I was hyped up for this game. I wanted to like it. But after this demo experience I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed. It’s nothing revolutionary, though it is executed well.
The first thing I noticed about The Order 1886 was its incredible visuals. It is undoubtedly one of the best looking console games yet. With cinematic cutscenes and fantastic atmosphere, it simply looks stunning.
Set in an alternate history Victorian London, The Order 1886 revolves around a centuries-long war between humanity and a race of ‘half breeds’; demonised humans that have evolved bestial traits. Due to this, the rate of technological advancement has accelerated, leading to an 1886 London with walkie-talkie like communicators, steampunk style weapons, and giant airships that dot the sky above.
Despite such an intriguing setup, I couldn’t help but feel slightly bored while playing through the short 10-minute demo. Yes, the characters are voiced incredibly well, as are the animations fluid and refined. Despite all that, The Order 1886 just seems to feel like a collection of well-done cut scenes, stitched together by tried and true gunfight mechanics that feel all too similar to Gears of War.
It’s always hard to care about characters when you’re just dropped into a scene without context, and perhaps The Order 1886 will benefit from a more fleshed out introduction. As of this demo, however, it’s difficult to care for the characters at all, no matter how perfectly represented they are. Without this the flaws in The Order 1886 become strikingly clear.
The Order 1886 is a rail shooter, and thus gameplay will inevitably fall to some of the genre’s foibles. Much of the combat revolves around moving from cover to cover, eliminating faceless enemy grunt after faceless enemy grunt before continuing on. It’s oddly restrictive in this manner too, as the player character Grayson takes far too much damage upon leaving cover, thus keeping the fight in the same predefined angles for each specific encounter. It only emphasizes the game’s linear experience which isn’t what a cinematically story-driven experience needs.
The weapons do add some variety to the action though I was only able to try two, and see a third in action. The Thermite Rifle that Grayson wields is incredibly fun to use, spraying a load of flammable material as its primary fire before setting it alight with a secondary flare. The pistol is standard, though fires with significant ‘oomph’ and feels great. While undoubtedly innovative, the quirks of having to shoot a flare before spreading it around an enemy will surely get old quickly.
The official website only shows two truly funky looking steampunk designs; the Thermite Rifle and the Arc Gun. The only other seems to be a repackaged modern assault rifle, made to fit into the Victorian era London setting. It’s going to take more than just two innovative weapons to keep this rail shooter fun, and one hopes that developers Ready at Dawn have much more up their sleeve.
Perhaps it’s the demo. Upon some research I found that this is the same demo that’s being passed around for the past few months at gaming expos worldwide. Hopefully it’s just the developers keeping their best stuff under wraps in order to show the most off come launch, as it’s often a bad sign that there isn’t more to show with release day looming so near.
Branching storylines, player choices between character interactions, and some limited exploration options are a few things that would potentially make this experience exponentially more entertaining, and make much more use of the beautiful world and backdrop that the devs have created. It might not be the linearity that kills it, but the absence of innovation in the combat gameplay will. Without anything revolutionary or fresh in this aspect boredom will set in quick, especially if some segments get particularly tedious.
It looks spectacular and is most certainly one of the best looking titles on the current-gen consoles. At its core though, The Order 1886 seems to be just another rail shooter, with some fun quirks that are ultimately not enough to keep things interesting. Maybe it will with a good narrative to keep it chugging along and much more gameplay innovation and content come launch. The overhanging impression, however, is that The Order 1886 will be a cinematic single-playthrough kind of game, with little reason to return to 1886 London after you’ve experienced it once. Intriguing and beautiful but decidedly standard, it’s still a title to look out for, though perhaps not with the same intensity as before.
The Order 1886 is being developed by Ready at Dawn and SCE Santa Monica Studio, exclusively for the PlayStation 4. The game is slated for release on February 20, 2015.