The Order 1886 is a third person cover shooter. That’s not entirely a bad thing: if you look at the PS3 and Xbox 360 era, many of the best story-focused, cinematic experiences were spawned from that genre. And Ready At Dawn – who have worked on some of the most esteemed PSP titles and takes on Sony franchises, including God of War: Ghost of Sparta – are extremely well versed in crafting a great game and story.
Combine that with help from Sony’s Santa Monica studio, and it seems as though they might be onto a winner. It’s set in a bleak, steampunk version of Victorian London, where the Order must face up against not only human foes but lupine, half-breed beasts.
This particular preview build doesn’t give much exposition when it comes to the plot, instead choosing to focus on a rather linear shooting segment, where Sir Galahad and the other members of the Order fight their way through the streets of London, facing off against human enemies. It’s the same Nathan Drake-esque mass killing without a conscience which is ever-present in Uncharted, and feels like filler rather than a more distinct part of the game.
The reason for this section being shown off at E3 is up for debate – perhaps they don’t want to spoil the surprises, though a squad mate being fatally wounded dispels that notion. It’s more than likely that they’re just not finished fine-tuning the more cinematic set-pieces, saving those for public showing at a later date.
Shooting mechanics in The Order aren’t entirely traditional, thankfully, and there are some quite unique mechanics, which mostly boil down to the design of weapons themselves. Galahad is armed with a Thermite rifle, which can burst fire a rather inaccurate round of bullets, or more interestingly, fire a thermite round which will burn right through flesh or even parts of the environment, with explosive consequences.
Your squad mates’ weapons are great too, the greatest of these being an electric-arc firing gun which I for one can’t wait for Galahad to get his hands on. It’s not just the Order who have this technological advantage, with many hints towards foes having similar armaments. This is confirmed by the enemy forces sending out a minigun-wielding solider, who fires explosive rounds at the Order’s feet as the demo comes to an end.
It certainly looks great, despite having quite a dark tone. This matches the mood of the game, but it’s quite hard to be stylish when most of the environment consists of greys, blues, browns, and blacks. Characters themselves boast high visual fidelity and are very well animated, while environments are crafted with a high attention to detail, despite the draw distance not quite being up to scratch, which means that this preview build shows a blurry cityscape rather than a sprawling accumulation of buildings. Explosions definitely need some work too, and look quite underwhelming at this moment.
Overall though, it’s superb, yet this aesthetic mastery comes with some drawbacks: it runs at 30 FPS, rather than 60, and the letterbox view means black bars at the top and bottom, which makes for a higher overall resolution, though many constantly black pixels. Ready At Dawn have stated that these are artistic choices, though it’s suspected that they were instead necessary in allowing them to squeeze every morsel of graphical prowess and match the visuals found in cutscenes.
After all, this is a game which intertwines cinematic moments, cutscenes and gameplay sections extremely well. There are no cuts to black when switching between gameplay and cinematic, and some cutscenes will surprise you when you discover they feature gameplay mechanics, such as firing your gun at enemies while dragging away a downed squad mate. It’s definitely an evolution of Naughty Dog’s work, and it’s often hard to differentiate between cutscenes and in-game moments.
There are also some extremely stylish moments within the gameplay itself. Blacksight acts as a power-up, and can be activated with the push of a button after charging. This slows down time and allows Galahad to take out multiple enemies in quick succession. It looks sublime, though successive use may not be quite as impressive as it is upon first glimpse.
So, The Order 1886 is a third person cover shooter. That might have been acceptable in the PS3 and Xbox 360 era, and Uncharted proved itself as one of the best story-focused, cinematic experiences spawned from that genre. But Ready At Dawn aren’t Naughty Dog, despite having worked on some of the most esteemed PSP titles. They’ve been extremely well versed in crafting a great game and story in the past, but whether they can achieve this in an original setting on a bigger scale is yet to be seen.
This preview build is certainly not the place to discover just that; it’s simply a short view into a world which we know very little about, and you’re dropped into one of the shooting sections of the game – one of those sections that you’d normally just push through in order to get to the next set-piece around the corner. It won’t be things like this that The Order: 1886 is judged on, but the more cinematic moments, which we can only hope are the core focus of the experience.