Review: The Order: 1886

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Warning, this review contains spoilers.

The Order: 1886 (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a game that seems to be missing its purpose. On the surface, it’s a cover based third person shooter.  It is also intentionally very cinematic – the game is letter boxed, some chapters are entirely narrative in nature, and it takes certain queues (and cliches) from film. I have no problem with this, except for the fact that the narrative is incomplete at best, and incomprehensible at worst.

Story

The Order starts in a very dramatic way – there is no loading screen, you’re popped right into the action. This is something that rarely happens in games and took me by surprise (in a good way). The very beginning of the game is where the narrative starts to completely go off the rails. The first section of the game is a flash forward where the protagonist is escaping from being imprisoned – so we know right away that he is going to do something bad, or be framed, and thrown in jail. We also know he will escape, since that is what you do in that first chapter. We also see some members of his team at that time – one in particular, Isabeau. Here is the issue with taking this approach – later in the game when Isabeau is severely injured, we know she won’t die or be permanently injured – it takes any weight away from that later scene.

Any great story is driven by the characters in it, and how we identify with them. Unfortunately, The Order’s main character and his friends are walking cliches, which instead of building a strong foundation for the rest of the story, simply undermine it. You have the protagonist, Gallahad, who has as much personality as a wet paper bag.He grunts a lot, and has no issue killing hundreds of men. He also is moron, but we’ll get to that later. Then you have Isabeau, who  is the girl. Oh, and she’s tough too! She’s also romantically involved with Gallahad. Next we have the older man who was a mentor to Gallahad (surprise! He dies!). Finally, we have the pervy frenchman. Seriously, did the writers think this was good? Did they have a meeting to discuss characters and say, “Yep, perfect!” ? Did they even have writers?

The whole story is a complete mess, so here is an example of how shoddy the whole thing is. Gallahad discovers that the United India Company (giant corporations are evil! How original!)is smuggling half-breeds (werewolves) and vampires all across the globe, including America. Since the Order is dedicated to eliminating these creatures, it would make perfect sense to report this to his superiors, which of course he doesn’t for some unknown reason. Isabeau asks him what’s he’s discovered at one point and he says, I’m not joking, “No time for that now! I’ll explain later!”. Like I said before, apparently Gallahad is a moron. I should also note that when Gallahad discovers the werewolves are being smuggled he also discovers vampires being smuggled as well. It is never explained
what the connection between the two is, and you never fight vampires. Maybe the
explanation is buried in an audio log somewhere?
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Here is another example. At the end of the game, after Gallahad has escaped from prison, there is a cut scene with Isabeau finding out that he has gone off the reservation and abandoned the order. She vows to hunt him down to the ends of the earth (strong words for someone you’re romantically involved with), and then we never see her again.

The last scene before credits is so bad it was funny. There is Gallahad standing over a kneeling man holding a pistol and it goes gunshot – cut to black. I’d be surprised to find something this amateur in an into to writing class at the local community college. Someone, somewhere, got paid to write this.

I won’t try to pick apart all of the story here, but there are more examples of issues with it, and it never gets better. This is incredibly disappointing as there was real potential here, and it was completely squandered.

Visuals

The Order is one of the best looking games on PS4. Animations are fluid, materials such as glass bottles and ceramic tiles reflect light realistically, and fire and water look just like they do in reality. The game is locked at 30 FPS, and I didn’t notice any slowdown or frame drops in my time with it – I’m not sensitive to frame rate though so take this with a grain of salt. This game is flat out gorgeous, and if you’re a graphics aficionado it may be worth the price of admission just for this. My only real gripe with the visuals is the letter boxing. It makes the field of view seem cramped and it can make firefights harder than they need to be. Animations are very smooth and realistic, but the facial movements fell into uncanny valley territory quickly. Overall this is a great looking game.

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Sound

The music in The Order ranges from OK to good, but none of it stands out. The tracks are mainly orchestral and fit the feel of the game just fine. Sound effects are quite good – weapon sounds in particular are help make some of the weapons feel like they have weight and punch. Voice acting is excellent as well, and helps draw you into what little story there is.
While we’re on the topic of sound, The Order has collectible wax cylinders that contain – wait for it – audio logs. I wish that there was a better alternative to audio logs, especially when the time period makes them extra dumb – like it does here. I get that they serve a purpose, but almost every game has them in some form or another and they just feel like they can be done better. In The Order, the audio logs are barely relevant to the story at all, but they do have a nice audio filter over them to make them sound like they are playing from a wax cylinder, which is alright I guess.

Sound in this game is middle of the road – not bad but not great either.

Gameplay

Do you like third person cover based shooters? What about quick time events? If you answered yes, then I think you’ll enjoy the basics of The Order. The gameplay may be competent but it’s far from revolutionary. You get a gun, you take cover,and you shoot enemies with said gun. Occasionally, you are given a special weapon such as a lightening gun or a rocket launcher, but these weapons are only available for a limited time and are never part of the regular arsenal, which is a shame.The rocket launcher in particular is only in one area of the game, and when you get to the end of that section, you throw the rocket launcher to the ground and abandon it for no discernible reason. It feels sloppy, and it’s unfortunate that some of the most unique weapons in this game are used so little.

