This article contains story spoilers for The Order: 1886
Released a year ago, in February 2015, The Order: 1886 was many things. A PlayStation 4-exclusive shooter that showed off the power of its parent hardware, or, in other words: damn, this is one handsome game. It was the culmination of five years' work by Ready at Dawn, the Californian studio that'd previously dabbled in God of War titles and ported Clover's legendary Ōkami to the Wii. It's littered with PS fanboy-pleasing Easter eggs – a nod to Kratos on an Underground poster here, a Sackboy doll just left on an occasional table there.
It didn't last too long and rapidly attracted the ire of pissed-off players who wanted a lot more game for fifty quid. Its linearity is absolute, and its "replay value" non-existent. Tiny subtitles. Gamespot wrote that it was "the face of mediocrity and missed opportunities". Amazon customers called it, among other things, "the dullest video game I have ever played", and "one of the worst games I've played on any console".
The truth is that The Order: 1886, while not a good game, is far from the absolute disaster that some all-too-quickly painted it to be. I played my way through it all, finishing the story on Valentine's Day 2015 after just a couple of committed sessions, and I generally enjoyed it. The tried-and-tested, Gears of War-aping cover shooting worked, the visuals were incredible, and since I didn't pay for the privilege – such are the occasional perks of this business – I didn't have that gnawing sum in my mind of gameplay time divided by pounds put down. But I totally understand how potential players were put off by the negativity surrounding its release, especially with the game then retailing at full price.
Today though, a year on and with The Order's asking price down to under £20 in the UK, it represents an entertaining enough distraction for an afternoon (into an evening, depending on how much you poke around its attractive corners looking for things to pick up). I've started playing it again, and based on what I saw a year ago and am again now, here are six reasons why the game's not totally garbage.
THE PREMISE IS GOOD
I totally get why The Order picked up so much pre-release hype. Its setup is terrific, a gargantuan red rag to the fantasy geek hordes; a gigantic gothic lighthouse beaming potential out to every corner of the gaming audience. Set in an alternative-history Victorian London, its protagonist, aka you, is part of an ancient order of knights committed to keeping half-breed monsters – they're werewolves, basically – from taking over the world. Yes.
This order was set up by the not-a-real-king-at-all (not that the fact prevents tourists from invading southern England and Wales every summer) King Arthur. He and his Round Table boys were fighting the good fight before the Dickensian dandies we see in the game teamed up with the actually-a-real-person-who-invented-important-stuff Nikola Telsa to shoot down angry furballs with deadly electric weaponry. This shit, on paper, is golden. Sony was right to be excited by its pitch.
Yes, the shoehorning in of a "ripper" on the loose, two years before the infamous mystery man committed his first (known, admittedly) murder, is a little lame. And calling the main bad guy "Sir Lucan", given his tendency to morph into one of those bastard hounds – whoops, sorry, spoilers? – was a(n almost) pun beyond the boundaries of common decency. Lucan, Lycan, shall we just call the whole effing thing off? Perhaps, but not because The Order doesn't put all the pieces in place to be a decent yarn, at least.
I LIKE THE BLACK BARS
Top and bottom, there for, the game's makers claim, "cinematic purposes". Which I'm not all that sure about, as if they were really going for the big-screen feel, they would have nudged the frame rate down from a locked 30 per second to the classic cinema standard of 24. But I like the black bars, which are more likely there to keep the game's amazing visuals – more on those in a bit – moving smoothly. Compromise a little available screen estate, and make what's in motion all the slicker – that's fine by me.
And, while video games aren't really cinematic at all – we've been over this before – the transitions from cutscene to gameplay in The Order are so nice, just so nice, that it does feel more like an interactive multiplex blockbuster than most games that actually sell themselves in such a fashion, your Uncharteds of the world.
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THE MAIN CHARACTERS AREN'T COMPLETELY ODIOUS
Your main man, Galahad, is a thoroughly good egg. He's a man of honour, always ready to stand up for himself and his beliefs. He's incorruptible, and always looks out for his friends in the order. Amongst them is the first companion you meet in the game, Igraine, who initially appears to be the token female of the story and therefore, most likely, a love interest for our excellently hirsute (oh my, the hair in this game, gorgeous). That's how video games go, right? A gal on the box art, you're going to bump ugly with them. Standard.
