The Order: 1886 – Another ‘next-gen’ letdown or a victim of poorly chosen demos?

There’s something not quite right with The Order: 1886. It’s undeniably gorgeous, a testament to the power under the hood of the PS4, but having played it at expos and press events and watched extra footage, many are struggling to form an attachment to the game.

Where there should be a giddy urge to have the game in our lives as soon as possible, which should be a part of any AAA console-exclusive, we find ourselves struggling to gather much enthusiasm for Sony’s first big game of 2015. Given the rather lacklustre gameplay scenes we’ve seen so far, we can’t help but think that Sony has decided on some oddly dull demos to try and hook us journos and gamers in. Are they avoiding spoilers, or does The Order: 1886 just not have that much to show?

As I’ve already mentioned, the graphics aren’t an issue. After seeing what Ready at Dawn was able to do with God of War on the PSP, it’s great to see them unleashed on the PS4. The level of detail in this steampunk take on Victorian London is astonishing and that line between cutscene and gameplay has been obliterated. That said, Uncharted 2 effectively did the same thing back in 2009.

The constant presence of ‘cinematic’ widescreen borders really isn’t working for the game either. Especially as the widescreen ratio is a relic of cinema film exhibition. Seeing as most movie content is consumed at home nowadays, it’s something the movie industry should be moving away from to accommodate the different aspect ratios of cinema screens and TVs. So to see a game attempt such an act isn’t fooling anyone.

Maybe there’s too much of a ‘cinematic’ feel to the game. Not because we’re being wowed by epic action-packed set-pieces, but because so much of The Order is a passive experience. Multiple demos have shown how often control is wrenched away from the player, or quick-time-events coddle us through the action. The game is looking remarkably linear too, with narrow corridors aplenty and missions spelling everything out for the player with no room for any responsibility on their end. A sniping scene in particular asks you to hold fire until some targets in a room can be correctly identified, but instead of keeping an eye out for shifty behaviour, you’re just told exactly who to shoot via the HUD.

When you strip away the game’s visuals the steampunk setting is betrayed as the thinnest of veneers. With exception of the thermite gun, you’ll find almost every element of the game in any modern military shooter or Gears of War-esque cover shooter. It may well be Victorian London, but Ready at Dawn has still found an excuse to include a QTE-hacking game aboard the airship over the city. Oh, look everyone has radios too, so you can expect constant guidance even when away from your fellow Knights. There’s no shaking the feeling that the chance to create something a little more unique than another third-person shooter has been squandered. It’s looking a lot more like the developers have tried to adapt safe and familiar gameplay styles and tropes to the setting.

Of course, I could be wrong. It could well turn out that scenes in the full game are going to seriously impress and destroy our preconceptions. But that’s not really how this industry works. If you have a product that’s innovative and set to blow people’s minds, you’re going to make some noise to that effect. Yeah, but no. The E3 stage demo was laughably brief and showed scant gameplay as the player wandered around a gloomy room and fired a few shots at a werewolf. Sure it was pretty, but not enough to set those pre-orders rolling in. Public demos at the likes of last year’s EGX show in London thankfully showed a different stage, but the dull cover shooting and pistol firing while dragging an ally to safety said nothing to gamers to make them think ideas have moved on since the likes of Gears of War or Uncharted – unless I misread the disappointed looks of most players after the demos conclusion and a 90 minute wait in the queue. From what I’ve seen, the likes of Gears, Uncharted, or Spec Ops: The Line show more ambition even in their duller moments.

Does this mean The Order: 1886 will be bad game? No, hell it may even be fun for the duration and we hope it will be. So why all the moaning and apathy? It’s 2015 and we’re yet to see anything on the PS4 or Xbox One that really blows us away from the big studios. It’s no accident that Shadow of Mordor walked away with our Game of the Year award as the Nemesis system was a ray of light in year of broken promises. The Order looks to be playing things way too safe though and we’re frankly getting a little tired of playing the same games, with slightly improved visuals year on year. At least The Order doesn’t have an online component to fall apart on launch day.

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