The Or­der: 1886

Ready At Dawn’s steam­punk ad­ven­ture emerges from the mar­ket­ing smog at last

EDGE - - CON­TENTS - Pub­lisher SCE De­vel­oper Ready At Dawn Stu­dios, Santa Mon­ica Stu­dios For­mat PS4 Ori­gin US Re­lease Fe­bru­ary 20

When we think of The Or­der: 1886, it’s hard not to feel a cer­tain sym­pa­thy for those who draw up game mar­ket­ing plans. A cou­ple of years out from re­lease, with your work still tak­ing shape, you have to de­cide how you’re go­ing to ex­plain your game, with no way of know­ing how the world will re­act, or how that re­ac­tion will throw your plan into chaos. The Or­der was an­nounced with a CG trailer in which four im­pec­ca­bly ren­dered Vic­to­rian-era Lon­don­ers de­fended a Whitechapel stage­coach from a half-seen threat with fan­tas­ti­cal weaponry, sug­gest­ing it was a sort of steam­punk Left 4

Dead. When more de­tails emerged, the game was por­trayed as a lin­ear, story-fo­cused third­per­son shooter like Gears Of War. And when we got it in our hands at E3 2014, what was in­tended as a show­case of the Ther­mite Gun and smoke physics in­stead sold it as a shooter in which you shoot not the en­emy, but at the clouds of pow­der around them. In be­tween, there have been quib­bles over its res­o­lu­tion and as­pect ra­tio, loudly shouted con­cerns over its lin­ear­ity, and op­pro­brium for de­vel­op­ers who have seemed dis­ap­pointed to be mak­ing games in­stead of films. In the year and a bit since The Or­der was an­nounced, we’ve never been en­tirely sure about what it was try­ing to be. Now, hav­ing laid hands on it, we know. Sadly, it’s not great news.

Lin­ear­ity isn’t an in­stant black mark. Ready At Dawn is try­ing to make a vis­ually ar­rest­ing, story-fo­cused game, and those two goals be­come more achiev­able the more you con­trol the player’s jour­ney. At times here, Ready At Dawn’s au­tho­rial con­trol is ab­so­lute. At the demo’s out­set, where the four-strong Or­der – Se­bas­tian Malory, Is­abeau D’Ar­gyll, Mar­quis De Lafayette and Sir Gala­had – stands atop the Agamem­non air­ship wait­ing to rap­pel over the edge, we’re in­vited to ad­just the cam­era with the right stick. It moves per­haps 15 de­grees to ei­ther side be­fore slowly pan­ning back into place, en­sur­ing the stu­dio can de­vote all the avail­able pro­cess­ing power to the vis­i­ble part of the scene by forcibly oc­clud­ing the rest of the world. That’s fine, given what it has set out to do. But as soon as we start to move, our good­will evap­o­rates.

If you’re go­ing to make a scripted game, your script­ing needs to be ab­so­lutely per­fect. If you want to craft some­thing cin­e­matic, then you must do noth­ing that breaks the player’s im­mer­sion in the story and the world, be­cause that’s all you re­ally have. When we press X to jump from the blimp and ab­seil down, it takes per­haps a sec­ond for Gala­had to take off. When he lands, there’s an awk­ward pause while he shifts from land­ing an­i­ma­tion to neu­tral stance, re­set­ting and flat­ten­ing

his feet be­fore fi­nally re­spond­ing to our in­sis­tent taps of X and set­ting off again.

Such awk­ward­ness is a re­cur­ring theme. If you aren’t in quite the cor­rect spot when you hit Tri­an­gle to open a door, Gala­had sim­ply slides into the right po­si­tion. When you press the same but­ton to pick up guns and ammo on a desk, he waves his left hand over them and they sim­ply dis­ap­pear. These are lit­tle things, sure, but such mis­takes can have fa­tal con­se­quences in a game such as this. We’re told Ready At Dawn’s cur­rent fo­cus is on script­ing events, and while it’s work­ing on the tran­si­tions be­tween cutscenes and game­play right now, there may still be enough time for other, more press­ing, is­sues to be ad­dressed.

