Review Price to be confirmed

Platforms: PS4 exclusive
The Order: 1886 release date: 20/02/2015

There’s a lot to admire in The Order: 1886, but players may end up wanting to like it more than the actually do

It’s tough not to feel more than a little worried about The Order: 1886. Ready At Dawn’s steampunk shooter was unveiled to much fanfare at Sony’s E3 keynote in 2013, but in the time since, all we’ve been shown of it was a rather ropy demo at this year’s E3 and a new trailer cut for Sony’s conference. The presentation, style and story of The Order: 1886 look undeniably intriguing. But once one is placed behind its controls, issues start to pop up at a pace.

The Order: 1886 is set in an alternate version of Victorian London and revolves around a titular military organization that’s apparently descendent from the Knights Of The Round Table. The basic premise is that trouble is afoot in Ye Olde London Towne; rebels from impoverished areas of the city are causing havoc in the streets and it appears a plague is turning some poor citizens into blood-crazed monsters. It’s up to the four Order Knights – Percival, Galahad, Isobel and Lafayette – to get to the bottom of what’s causing these shenanigans.

For Sony’s 20th Anniversary reveal, Ready At Dawn had a new level for the media to try out. It begins with The Order Knights rappelling down the side of a zeppelin on its way to Portsmouth with a rather important dignitary aboard. Rebel insurgents have infiltrated the crew and security guards and are intent on assassinating this Lord before he reaches his destination. It’s up to The Order to stop them.

It’s hard not to marvel at the game’s presentation, to be honest. The Order Knights cut a fine figure, decked up in Victorian dusters, sporting immaculately manicured whiskers – apart from Isobel, of course – and their belts and bandoliers gleam with weapons that look both archaic and futuristic at the same time. Their surroundings once they’ve entered the zeppelin are a mish-mash of steel girders and copper-wired gizmos. The level even begins with a fantastic shot over London, it clouds and smog obscuring the maze below, with the Thames glistening between the North and South banks.

The voice acting is top notch and the dialogue is better written and delivered than your average shooter. In no short amount of time players become intrigued with these austere agents and we immediately want to know more about both them and their world. It’s the sort of setting that’s likely to inspire a ton of fan fiction, if players can just get past the ham-fisted level design and stunted mechanics.

Playing The Order: 1886 makes one want to weep. How could a game that looks so stunning and is clearly a labour of love boast such shonky mechanics? Things start badly with The Order entering the zeppelin as all the player is required to do is push one of the thumbsticks in the direction of the airship’s door. Once inside, they’re forced into a stealthy crouch and tasked with taking out a series of guards on their way to securing the cockpit.

Characters move like they’re floating on air; there’s no weight or immediacy to their movements and latching onto cover seems to be something of a craps shoot – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It also feels incredibly strange to begin a shooter demo with a stealth section in which players are unable to engage in gunplay. Instead, we were made to creep up behind guards, wait for a control prompt and then stab them in the back. Mistime the button hit and it’s game over.

Crashing into the cockpit also presented problems. Rather than being able to whip out Galahad’s guns and shoot our way clear, we instead had to endure a series of tedious quicktime events (QTEs), one of which wasn’t really clear on what was expected from us. The game’s QTEs aren’t all bad – there was a section where Galahad had to hack a couple of electro-magnetic locks with a bulb-powered gizmo – but to shove timed button mashing into a shooter feels weird.

Once The Order had taken control of the cockpit, Percival told Galahad to secure the Lord and The Order’s nominal ranking officer who was apparently along for the ride in the airship. This meant another stretch of stealth in which the knight’s guns were off-limits and then a set-piece in which Galahad used a sniper rifle to identify which guards in an atrium were genuine and which were rebels in disguise. Once this was accomplished, the gunfight we’d been longing to get into took place… and it’s here The Order: 1886 threw another spanner into the works.

Once we’d taken out the rebels in the atrium with Galahad and his sniper rifle we stood in the balcony waiting for more enemies while Percival yelled instructions over the radio about securing the area. When no more enemies arrived, we nipped down stairs only to see enemies begin pouring into the area in a steady stream. Since the action had switched to close quarters, we started using a machine pistol until blasting a nearby rebel yielded up a shotgun capable of dumping three shells into an enemy at once.

“Using shotgun on an airship? The man’s insane,” muttered Galahad as we promptly picked up said weapon and began to use it with no ill effects to anything made out of flesh.

Once we’d cleared the atrium a second time, a cutscene ensued, in which the rebel’s leader made a break for it and Percival yelled at Galahad to take off after the them.

“Don’t lose them!” he yelled.

Unfortunately, nothing cropped up on the HUD to show us which direction to head in, so we ended up running around in circles for a couple of minutes – running up to doors that proved impossible to open – until we managed to find the environment’s exit. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so frustrating.

First Impressions

The Order: 1886 is unwieldy and unintuitive; playing it, one begins to see that, what a mind-blowing piece of work Gears Of War was in both its mechanics and design. You were always neck-deep in the action and everything felt immediate and tense. Say what you like about GOW’s stupid its plots and neck-snapping machismo; it was and it remains one of the benchmarks in third-person-shooters.

If only we could say the same about The Order: 1886. In fact, if we could take Ready At Dawn’s shooter, strip out its plot, characters and story and bind it to the tight gameplay of Gears, we’d be on to a winner. Here’s hoping there’s going to be a lot of QA and polishing between now and launch because if The Order: 1886 lands in its current state, it’s likely that players will end up wanting to like it more than they actually do.

Next read: Best games of 2014

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