Verdict

The Order is a massive missed opportunity for Ready at Dawn and Sony. This could have been a good game, and some of the visual compromises made such as letter boxing could have been excused if the writing and gameplay were better. The world is interesting, and I think a visually striking third person shooter would be well received early in a new console’s life cycle. Sadly, this is just mediocre. If you’ve read the review, are still somewhat interested, and can ignore the terrible story, give The Order a rental. Otherwise, steer clear.

Pros:
+ Looks stunning
+ In general, controls are good and guns are fun to shoot
+ Special weapons are fun when you get them
Cons:
– Werewolf fights are boring and reused
– Story is pointless, incomplete, and fails to deliver on the promise of this being a cinematic game
– Special weapons show up rarely, and the rest of the arsenal feels very generic
– Really cliched characters that are not memorable
– Feels unfinished. Maybe cutbacks were made for time or budget reasons, but you feel every bit of it

2.5/5 stars

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

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Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a bad game. Released for various systems around the time of the movie, it is a classic example of a bad licensed game. You play as Kevin McAllister and the first level takes place in a New York City hotel. You have to immediately escape the concierge or it’s game over – of course the game doesn’t tell you this so my first playthrough ended with a “Game Over” screen about 10 seconds in. Not a good sign. After I got the hang of it, I discovered that everything in the hotel is out to get you – the workers at the news stand, the bellboys, the maids, hell even the vacuum cleaners and mops are dangerous. You do find some weapons, but these usually just stun enemies and don’t remove them. I guess the goal of the game is to reach the end of the level, but this is never explained and I never finished the first stage, so I can’t say for sure. According to Giant Bomb’s wiki there are 4 stages – to make it through all of them must require tons of patience and luck.

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Controls are, well, not good. Hit detection is poor, and certain platforms (mainly the trash cans) require some precision to land on, of which there is none. When you do get hit, you have some brief invulnerability and you flash – but it only lasts a few seconds which in my experience is not enough time to get out of the way of whatever hit you in the first place. Graphics are pretty bad for a SNES game – the first home alone isn’t much better but it had the excuse of coming out near the system’s launch. Music and sound are also pretty poor – I would believe it if someone told me this was a NES game (there was a NES port of the game, I haven’t played it).

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This is pretty terrible and I can’t see going back. I paid less than $2 for my copy – I’m thankful for that.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Dead to Rights

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The Matrix was a cultural milestone. If you look at any popular media from the early 2000s, you are likely to see its influence. No where is this more obvious than games, with the primary example being Max Payne. Dead to Rights (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is no different – it cribs certain elements from both Max Payne and The Matrix, but doesn’t provide enough  originality to be remembered in its own right.

In Dead to Rights you play a cop, Jack Slate, who honestly isn’t very cop like – he never makes arrests as far as I can tell and his primary method of conflict resolution is to shoot guys in the face. I even shot a guy in the back once – he didn’t even know I was there let alone threaten me. The basic gameplay is as follows, walk through a corridor, encounter some enemies, kill said enemies, find a key card to open a door, go to the next area. There is some mild puzzle solving where you take control of Jack’s dog, but that’s about it. In an homage, or outright theft, of Max Payne, you also get a bullet time mode. One extra method of taking down enemies is to use your faithful dog. Target an enemy, and if his stamina bar is full, hit the square button to have him attack. If this all sounds dated it’s because it is.

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This was clearly what is referred to as a B tier title – titles with smaller budgets that can be churned out in a year or two of development time. With increasing development times and complexity, most B tier games have been driven out of the market – and I miss them. I miss the days of going to a retail store and seeing something on the shelf that I had never heard of before. Dead to Rights is a great example of this. Is it great? No. Is it fun? For short bursts at least, yes. Granted these days most B tier type games are being made by indie developers, but they seldom get physical releases – and publishers like Namco are unwilling to publish games like this now that the risk level is higher. Enough with budgets and the changing market – let’s get back to Dead to Rights.

There are a lot of noir inspired lines of dialog in this, but the story seems incredibly thin and the dialog is so generic that it seems like wasted effort. The voice acting is particularly bad, and it’s clear that they spent very little money on it. The music and sound effects aren’t great either.

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Graphically, the game has aged pretty poorly. It looks and feels like an early PS2 game – lots of muddy textures, stiff animations, and jaggy objects. The controls are a bit strange too, this was a time when console controls for games hadn’t been standardized. You target an enemy with the R1 button and fire your weapon with X. Camera controls are mapped to the right analog stick as expected though, which is a blessing.

So, reading the above this sounds like a game that is best left on the shelf, but despite the poor sound, graphics, and dated gameplay, I found myself still having fun with this one. I don’t know that I would ever play it entirely through to completion, but as a fun diversion for a few hours I think it’ll fit the bill – just what I’m looking for in a B tier game.

