Ready At Dawn’s The Order: 1886 looks incredible. Really, it does. I fired up some preview code yesterday, and was astounded at how good the game looked. Yes, it may have those cinematic black bars, but the stuff between them is pure visual eye candy. I’ve been sold on the idea of The Order ever since it was first shown off. I love alternate history, and its setting – a Steampunk Neo-Victorian London – combined with fantasy Tesla-designed weapons has me convinced. That said, there’s been a concern gnawing at the back of my head – it looks great, but does it actually work as a game. I’ve now gone hands-on with a new section. Excised from the fifth chapter of the game, Agamemnon rising, it sees our merry band of steampunk knights boarding an in-flight zeppelin from well, another zeppelin and rappelling down the outside. From the onset, it’s mighty impressive.
It’s from the same section you may have seen from this weekend past’s Game Awards. If not, here’s a look.
That little clip has been criticised for not showing gameplay, focusing mostly on cutscenes. Here’s the thing: The game looks just like that; and blends seamlessly between the in-engine cinematics and gameplay. As you step into the shoes of Grayson – or Sir Galahad if you will – rappelling down and gaining control, the game looks just like it does in the cutscenes. What’s most impressive is the level of detail, and the ambience of it all. You can see Galahad’s feet making impressions in the cloth as he lowers himself down. Once you’re down, the level of details slaps you in the face anew, the airship is a lattice of girders, canvas and high-tensile wire. It’s all very Jules Verne. Inside, Galahad is tasked with straight up murdering everybody he sees on his way to the cockpit of the Agamemnon. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. To date, we’ve seen and heard nothing from the game that would suggest it’s anything more than a cover shooter.
Instead, I had to sneak my way around the ship, executing the patrolling guards one-by one with a well-timed quick-time event; a mistimed approach almost certainly results in death. Much of the action is exploratory stuff, as you’ll have to hack doors and locks. The steampunk element to it, frankly, gets me giddy. Hacking doors involves little mini-game using a wooden box filled with little mercury switches and barometers, coils and a glowing filament bulb that overloads circuits with a delightful pop allowing you to bypass them. Doors need to be picked, using the standard old vibrating tumblers and twiddling sticks. When not sneaking up and killing everything, I spent much of my time soaking up the ambience; weird old world stuff, married perfectly with more advanced technology; all bits of copper and brass, bubbling mercury and filaments. Still, it does feel like something’s missing. It’s all just moving forward and pressing triangle to make things happen. After getting to the cockpit and killing its occupants after another cinematic QTE, it’s off to the ballroom to kill some rebels. I have no idea why; with this preview starting somewhere near the middle of the game, I have no idea who my enemy is or why I’m trying to kill them. That will all come later though, I suppose.
Once in the ballroom, Galahad takes cover on a balcony overlooking a dignitary or two. Guards are posted all over the room, but some of them appear to be rebels in disguise. After identifying which ones are real and which are not, the action begins, and I finally get some sort of free reign in shooting things. It’s…fun! The shooting action is entertaining, tight stuff, mostly made fun through the punchy weight of the weapons. Popping heads with the sniper rifle is satisfying, as is the thundering, slow machine gun that feels like you’re powering heavy bits of metal into enemy faces. The incendiary shotgun I thieved from a corpse was just ridiculous, filling the screen with a phosphorous smoke. Probably not the smartest weapon to use on a gas-filled dirigible, but I digress. Galahad is able to use a Blacksight ability to slow time down, essentially a sort of bullet time.
They’re not exactly smart AI, though – functioning very much like the pop up from behind cover and shoot at stuff AI you’d get in cover shooters like Gears of War. And that game is what The Order most feels like to me. In a later kitchen-bound section in a shootout that saw copper pans impressively flying everywhere, I could easily have replaced the kitchen counters with knee high walls, and the rebels with Locust. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
I’ll be honest though; the cinematic letterbox presentation doesn’t really do it for me, and I worry a little that the game will struggle to find that perfect balance between its action, and its interactive fiction. Much of it seems to be about pushing forward and pressing buttons in time, interspersed with great action, and getting the mixture perfectly balanced is not going to be easy. Regardless, the demo left me excited, and wanting more. I want more of that incredible ambience, that phenomenal lighting, and those jaw-dropping graphics. I want more of that action, more of those weapons and more of the story.
I could just do with a little less of a directed experience.
Last Updated: December 9, 2014