McMillan’s Codex#40 by C.T. McMillan
The Order: 1886
When criticizing a work of entertainment, one standard practice is often to acknowledge the piece from a basis of style versus substance. Either the title has qualities that transcend superficiality, or the work is more concerned with looking good. Take for example the Watchmen movie: the comic was an examination of superhero archetypes in the context of the real world, but the movie was an adaptation that did not translate the ideas that made the comic so important. The film was style over substance because the movie was focused on being faithful to the visuals without considering the themes. The substance of videogames is gameplay and story, and style is graphics and presentation. One must establish a balance between the two and The Order 1886 cannot stay on two feet without falling over.
I first heard about Order at the Sony presentation during E3 2013. I was taken aback by the idea of playing Victorian Era monster hunters in a steam-punk London using sci-fi weaponry. While I am not fan, the genre is at least interesting and the anachronistic qualities mixed with futurism is very appealing. When the game was finally released, however, the critical reception prevented me from making a purchase. After the game was cheap enough to buy with a single 20-dollar note, I picked up a copy to play for review.
From the outset the game visually amazing with pitch perfect graphics and animations. Character’s bodies and faces move realistically compared to traditional motion capture. The lighting is elegant, reacting to glass and metals with a beautiful shimmer. A hazy filter over the picture not only unifies the game’s visuals, but also creates an air of antiquity consistent with the period. The sound design is very physical with distinct effects in addition to expert voice acting. While these are the makings of a good game, the same craft and artisan touch is lost on the rest of the game.
As a standard third person shooter, the combat should have been the easiest to get right if the developers were not so concerned about looking good. The fluidity and realism of the animations may be a nice touch, but when you are trying to move you must contend with restrictions to how you move. Navigating your character is like driving a heavy truck that requires precise timing to turn corners. When not facing the right way, you must go through a slow turning animation. In combat this choice is especially frustrating when trying to get into cover takes forever. There is also stun locking where if you are hit, your character goes into a reeling animation to convey pain. This is an old practice in videogames that was for some reason brought back. All stun locking does is stop combat and compound frustration when you just want to play the game.
The reason I did not buy Order the first time is because the total runtime is 7 hours and I heard the story was incomplete, which are true. The game tries hard to be visually impressive while the narrative was unfinished in anticipation of a sequel that will not happen. Trying to build a following with an original yet incomplete first entry is suicidal and the developers have paid dearly.
The game has everything awesome: a knightly order that gains immortality by drinking from the Holy Grail, werewolves, vampires, and airships. Order seemed like a playable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but when the game came time to use those elements in a narrative, the game was left open on purpose to point of ignoring the qualities that made the concept interesting. The werewolves are a small part while the vampires show up twice and do nothing. Both are background details that make way for an uninspired plot involving human enemies. There was a nice touch with an airship providing air support for your team of knights, but only in a cut scene and not in gameplay. Also, there are not many interesting weapons apart from a lightning rifle and thermite cannon. You use them only a couple times before you are stuck with conventional assault rifles and pistols.
The game takes place when imperialism was rampant and the main conflict involves antigovernment dissidents retaliating against a corporation with enough influence to manipulate institutions of authority. You are a part of one such institution who discovers the truth, but you do not change anything. You find the villain, learn what he wants to do, and by the conclusion he basically wins and the only agency you had was killing his lead henchman. The last time you see the villain is the moment you discover who he is an hour before the end. All you are left with after the credits is regret for wasting money.
The Order: 1886 works best as a playable movie that gets by on looks if you ignore the glaring problems. The gameplay is standard and that would not be a problem if the story were actually complete. When you are spending a lot of money on a game, you expect to enjoy at least the story or gameplay, but when the former is mediocre and the latter ruined by hubris, Order is not worth consideration.