your entire screen for your luscious graphics and for some, that might be a deal breaker.
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Gears of Steampunk War
I could go on and on about how beautiful The Order looks, but this is still a game, and it needs to play as well—or better than—it looks to get gamers excited enough to drop down some cash. This is where the skepticism comes in. Ready At Dawn had a playable demo of the game available, and while I did get to sit down and spend time with The Order, it was a very short period, and a very thin “vertical slice.” It’s still too early to say that The Order is Sony’s Ryse—a great looking Microsoft exclusive that was short on gameplay—but what Ready At Dawn has chosen to show so far is not on par with a taste that leaves you wanting more. Bungie did that with Destiny, and BioWare did it with Dragon Age: Inquisition, but this game, like Alien: Isolation, begs the questions “Sure, this is fun for ten minutes, but will it be fun for six to eight hours?”
The jury’s still out on that one.
The Order: 1886 is Gears of War in a Victorian setting, plain and simple. It’s a third person, cover based shooter with a lot of spectacular action setpieces and an emphasis on thrills, not tactics. The demo available at E3 was a bit of cutscene, a bit of shooting, a bit of quiet exploration/clue gathering, followed by more shooting. Mechanically, all of this was functional, but completely unspectacular. Shooting was interesting because it was actually a “two part” process, firing off a phosphorous haze, and then igniting that, so there was a novel satisfaction in “napalming” enemies, but everything else about the actual gameplay felt totally conventional. That’s not to say that The Order has to offer something completely unique; after all Uncharted is basically Gears of War in the jungle, but it differentiates itself through a likable cast, exploratory and puzzle solving sequences and collectibles. Right now, The Order has jaw-dropping visuals, but the little gameplay experienced sets a very pedestrian tone.
It’s unfair to judge a game—for good or bad—based on just a few minutes of play. But it’s important to keep in mind that both Microsoft and Sony have set a bad precedent before. Ryse is a visually impressive Roman/action romp that’s just not very fun to play and Lair, for the PS3 was a graphical powerhouse and mechanical disaster. At this point, it’s quite probable that The Order is not a terrible game, but if the gameplay on show is an indication of what the rest of the experience is like, this is a game that will go down in this generation’s history more for its visual splendor than memorable shooting.