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

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