Rated M for Mature
Developed by Ready at Dawn
Published By Sony
It seems to be a bit of a taboo to dislike The Order: 1886 on Dread Central. Esteemed colleague Scott Dell saw fit to not only post a positive review of the game, but a spirited editorial on why he thought the game received low review scores. The editorial was a bit inflammatory, but made some good points about the state of the video game review market pandering to groupthink. It is hard to argue with this point, but the larger point he made about objectivity in gaming was flawed, and to me smacked more of an attempt to defend features he liked rather than make a call for legitimate objectivity in reviews. He made a point that some features that are objective fact could be disliked or liked in equal measure.
While this is true, the task at hand is video game review, not scientific evaluation, and therefore we are left with a number of qualitative facts rather than quantitative. To say a game is short is objective, but to make a quality assessment of that fact is the job of the critic, and is precisely what we do in this industry, with objective qualification being nearly downright impossible. Games are a series of quantitative facts that we make qualitative assessments about, E.G. the game is quantitatively short, so qualitatively how does that reflect upon your enjoyment? To that effect, I wanted to do my best to write a review for The Order that people that like the game might look at and see that, while they might not agree with me, they can at least understand where I am coming from in my distaste.
I found The Order: 1886 to be an incredibly boring game. This is not born from a general distaste for cinematic games; some of my favorite games fall into the “cinematic” category, such as God of War, Uncharted, and Heavy Rain. The Order bored me through a combination of inconsistent tone and repetitive gameplay. Switching between cutscenes, walking segments, and combat arenas sounds like enough variety, but none of the individual segments proved compelling enough to provide a reason to switch between one and the other. I understand the point of splitting up the tone to keep players on their toes and provide a diverse experience. F.E.A.R. did an incredibly good job of juxtaposing the supernatural helplessness with the super-soldier fantasy, but only because both segments were incredibly well done. I did not feel that any of the segments in The Order were similarly compelling, serving more to break flow than improve upon the experience.
I would break up the game into three segments: combat, cut-scenes, and atmosphere. Combat and cut-scenes are self explanatory, but atmosphere requires a bit of exposition. At several points in the game, the character is locked into a leisurely gait, and the player is expected to experience the world rather than just fight through it. I do get this, as any game really worth remembering gives you a way to learn more about the world without having to shoot your way to the next bit of exposition. The problem I have with these segments is that it slows down the pace significantly, and doesn’t actually provide you with a meaningful way of interacting with the world. You can turn over items in an L.A. Noire style, but it doesn’t actually do anything. You inspect things for the sake of inspecting them, but when what I am inspecting is a can of dried lemons, why the hell am I supposed to give a fuck? I don’t really care if about pointlessness if I am able to explore at my own leisure, such as the fish tank in Mass Effect, but these are part of the main game, not something I’m allowed to explore by my own compulsion and at my discretion.
This would be acceptable if the combat were intense and compelling enough to make me need a break and desire to learn more about the world. I am not exaggerating when I generously say there are 5 different kinds of enemies in the game. There are standard enemies, grenade enemies, werewolves, armored enemies, and shotgunners. Shotgunners, armored enemies, and werewolves will all rush you in a straight line, while the others will take cover in a predictable manner. You fight them by shooting guns at them, and if you fill up your “blackwater” bar, you can shoot guns at them in a Red Dead style auto-lock state. They go for a “quantity over quality” approach, shoving enemies down your throat in massive quantities rather than provide you with interesting challenges. There are three interesting weapons, and about eight that are standard shooter stock. Enemies will rush you in a fashion that lemmings will take note of for future military action, and you will sit behind cover and launch bullets at them until they stop or you are dead. Even the werewolves, the game’s one supernatural enemy, still just run at you, punch you, and run away.
The game even fails at being cinematic. Quick time events (QTE) have been a part of gaming since Shenmue, and have been the source of varying degrees of praise and criticism ever since. Mr. Dell sought fit to criticize people that couldn’t beat the QTEs because the game makes you expect them, but he fails to acknowledge the vast quantity of cutscenes that do not possess any QTEs. There are entire chapters of this game that are just cutscenes with no QTEs, so how in God’s unholy name am I supposed to know if this random cutscene in the middle of a level contains a QTE? Even so, the reason that games like God of War and Heavy Rain held my attention is because the QTEs were an integral part of the game. In God of War, QTEs were prompted almost every time an execution was performed, boss was fought, or action happened in a cutscene. In Heavy Rain, you could bet your ass that almost every time something happened on screen, you would push a button for it. In The Order, there are such long period where you are just watching and nothing is asked of you that it is entirely reasonable that you forget that you are actually a part of the game. The game has been criticized for being QTE heavy, but I would actually disagree. The game is QTE light, but there is so little else to do, that it ends up being a bigger part of the game than it justifiably should be.
So, that leaves the story to address. The game actually creates a pretty compelling world. The Knights of the Round Table fighting vampires and werewolves in steampunk London? FUCK YES! There was an analogy in Mr. Dell’s article about Star Wars, and how it also provided a lot of questions to be answered in later movies. Sure, but in A New Hope, they also blew up a Death Star and kick-started the rebellion. In this game, no such satisfying conclusion is reached. You kill an enemy that you are introduced to (as an enemy) 4 chapters before as the big boss finale. Even The Phantom Menace did better than that. What’s worse is that the game’s big emotion finale is a MGS3: Snake Eater style “you must pull the trigger to end the game” style cut-scene, which worked in Snake Eater because you spent the whole game learning to care about the character you had to execute. In The Order, its just some fucking guy that betrayed you. I could not have killed that motherfucker fast enough.
The big bad guy they introduced is left for a sequel, resolving the character drama is left for a sequel, figuring out just what the fuck is going on is left for a sequel, and worst of all none of it is done reasonably. You ask one of the characters how she has some of the water of the Grail, which supposedly only the Knights of the Round Table have. She says something along the lines of “there is much you don’t know,” and then no one mentions it again. And that is the fucking tale of the tape for the whole ordeal. You are introduced to a knight that is supposed to be long dead, and you just never talk about him again. You are given a conspiracy to unravel, but never actually talk about it to people that matter. You are given a villain, and never given a motivation. Well fuck people, might as well just call this The Order: Prequel, because nothing is presented or answered in a satisfying enough fashion to pass even the most basic narrative levels.
What makes me sad is that I really, really wanted to like The Order: 1886. The PS4 is the pony I bet on. I want the PS4 to succeed, because I hate my XBox One like it threw up at my wedding. The thing is, my XBox One has slowly but surely proven it’s not such a bad guy, and my PS4 has come out with half-assed bullshit that keeps pissing in my mouth when I try to sing its praise. To be straight, this game would not get any kind of a pass if it were any later in the console generation. The Last of Us was a beautiful masterpiece of a game that showed us what a game’s narrative really could aspire to be, breaking the mold in ways that will stick with me for years to come. To contrast, Haze was a basic and middle of the road narrative that failed to deliver in both the gameplay factor and the story factor that people tried to defend because it was unique. The Order is the Haze of this generation: short, mediocre, and ultimately forgettable, if not with a great deal of promise. I do not regret playing it, as the story was interesting, but I do regret that playing it was so tedious.