The Order: 1886 PS4 Review

The Order: 1886. Sony

Assessing Sony's controversial "The Order: 1886" comes down to one key question of critical theory: Do you give more credit for a player who swings hard but misses or a player who never takes the bat off his shoulder? There are elements of Sony’s “The Order: 1886” that whiff wildly, but it feels like the product of a developing team at Ready at Dawn who are trying to hit the parking lot with their swing.

They are exploring how to integrate what people love about film, fiction, and history into a video game narrative in the next generation, and they are doing so with the best graphics and sound design yet seen on the PS4.

For an hour or so, “The Order: 1886” is breathtaking. It looks amazing. It plays tight. It’s familiar and yet new. The voice work, the graphics, the narrative—all of it comes together in a way that all gamers really should play this game…for at least an hour. The problem with “The Order: 1886” is after about 90 minutes you’ve seen literally all that the game has to show you. I don’t mind short games (in fact, as I wrote recently, I may prefer them), but great short games still find a way to build, whether they be through customizable weapons or skill trees of new powers. “The Order” doesn’t bother with that, sacrificing gameplay in favor of storytelling. There are times when it almost feels like the developers were bothered by having to force gameplay into their kick-ass story.

That’s a problem. However, it’s not as big a problem for me as some gamers. I was still wildly entertained for most of “The Order,” even if I can recognize where it falls short and how I hope it improves in a sequel.

The narrative of “The Order: 1886” blends the aesthetic of revisionist history of Alan Moore’s graphic novels—a bit from “From Hell,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” and “V For Vendetta”—with modern game dynamics like “Uncharted” and “Assassin’s Creed.” You play Sir Galahad, an esteemed member of The Order, a group of descendants of the Knights of the Round Table (the name "Galahad" is a moniker passed down to those who deserve it) who maintain peace and law in 19th century London.

And they do so by killing a whole bunch of people. You will be tasked with stopping a rebellion, which essentially means a lot of wave/shooter combat—you come in a room, take cover, and eliminate the enemies with guns on the other side of the room. Most of these enemies are generally personality-less but “The Order” is an efficiently designed shooter just as the “Uncharted” games have never been known for their enemy AI or variety of weapons. The shooting sequences in “The Order” may get repetitive but they never bored me. It’s the kind of streamlined entertainment—free of over-customization and unneeded gameplay complications—that works for me.

As he’s trying to quell the rebellion and get to the bottom of the notorious murders in Whitechapel (yes, those murders), Galahad stumbles upon a grand conspiracy involving betrayal by some members of his own Order and even a race of half-breed Lycans. With incredibly strong voice work, sound design, and art direction, “The Order: 1886” unfolds like a movie. Often, exactly like a movie. If your patience meter for cut scenes or QuickTime Events is low, don’t apply for this Order. There are times when the developers literally insert a Triangle Button cue in the middle of a cut scene just so you don’t forget you’re playing a game.

At other times, especially in some melee combat scenes, the QTEs resemble the wildly influential ones from Ready at Dawn’s “God of War” games. Worst of all, a few stealth-based levels, including one about 2/3rds of the way through in a garden at night, feel almost like poorly-designed afterthoughts. As I crept up on countless guards looking to shank the right one with a key, I was truly annoyed…but it was the only time I felt so during “The Order.”

And then there’s the issue of length. Rumors that “The Order: 1886” was only 5 hours long hit the net this week, causing numerous pre-order cancellations and Ready at Dawn pronounced the gossip patently false.

Well, not exactly. It’s more than 5 hours, at least for this gamer, although it’s less than 10. It’s certainly not a long game, and I could see people being dissatisfied by that. I’m less so. I think game length has become an overblown issue in today’s market, leading some developers to pad games with obnoxious side quests and optional missions just to up a running time that doesn’t really matter to the heart of a game. I wish “The Order” was longer but only by about an hour or two. The problem is not so much actual length but the fact that the gameplay doesn't build within that length. Weapons, enemies, even settings recycle too much in the 7-or-so hours it takes to play the game. It’s mostly a damn entertaining 7 hours, I just wish it built more than leveled off and stayed there after about hour two.

A great setting, confident storytelling, excellent voice/sound work—these are elements that have been missing from too many games of this still-young generation. “The Order: 1886” gets so many things right that other developers ignore, but I think that’s what makes its failures so much more disappointing. It’s SO close to a great game. There are moments that are so clever and so engaging that I was reminded of games like “The Last of Us,” the last true masterpiece. But that game built in ways this one doesn’t. In fact, when it ends, clearly designed for a franchise, it feels like the prologue to a better game. If gamers are patient enough with this one, the sequel could be truly mind-blowing just as how “Uncharted 2” took the skeleton of the first game and really put some meat on its bones. My only concern is that today’s market is so fickle and so quick to judgment that they may have already canceled the clearly-intended sequel for “The Order: 1886.” I hope not. I want to go back to this world. And I just hope the developers go back to it after they work on their swing a bit more.