The Or­der: 1886

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher SCE De­vel­oper Ready At Dawn, Santa Mon­ica Stu­dio PS4 Out now

PS4

The Or­der: 1886 might be named af­ter the group of steam­punky knights that stand at the cen­tre of its tale, but its ti­tle could just as eas­ily re­fer to how metic­u­lously con­trolled your jour­ney through their world is. The crit­i­cal path here is so con­cert­edly fun­nelled as to be suf­fo­cat­ing, only oc­ca­sion­ally bal­loon­ing out into spa­ces larger than the barely dis­guised cor­ri­dors that link each cutscene and QTE – and in The Or­der, it feels like you rarely man­age 30 paces be­fore trig­ger­ing one or the other.

It’s a frus­trat­ingly rigid tem­plate that’s all the more egre­gious when you re­alise it isn’t the price of The Or­der’s in­cred­i­ble vi­su­als, but rather the cost of Ready At Dawn’s filmic am­bi­tions. Other than the fram­ing and some won­der­fully de­tailed fa­cial an­i­ma­tion, cutscenes and real­time sec­tions are all but in­dis­tin­guish­able, and yet this vis­ual lus­tre never holds back the rea­son­ably pacy ac­tion of the cover-based com­bat, nor sets lim­its on the size of en­vi­ron­ments. It’s only Ready At Dawn’s baf­fling de­sign de­ci­sions that con­strain pro­ceed­ings.

Why, for in­stance, did no one think to in­clude an eva­sive roll in the stan­dard moveset? Early on, its ab­sence doesn’t par­tic­u­larly reg­is­ter as you care­fully move up through cover, burst­ing the seats of the cock­ney enemies’ bowler hats as you go. But once the game in­tro­duces ar­moured, shot­gun-wield­ing ag­gres­sors that can kill you in three or four hits and who march un­re­lent­ingly to­wards your po­si­tion, the game’s stodgy con­trols begin to take their toll. You do get to roll out of the way when bat­tling the game’s in­hu­man enemies, the ly­can, but only when a but­ton prompt pops up on­screen and not a sec­ond be­fore.

Such con­text-sen­si­tive or­ders are how Ready At Dawn in­sists you in­ter­act with the ma­jor­ity of The Or­der, mak­ing it feel like the mod­ern-day equiv­a­lent of a mid-’90s FMV game – all tech and no britches. It might be be­ing ren­dered in-en­gine, but don’t ex­pect to spend much time ac­tu­ally play­ing. Ev­ery time the game does hand con­trol to you, it’s fleet­ing. Reach a door that needs to be opened or a lad­der that needs to be climbed and the stu­dio saves you the ef­fort of do­ing so by thrust­ing yet an­other cutscene in your di­rec­tion. The story it­self, though vague and shot through with clichés, is de­liv­ered by a cast of fine voice ac­tors – the fa­cial-an­i­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy de­serves spe­cial men­tion, too – but Ready At Dawn has re­jected the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra spec­tac­u­larly.

Boss fights, mean­while, along with the bru­tal melee com­bat, are han­dled with QTEs, which mix stan­dard but­ton prompts with timed Tell­tale-style cur­sor­drag­ging ma­noeu­vres that ask you to look at one of sev­eral points of in­ter­est, usu­ally soft spots on an en­emy’s body, and then press a but­ton. The fights them­selves are well choreographed and re­mark­ably vi­o­lent, but their en­ter­tain­ment value serves only to un­der­score the paucity of com­bat me­chan­ics else­where. Again, Ready At Dawn at­tempts to make fight­ing the ly­can less rigid, this time by pit­ting you against the larger, more pow­er­ful el­ders in sim­ple one-on-one brawls. You can squeeze the trig­gers for fast and strong at­tacks, and cir­cle foes, but you’re locked to­gether, and get­ting enough hits in only trig­gers more QTEs.

At least you’re given free­dom over what you wield in fire­fights. The Or­der’s fine se­lec­tion of weaponry was de­signed by the earnest Nikola Tesla, whose gen­tle na­ture be­lies his pen­chant for cre­at­ing imag­i­na­tively cruel tools of death-deal­ing. The Arc Gun is among the most sat­is­fy­ing, half­way be­tween a mus­ket and a laser, un­leash­ing a jolt of blue en­ergy that in­cin­er­ates limbs and heads. The Ther­mite Ri­fle is more bar­baric still, first throw­ing out a cloud of flammable pow­der be­fore us­ing its sec­ondary flare func­tion to ig­nite the cloud and any­body stand­ing within it. The imag­i­na­tion that has so clearly gone into the game’s ord­nance hasn’t ex­tended to the peo­ple you’re killing with it. The AI os­cil­lates be­tween cir­cum­spect and feck­less, while bat­tles of­ten de­volve into fa­tigu­ing slogs as wave af­ter wave of enemies pours into the area with no par­tic­u­lar sense of es­ca­la­tion. On a few oc­ca­sions we died as a re­sult of ven­tur­ing for­ward to stem the flow of gun­men, hop­ing to trig­ger the next check­point, such is the con­fus­ingly lengthy na­ture of some bat­tles. Only a hand­ful of ex­cep­tions save the gun­play from feel­ing like a re­lent­less duck shoot.

Things are wors­ened by the par­tic­u­larly close po­si­tion­ing of the game’s over-the-shoul­der cam­era, which makes it al­most im­pos­si­ble to spot enemies when you’re duck­ing be­hind cover and makes nav­i­gat­ing tight spa­ces – which con­sti­tute plenty of the en­vi­ron­ments – a chore. You can switch the cam­era to the other shoul­der, but only af­ter ac­ti­vat­ing the op­tion in the main menu and then re­mem­ber­ing which side of the touch­pad to tap, since Ready At Dawn for some rea­son re­quires you to hit the op­po­site side of the pad to whichever shoul­der you want to move the cam­era to. It’s symp­to­matic of a game that feels ov­erengi­neered and un­der­de­vel­oped si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

There are mo­ments when the game hints at what could have been: a late-game stealth sec­tion de­liv­ers a pro­longed stretch of diver­gent game­play – al­beit one still marred by bru­tal check­point­ing – and the fi­nal cli­matic battle is an orgy of fizzing weapon ef­fects and chaotic hunt­ing. Ready At Dawn is ob­vi­ously ca­pa­ble of mak­ing an as­ton­ish­ing-look­ing, ac­tion-packed shooter. And yet, de­spite the ob­vi­ous tal­ent at work here, the stu­dio has cho­sen to bury The Or­der’s po­ten­tial un­der a fug of dis­so­cia­tive, QTE-fo­cused game de­sign that’s as sti­fling as the smog that creeps through its Vic­to­rian streets.

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