It’s al­most cer­tainly too late for fun­da­men­tal changes to the de­sign doc­u­ment. With the quartet split­ting up into pairs and spend­ing the first half of the demo in­fil­trat­ing the en­emy air­ship, this is a sneak­ing mis­sion at first, and not a good one. Ap­proach a cor­blimey­ing guard – who nine times out of ten has spent the pre­ced­ing mo­ments mut­ter­ing to him­self so you can tell where he is, just in case you can’t see him help­fully shin­ing his torch – and a QTE prompt ap­pears, a marker mov­ing to­wards the Tri­an­gle but­ton and thus invit­ing you to prop­erly time your slen­der in­ter­ac­tion with pro­ceed­ings. Get it right, and a canned an­i­ma­tion shows Gala­had plung­ing a knife into his neck; fail, and a dif­fer­ent canned an­i­ma­tion shows your quarry turn­ing around and shoot­ing you twice in the gut. There’s the odd vari­a­tion on this most repet­i­tive of themes – in one scene, we have to line up some scenery in the cen­tre of the screen be­fore trig­ger­ing a canned en­vi­ron­men­tal kill with a but­ton press – but it’s not enough. This is a sys­tem in which ev­ery in­di­vid­ual en­emy is its own in­stafail stealth mis­sion.

Hap­pily, it’s all over quickly enough, and things im­prove markedly when we fi­nally get a gun in our hands. The Three Crown Coach Gun fires three shells at once and packs un­pre­dictable short-range oomph, while the C-81 Maschi­nen­pis­tole is all over the shop in sus­tained fire, a be­liev­able de­pic­tion of a gun­man’s lot had there been semi­au­to­matic weaponry in the time of cholera. The sound de­sign of guns, too, sug­gests a sort of barely con­tained de­struc­tive power that fits with a par­al­lel uni­verse where en­gi­neers just get­ting to grips with gas light­ing also started fid­dling with com­plex weapon bal­lis­tics.

The AI is barely de­serv­ing of the term, though, ei­ther fol­low­ing a scripted in­struc­tion to head for cover, fail­ing to put you down as you stand in full view car­ry­ing out a canned melee take­down on one of their num­ber, or stand­ing out in the open, star­ing at you snip­ing from the bal­cony and say­ing “fahk” a lot. But we are, at least, mov­ing and shoot­ing and do­ing some­thing on our own terms. In the con­text of ev­ery­thing else, we’ll take it.

From that comes a much-needed glim­mer of hope. Per­haps the stealth sys­tem is so rote be­cause it is used only spar­ingly, and the full game will make more of the im­mea­sur­ably more sat­is­fy­ing gun­play. Per­haps the ob­vi­ous joins be­tween an­i­ma­tions will be im­proved. We hold out hope that the su­per­nat­u­ral en­emy threat will en­force a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to com­bat than the demo’s hu­man ag­gres­sors (al­though trail­ers sug­gest we should ex­pect more melee QTEs). Per­haps, when freed from the tight spa­ces of an air­ship’s cor­ri­dors, The

Or­der will open up a bit. And while the blimp is not with­out its vis­ual high­lights – the seat fab­ric in a first-class cabin looks re­mark­able, while Gala­had’s slicked hair is so finely de­tailed that you can al­most smell the po­made – Ready At Dawn will have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to show­case its tech­ni­cal tal­ents at cob­bled-street level.

Then there’s the story, Ready At Dawn’s fo­cus all along, and of which its ret­i­cence to show or say much is, as such, un­der­stand­able. For all the me­chan­i­cal inanity, a steam­punk Vic­to­rian Lon­don re­mains a set­ting that is hard to re­sist; that, and a de­cent yarn, may be enough to save this from medi­ocrity. But af­ter this, The Or­der’s mud­dled mes­sag­ing has be­come much eas­ier to un­der­stand. Af­ter all, it must be hard work­ing out what to say when there’s not a lot worth talk­ing about.

This is a sys­tem in which ev­ery in­di­vid­ual en­emy is its own in­stafail stealth mis­sion

Fa­cial an­i­ma­tion is de­cent, not re­mark­able, and we’d ex­pected rather more given the ex­tent to which Ready At Dawn’s tech­ni­cal am­bi­tion had taken preva­lence over me­chan­i­cal con­cerns

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.