The Order 1886 looks fucking amazing. No, really, when you see the game running it just looks head, shoulders, and jaunty hat above anything else this generation. Got a friend who is thinking of buying a PS4, and is easily impressed by graphics? Buy this game, invite them to your house, and watch how fast they run to the nearest shop to order a shiny new console. It's that good.
However, until now, myself and a number of other GR+ team members have had one, fat concern: gameplay. Is there an actual game lurking underneath all the shiny? Or is this more of a barely-interactive series of story scenes, punctuated by the occasional shooting section, as the developers begrudgingly hand control over to the player? Hmm. Well, having played a large chunk of Chapter 5 (called 'Agamemnon Rising' fact fans), I can confirm that... well, it's complicated.
From what I've seen so far, the game is a series of glorified cinematic moments that combine into a dark plot about supernatural creatures and human conspiracies in a steampunk version of Victorian-era London. The control you exert over these scenes is variable but, crucially, it's very consistent. Whether you're just pushing forward to make a moustachioed man rappel down the side of a zeppelin (mid-flight), or using a full range of third-person controls to murder up a bunch of rebels in that same zeppelin's ballroom, the game looks the same. To reiterate, that look is ‘fucking amazing'. There are no pre-rendered cut-scenes here.
The start of my demo is slow. Painfully slow. After rappelling down the side of the Agamemnon (the zeppelin this level is named after), my character - Galahad - is tasked with taking control of the vessel by murdering everyone in the cockpit. This first section is a slow tour of the airship's interior, deliberately designed to make the player gawp at how fucking amazing this game looks. Characters are eerily real, the lighting is insane, and textures are unbelievably detailed. But it's all just pushing forward and occasionally pressing the triangle button to make action happen. At one point, there's a mini-game where Galahad hacks the zeppelin's lighting system, but it's rudimentary stuff.
One slightly frothy QTE later, and the cockpit belongs to me. Now it's time to head over to the ballroom to check up on one of my allies and do a spot of rebel-killing. Sorry to sound a little vague - this section is half-way through the game, and I have no idea what's happening in the labyrinthine plot. This is a story-driven game, so Ready At Dawn are keen to keep as much under wraps as possible.
Once in the ballroom (after a pretty poor stealth section, that instantly kills you if spotted), it all kicks off. Galahad takes cover on a balcony overlooking the dignitaries below. There are guards dotted around the room, and the message comes through that some of them may be rebels in disguise. Using a silenced sniper, Galahad identifies the genuine guards, and marks the rebel imposters. Then - finally - I'm given free reign to start shooting, after a clear 10-15 minutes of bare-bones interactivity.
This action section is a genuinely entertaining piece of third-person blasting. Rebels pour into the room, the dignitaries flee, and I pop some heads. After sniping a group of baddos, I sprint down into the main room, and use a meaty-feeling pistol to dispatch enemies at close range. One of them drops a Three Crown Shotgun, which (I discover) fires three shells in one blast. Oh my. There's a feature called 'Blacksight', which is essentially bullet-time, so I use this to slam several enemies into the next century (in slow-mo) via a triple-blast of shot to their faces. Amusingly, most rebels are wearing jaunty hats, which a careful player can snipe off, forcing them to shout “Bloody hell” and cower behind cover.
For me, this action sequence is all too brief. After only a few minutes, I'm pushing forwards to progress the plot again. Another glorious story scene, and a second action sequence follows shortly after. This time I'm in the zeppelin’s mess-hall, shooting enemies in between the pots and pans. Again, the action feels super-satisfying, as I frag humans and kitchenware alike using a steampunk heavy machine gun (with a pleasingly powerful air-blast secondary shot). But it's over too soon. I want more, but the demo ends.
So, I'm left feeling a weird mixture of delight and deflation by The Order. To stress this again: the game looks fucking amazing. And when you do actually fight, the action is enjoyable thanks to some tight third-person controls and a decent selection of guns. But... everything I've seen so far suggests that the balance is wrong. There's too much hanging around, following button prompts and walking slowly through impressive-looking levels. Look, I'm so desperate to have my doubts crushed utterly by the final game, and I'm keen to stress that I've only seen about 30 minutes total of the whole thing. I want The Order 1886 to be this perfectly-balanced mixture of compelling plot moments, meaty stealth-kills, and breathless action sequences. Will it turn out that way? We'll find out in Feb. For now, just check out how fucking amazing it looks and pray that the gameplay backs up these visuals.