Verdict: Play again!

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures

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Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a strange game. It is not at all similar to the classic arcade games – instead it is a side scrolling adventure game. You are not given direct control of Pac-Man, instead you interact with the environment in 3 ways: Feed Pac-Man power pellets transforming him into Super Pac-Man, hit things in the environment (including Pac-Man) with a slingshot, or finally using the d-pad and a button to make him look in a direction for something to interact with. You are given a task, usually by Ms. Pac-Man, and have to guide him to complete the task. If this sounds a little dull, it’s because it is. Getting Pac-Man to get through a screen to the next one or to the solution to his problem feels like a puzzle game… very trial and error. There are no “lives” so if you make a mistake you just reset back to a check point. Since there are no real stakes you never feel pressured to actually try really hard on a given screen – just shoot things at random with the slingshot and hope for the best. According to Giant Bomb, this just got a release on Wii U via the virtual console – I don’t know how many people will buy it, but I imagine even fewer will like what they find.

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The graphics looked pretty decent for a Genesis title, nothing to write home about but they did the job just fine. The music was fitting but I bet it gets tired after an hour or so. Gameplay was very dull to me, and was not enough to keep me interested more than 30 minutes or so.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. I can’t see revisiting this one.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies

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Grabbed by the Ghoulies(Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is the first title developed by Rare and published by Microsoft after Microsoft purchased the studio. Even though I never owned an Xbox during it’s original run, I remember being aware of this game and how important to both Microsoft and Rare it was. That partnership has, well, soured over time with Rare devoting most of it’s time to Kinect titles in the sunset years of the Xbox 360 and not creating creative new properties like it had done from its inception. Not all of these properties worked or were good, but they were almost always different than what was normally on the market.

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Enough about history, lets get into the game at hand. Grabbed by the Ghoulies is meant to be appropriate for younger audiences and I feel that it mostly succeeds in this. It isn’t too hard and while it does have a spooky vibe, the art style takes away any edge. The game is a basic brawler with a strange control scheme. You attack in the direction that you hold the right analog stick. Camera controls, which are normally the right analog stick, are moved to the triggers. This works fairly well, but I never got used to it in my hour with the game. I’m sure over time it becomes a non-issue. You can pick up and attack with items in the environment. You move room to room through a haunted mansion, where the basic game play loop is this: go into a room, the doors lock, fight enemies or find and item to unlock the door, then go to the next room. I didn’t get bored with this during my time with the game, but I can see this basic formula wearing thin 3 or 4 hours in.

The graphics look quite nice, with a cel shaded appearance. I think this helps most games age gracefully, and this is no exception. Other than some textures being low res (par for the course in 2003), the graphics look fine even by today’s standards. The music is fitting, very whimsical and spooky sounding, and sound effects fit right in. Even though this is clearly a kids game, I found myself having quite a bit of fun with it.

Other than the main story, there are separate challenges that you can unlock by finding collectibles in your play through of the main game – it’s nice to see this as it adds some replay value to a game that is relatively short.

Verdict: Play again! This was pretty fun and is apparently fairly short – I think I’ll play this around Halloween this year and who knows, maybe I’ll finish it that time.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter

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Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a game I’m not quite sure why I never played when it was originally released in 2002. I had the original Star Wars: Starfighter (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia), beat it, and enjoyed it quite a bit. The sequel is improved, as far as I can tell, in just about every way so it’s a mystery to me why I waited 14 years to play it.

The game has several tutorial missions that are short, simple and to the point (seriously, why can’t more games do this better?). After that, you’re treated to a cut scene that is pre-rendered and does not hold up well at all. Then you’re off to a mission. There are 14 missions in the game if I counted correctly, and most of them take 10 – 15 minutes to finish so this isn’t an overly long game. Basic game play has you controlling a ship in first person view. You have your main weapon (lasers), as well as some secondary weapons. You play as two different characters in the game, each has a unique ship with unique weapons. The pirate’s ship is larger, slower, and can act as a bomber. The jedi’s ship is smaller, faster and lets you use 4 different force powers against enemies. Of the 4 force powers available, I only unlocked 2: force shield and force lightening. Force shield protects your ship from damage, and force lightening destroys smaller ships. There is a mechanic where you hold down the force power button for a set amount of time then release to trigger it. Release too soon and your power fizzles. Release to late, and you get tired out and it takes longer for it to recharge. Release at the right time, and it’s extra powerful. For example, if you release at the right time for the shield, its duration is extended by a large margin – release the lightening power at the right time and it’ll chain to nearby enemies destroying them as well as your target. The game is very arcadey, and is a ton of fun.

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Graphics are pretty good in this one for a PS2 game – there were a few frame rate hiccups I experienced, but overall it runs well. There is an Xbox version, I’m curious if it runs any better or worse. Sound is excellent, with official Star Wars themes and great special effects sounds. Voice acting is… spotty at best.

Verdict: Play again! This was as fun as the original and is pretty short – should be a quick one to play through in the future.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb