The Order 1886 Preview - Steam Powered
Written Tuesday, February 18, 2014 By John Robertson
Surprising and exciting the world with a third-person shooter is not as easy as it used to be. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 era kept us very well fed, stuffed even, with a genre that boasts such quality examples as Gears of War, Vanquish, Uncharted and Dead Space. Given these lofty benchmarks, today's expected level of quality is high for any game bearing the slightest resemblance to a third-person shooter.
Developer Ready At Dawn is well aware of this, of course. Rather than simply trying to make The Order 1886's gunplay better than that of its peers or its characters' all-important movement more deliberate and 'weighty', the California-based studio is approaching every element through the eyes of a 'cinematic experience'. From the visuals to the story, and from cut-scenes to characters, there's a sharp focus on having everything attain a filmic presence.
Events themselves take place in an alternate version of London circa-1886, a time and place the design team have crafted in a way so as to be as photogenic as possible. Buildings are rugged and provocatively decayed, creating a strong sense of a London that is primarily a city of the have-nots. Dotted around its skies are eccentric airships that hint at the wealth of a few, while on the ground are steam-era inspired carriages and people decked out in hip-but-still-kinda-Victorian dress.
The city is home to a human population that is struggling in a war against mutants - humanity having split into two separate genetic pools some time well before the game's events. In this war it's 'The Order', a special forces group tasked with protecting humanity against the power of the mutants, that represent's the frontline in the battle against mutants. However, not all of humanity is taken with this particular special force and a rebellion is in full swing thanks to what the underclass of London sees as The Order's desire to protect only the rich.
Everything, from cut-scenes to gameplay, is depicted through a cinema-style camera that makes heavy and prolonged use of different focus lengths, blurred pans and incredibly high-contrast lighting. Clearly, there has been a concerted effort to move away from the crisp-and-sharp look of most games and towards something that could be described as exaggerated realism.
We're only shown a demo that lasts around 20 minutes, but that's long enough to grasp the grittier tone that Ready At Dawn is trying to achieve. This is a world underpinned by painful conflict and the visuals are designed to portray that.
Cut-scenes have a degree of interactivity to them and we're shown two examples to highlight that approach. One involves protagonist Galahad looking over the grey-brown streets of London in an attempt to locate worthwhile houses to search for anyone with knowledge of where the leaders of the rebellion might be hiding. In his hand is a minocular (read: mini-telescope) which you get to control whenever he lifts it to his face. You can use this to take in the cityscape as you see fit, but eventually you have to focus on the 'right' places to trigger the scene to conclude and the game to continue.
This is not an open-world game in any sense. The idea is to provide a structured and linear experience, albeit one in which you're given room to interact during moments that would otherwise be entirely passive.
The second example of an 'interactive cut-scene' takes the form of a QTE whereby Galahad fights it out with a member of the rebellion. Here you're asked to press a given button at a given time to have Galahad block, attack and dodge. There are times when you can pick between two input options, each one taking you down a path that has the scene play out in a different way.
However, again, this is a linear story, and the path you take doesn't impact the overall direction of the narrative.
Gunplay is more standard fare, with moving between different points of cover to engage different enemies being the order of the day. Our battle takes place on the ground floor of a destroyed building, inside a long corridor punctuated by low walls that act as protection from enemy fire originating from the far end.
These human enemies take only a few successful hits to kill, although it has been hinted at that mutants are much more capable of absorbing damage. Galahad has a trio of weapons available to him at this point in the game, each with their own range and special abilities.
A Combo Gun fills the position of 'standard equipment', effective at medium range and also packing a concussive blast that temporarily stuns nearby enemies. The Arc Gun is a sniper rifle of sorts, only this one fires a beam of electrical energy and is very much of futuristic design. Additionally, the Thermite Rifle harms enemies across a wide area by launching a cloud of what is essentially napalm.
The weapons, perhaps more than anything else, embody The Order 1886's desire to instil an otherworldly-ness within its version of London - the onset of the industrial age resulting in the weird and the powerful becoming a normal part of everyday life. For those that can afford it, at least.
It will surely be the variety of both weapons and opponents that ultimately decides how worthwhile and engaging The Order 1886's combat is. The sole combat scene we're shown lasts for only a few minutes before the next cut-scene kicks in, so it will be interesting to see - in a game that is eager to promote its 'cinematic' qualities - just how much freedom and time you're given to explore this side of the experience.
As a PlayStation 4 exclusive, Sony is surely hoping that The Order 1886 becomes another jewel in its publishing crown. It's impossible to say, from such a short demo, to just what degree Ready At Dawn is on target to attain such status.
What is possible to say is that the idea and visual quality of The Order 1886 means it certainly has the potential to achieve such a thing. It will all depend on just how good the gunplay and interactions are though. A cinematic experience can be a grand and great thing, but such games tend to live and die by how well they manage to combine narrative intent with gameplay.
The Order 1886 is slated for release sometime in 2014.