The Order: 1886, Not your average history lesson

We Often See publishers reluctant to put out games that carry the current year’s date for fear that they will quickly appear to be outdated. It’s mostly sports games, to be honest FIFA welcomed in the New Year all the way back in September, and it’s entirely conceivable that the only reason there wasn’t a Tiger Woodsgame last year was to prevent the series from getting too far ahead of time and managing to tear the very fabric of space-time. Which, in hindsight, was a pretty good call as ‘apocalypse via golf game’ isn’t exactly a glamorous way for all known life to end. Still, with this naming trend in mind, you really have to respect Sony’s conviction in signing off on a title that is already 129 years out of date.

More cynical types may even go so far as to take that observation a step further, using it to suggest that it goes some way to explaining the old fashioned cover shooter mechanics or the insta-fail stealth sections, but we’re pretty sure that it’s fear of exactly that kind of criticism that has kept the game in hiding until mere weeks before release. We’ve been doing this long enough to know that publishers not handing over the controller until so close to launch is generally a bad sign. But in this case, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that The Order ducks that particular trend what we’ve played so far, while not mechanically progressive, is as tight, as enjoyable and as beautiful a shooter as exists on the new generation of consoles right now.

It’s been a hell of a long time since we had one of those moments where we didn’t pick up control of a character where we were supposed to because it still looked like we were waiting for a cut scene to finish, but The Order managed to slap us with two such moments in the space of a single level. It just looks that damn good that whether you’re left scooping your jaw back off the floor or simply don’t realise that there’s no transition between in-engine story scenes and actual gameplay, you too are likely to be left behind. As with The Evil Within, black bars are used to reduce screen size down to cinema widescreen dimensions it’s not the most subtle way to improve graphical fidelity in the visible area, but we will say that it only took a few minutes for us to forget that the bars were there. Some will hate it for this, just as they did with Mikami’s horror game, but the vast majority likely won’t even notice at all.
Assuming you fall into the latter camp, you’re in for one hell of a treat. The slight reduction in resolution created by the borders allows Ready At Dawn to effortlessly throw characters, geometry and animations like nothing seen so far this generation around while navigating the strut-lined belly of a blimp, where interlocking metal support poles extend more or less to the edge of the visible play space, you can almost picture the team flipping off every other coder in the industry who is toiling over a PS4 debug unit. It is utterly insane how detailed environments are and while there are clearly sacrifices made to allow this level of fidelity it is pretty linear, for one thing, but then again, try and name a cover shooter that isn’t but as a showpiece for the PS4 hardware, this is as beautiful a belated first birthday present as Sony’s console could ever have hoped to receive.

There’s good news on the gameplay front, too. As much as it does conform to many typical cover shooter rules and conventions that have existed for over a decade, it’s slick, weighty and fun to play. Much of this can be attributed to the arsenal of unique weaponry available and although many of the strange guns you’ll use actually feel fairly normal, there are enough outlandish secondary fire modes and novel twists on genre staples to make most weapons interesting and satisfying to wield. There’s
a Resistancevibe given off by the steampunk gun rack, from the rifle that offers a powerful air burst to the Coach Gun, which feels like firing every shotgun that has ever appeared in a videogame at the same time. The setting affords Ready At Dawn the luxury to do whatever it wants in terms of weapons and given that the variety in the space of a single level proved more exciting than that seen in most FPS releases, it looks like the team is on the right track.

We’re yet to go to toe-to-toe with one of the towering lycanthropes that have popped up in the various trailers, but we have at least been given a glimpse at the QTE-based combat that these battles seem to use heavily. One action sequence aboard the blimp starts with a traditional set of button prompts but then forces you to explore your environment while time gradually slows to a near halt the sequence we experienced only had one environmental object with which to interact but it stands to reason that encounters beyond this early one could offer multiple options that each further the brawl in a different way. There’s certainly enough involvement there to ensure that these moments are satisfying and cinematic already, but such choice, however arbitrary it may turn out to be, would be the icing on the cake.

We get that The Order is a cinematic game but even so, that it has taken this long for Sony to lift the lid on actual gameplay is somewhat surprising, especially given that what we’ve played is really rather good. If it were a game purely trying to get by on slick visuals and Hollywood moments, we could perhaps understand it. But gameplay holds up well in spite of some fairly old-fashioned design decisions, and even the assertion that it’s ‘just a steampunk Gears Of War’ is hardly a solid criticism Gears is one of the few great franchises that PlayStation has never had an answer for, so what better time for that answer to come along than when Epic’s series seems to have run its course and the well dried up ?

Hopefully the stealth sections we saw were the exception rather than the rule, because general gunplay is more than strong enough to support a full game, especially one that looks this damn good. At worst, we’re looking at a visually stunning shooter with a cool setting, satisfying weapons and somewhat linear design. Doesn’t sound like too bad a start to 2015 to us...

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