Only, within seconds of meeting up with her, after leaping out of a window for no clear reason, Igraine is taking the piss out of Galahad, calling him an old man whose combat senses have dulled. Soon afterwards, she verbally assassinates a mercenary who offers help in clearing rebellious bedlamites from an Underground station. This woman is cold as ice. And even the game's somewhat clichéd French lothario, Lafayette, is hard to hate, soon shaing off the player's first impressions. He might think as much with what's inside his pants as he does the mushy grey stuff behind his eyes, but he proves himself to be an excellent dude, ultimately letting Galahad go when a conspiracy within the order turns the tables on his snooping.
IT'S GOOD THAT THE "COLLECTIBLES" DON'T NECESSARILY MEAN ANYTHING
Life is full of stuff we just leave lying around. So is The Order. There's loads of tat just cluttering up the place. Suitcases you can kick. Dolls you can't. All manner of mostly meaningless detritus, flotsam from the days that pass us by, be they attractively shimmering or thickly dusted. And that's great, because that's just what London's like – or anywhere, for that matter. Go visit your aunt and, sure, her front room's all nice – but that's only because the crap that's usually in there's been chucked in the bedroom while your mum's complimenting her new tea set.
Pick up the paper if you like, and read the story. There's no trophy for it. (Well, there is, if you pick up everything, but shush, stop ruining my point.) These things are just colour, additional texture, applied to the tale already in motion. They are both backgrounders and optional ballast, supporting what you know but unlikely to significantly alter your opinion on it.
IT'S MAYBE THE BEST LONDON EVER DEPICTED IN A VIDEO GAME
Even more attractive than the people in the game is the city they eat, shit, love and murder in – and not because it's just so devilishly pretty. I mean, The Order's London is, at first sight, absolutely stunning – when Galahad's up on the rooftop, looking down on the cobbles and cornerstones, before he's so much as fired a single round, this place is majestic. London is alive and, if not quite well, then certainly making do. A horse-drawn cart rolls by. Birds wheel overhead. A tram passes. Smoke bellows from chimneys. Workmen curse. Airships are silhouetted against the fluffy clouds of a crisp October morning. If it wasn't for these floating reminders that this Victoriana comes with something of a steampunk twist (not that it's actually steampunk, okay?), you could almost be staring at a photograph of the English capital in the 1880s.
No, The Order's London is striking because it's, for the most part, completely filthy. Realistically grimy, gritty and suffocating. Okay, it's just a little romanticised, too; but when you're creeping around the tunnels of the city's nascent Underground, treading so carefully through Whitechapel and storming across Westminster Bridge with bullets whizzing past your cheeks, it feels like the city so many millions walk every week. Not that we're regularly shot at, us 21st century wage-slavers, but filing a tax return is much like taking on an army of heavily armed rebels with nothing but an underpowered rifle in your hands and some incredibly polished threads reflecting what is, perhaps, the finest recreation of natural light so far seen in console gaming.
Shout out, too, to the soft furnishings and carpets. Outstanding rugs.
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IT'S SO SURE OF ITSELF THAT IT DOESN'T BOTHER WRAPPING UP THE STORY
You've got to respect the cojones of The Order's makers, Ready at Dawn. They take some fantastic ingredients for a fascinating adventure, pitting an ages-old force for good against supernatural evils that would otherwise conquer mankind, paint an incredible world for the action to play out in, engineer gameplay so familiar that anyone who's ever played a third-person shooter can crack right on without breaking a button-fumbling sweat, and then they completely forget to finish the story. Indeed, they barely get it started.
Half-breeds, werewolves, Lycans, whatever, we meet a few of them – but it's not like the menace is anything like in check come the game's climax. And then there's the not-so-small matter of another kind of monster, drawn from the pages of popular horror fiction, perhaps made famous in 1897 by an Irish chap named Abraham, that crops up in towards the end of the campaign and is just... sort of... forgotten about. Um, hello? There are bloody sucking vampires in London. Aren't we going to see more of them? Nope, nuh-uh, no chance.
And yet I kind of love that The Order just stops. You expected more? It's not just the length of the experience that underwhelms – the amount of storytelling that's stretched out across a meagre running time of around seven hours (I think I finished it in less time than that, but that's what HowLongToBeat says) is also incredibly slight. So many questions are unanswered as the credits roll, one of which bugs you from the first ten minutes: where the hell is Galahad's reflection? Surely he's not a vampire?
He's not. The lack of reflections across the game is a limitation of Ready at Dawn's proprietary engine. But let's not have that fact spoiling any theories as we roll, or don't, into The Order: 1887, which may or may not be coming sometime in the next ten years.
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