Well this is a tricky one. Announced a good while ago now, “The Order” promised to be an enjoyable alternate history third person shooter with an interesting Victorian London setting. Then, right near the game’s release date an apparently full playthrough was leaked totaling five hours of play time. It didn’t help that one of the devs was interviewed and basically said “It’s not five hours long, but who cares if it’s five hours long?”, and also that the game seemed to be heavy on cutscenes and quick time events. I was intrigued by the game but elected to give it a miss for a while, partly due to its price to game time ratio and partly due to the developers’ irritating dedication to making the game imitate films, complete with “The Evil Within”-style letterboxing and limiting interactivity. I finally picked up a copy and completed it, and can now answer questions such as “Is it any good?”, “Is the game about a rich white man with a moustache murdering poor people?” and indeed “Can I really say anything positive about this game when I’ve so harshly criticised the works of David Cage?”. I’ll answer that one now; yes I can, because David Cage is a hack. But anyway; wax your moustaches, pour a glass of absinthe and load up your thermite rifle because it’s time for the review.
The set-up is an interesting one. The titular Order is a group of Knights dating back to King Arthur’s time, with many of its members having lived for hundreds of years, fighting a seemingly endless war against “Half-breed” Werewolves and kept alive by “Blackwater” from the holy grail, which slows their ageing and heals all their wounds. You are the third Sir Galahad, dealing with a rebel uprising whilst breaking away from The Order to investigate a potentially disastrous plot, with bleak consequences for all involved. What little story there is here is well presented, but it often feels rushed and poorly fleshed-out. Long-time friendships and relationships between characters are briefly mentioned but form the basis for drastic and dramatic plot points, and the game often makes big leaps in time and location. Granted they don’t need to show everything, but it’s quite a short game, and it could do with taking its time more, and spend some time developing its world. It does attempt to establish a world by including sections in which you walk around and pick up documents and photos, but the collectibles have no deeper meaning, and nothing of interest happens during these scenes. As it stands the story has some good solid broad strokes but little more, and it all ends on a direct sequel hook. It has some genuinely interesting set-up, but given the nature some of the places it ends up going (SPOILERS) (by the end Galahad has been kicked out of The Order and is working with the rebels to bring down a vampire, for one) (SPOILERS END), it would have been far preferable to have this origin story fleshed out, slowed down and given a lot more depth. It’s frustrating to say the least. Fortunately it’s a lot less class war-y than I imagined, and doesn’t have nearly as many instances of rich white men murdering poor upstarts as I was worried it did. It’s actually quite balanced, which is good for a story set in Victorian England.
Gameplay wise it will either draw you in or drive you up the wall. As I said earlier the developer was very keen to imitate films, and as a result the game is heavy on cutscenes, quick time events and walking around soaking in the environment, as well as third person shooting segments and two forced stealth sections. Credit where it’s due, the game’s transitions between cutscene and gameplay are seamless. It’s more interactive than I expected, whether it be through QTEs, shoot-outs or just moving forward, and it juxtaposes well with the cutscenes, which for their part aren’t too long or drawn out. QTEs are more extensively implemented than in say, “Beyond Two Souls”, in which it just felt like a video playing that occasionally paused to make you press an arbitrary button just to show that you’re still awake. On the more direct side of the gameplay are shootouts, which while not as prevalent as they should be are a good time all the same. The shooting is tight and responsive, there are two interesting and unique weapons in the form of a gun that shoots arc lightning and a gun that fires a cloud of thermite that’s then lit with a projectile flair, and you also have what is essentially Dead Eye from “Red Dead Redemption”, where time stops and you pump a load of bullets into frozen enemies. It’s never really explained, and its best saved for the shotgun enemies, who are a complete pain in the arse. On the downside are the stealth sections and parts involving Werewolves. The former are fortunately over quickly, but are made frustrating due to their fail-state; be seen by a guard and they INSTANTLY draw their gun and shoot Galahad in the face while yelling “Hey! HEY!” as if they’re, y’know, taking measures to deal with the problem that don’t involve murdering me? The game is really not built for stealth, but as I said, these sections are over quickly. More disappointing than frustrating are the werewolf fights, which take two forms. Regular Lycans are fought in arenas filled with tall shelves used as cover, as they dash at Galahad from behind corners. Unfortunately, after attacking Galahad they run back to the exact same spot every time unless you pursue them- they run out, you shoot them/dodge them or they hit you, then they run back to the same spot and repeat. It’s a shame because they look and sound rather creepy, and as The Order’s main enemy you’d think they’d pose more of a threat. The other ones fought are Elder Lycans; you fight two in the game hand-to-hand, in which you can move from side to side, perform light and heavy attacks and dodge via QTEs. These fights fair much better, in terms of control, spectacle and the werewolves themselves- the elders are creepy, almost mangy looking; tall, covered in loose fur and able to speak English in an intense growl. It’s a great design for a werewolf, and I hope to see it more in a potential sequel.
Overall, “The Order 1886” is an interesting experience. People have criticised its length and lack of interactivity, and I wouldn’t argue there; some will be really put off by those two things. It’s a short game and there are a lot of QTEs, cutscenes and walking around not shooting things. I certainly wouldn’t pay full price for it, and I recommend you don’t either. But I paid £20 for it, and for my money it was a beautiful looking, well-written and acted game that seamlessly moved between cutscenes and gameplay with solid gunplay and an interesting story, albeit one that really could have done with more depth. I look forward to a sequel that can build upon what worked here, because this game had real potential, a lot of which it wasted. I did get to knife fight two werewolves though, so that’s something.
Personally the letterboxing didn’t annoy me here, but I’m not sure why. It just seemed to fit the game better than it did in “The Evil Within”, where it just seemed unnecessary.
By James Lambert