Oh, The Order 1886… You were doing so well, weren’t you? Graphics so lovely you could lose yourself in them, competent and enjoyable shooting mechanics, and a world that is relatively unique in the world of videogames. But… but… Alas, at the end of the day I just don’t think you’re a very good game.
Quite why it’s hard to put my finger on. I wish I could say it wasn’t you, it was me, but I think we both know that would be a lie. Part of the problem is that you seem so dead inside. Yes, you’re sumptuously beautiful outside but it’s all style and precious little substance. I walk through an ornately detailed room and find a mirror, only to discover that I have no reflection. I make my way through the back alleys of Victorian London and stumble upon a policeman and a lady having a conversation. They are flawlessly attired: every crease, every detail attests to the period setting. But walk between, stand right in the way of their conversation and they don’t even bat an eye-lid. They’re lifeless mannequins, displayed for the purposes of atmosphere, providing you don’t go too close.
Early on in The Order you find yourself engaged in a gunfight in a gentleman’s club in Mayfair. There are billiard tables that you can duck into cover behind, and – like everything else – they are exquisitely detailed. Whatever you do, though, don’t fire your gun at one and expect the balls to move even one iota. If you do then the whole illusion will be shattered like a wrecking ball through a hall of mirrors, and it becomes painfully obvious that it’s just a texture placed on a 3D object.
The Order suffers more than most from a problem I’ve touched upon before, whereby the more realistic something looks the more jarring it is when things don’t behave in the way you expect them to. It’s such a shame, as it’s obvious so much effort has gone into the way that the game looks. Unfortunately the effect you end up with is a bit like dressing a corpse: it might look alive, but it doesn’t take much to make you realise it isn’t.
Once you take away the glamour of the graphics, what you’re left with is a reasonably competent third-person cover-based shooter with a love of cutscenes and quick-time events. Ah, the cutscenes. I’m old enough to remember the mid-90s obsession with full-motion-video-based games when the CD-ROM first appeared as the game storage medium of choice. Sometimes The Order made me feel like I was playing a modern version of one of them. The pattern of many encounters, particularly near the start of the game, is: watch cutscene, walk slowly down corridor, press triangle to open door, watch cutscene, walk into room, watch cutscene, press triangle, watch cutscene, shoot something, watch cutscene. And so on.
Thankfully, the cutscenes are well-produced and serve to bolster a storyline that is intriguing if a trifle undercooked at times. Set in an alternate Victorian London, you play the role of Sir Galahad, one of Her Majesty’s Order of Royal Knights who, since the reign of King Arthur (yes, yes, I know) have protected England from half-breed werewolves, vampires and – presumably – other things that go bump in the night. It’s a well-developed world, refreshing in the way that pretty much all the detail about it is provided through the main game rather than by scores of codex entries as is often the case. I enjoyed the story itself, though was disappointed by the ending which seemed just to be begging a sequel to finish it off. One of the game’s main twists was also painfully obvious from the get-go, and I did feel like shouting at the TV to tell Galahad not to be so stupid. That never works though, and you just end up with a sore throat and neighbours who think you’re crazy.
Many people have criticised the length of the game, which I feel a tad unfair. It is short: I think I probably finished it in about seven hours or so. However, had it stuck around any longer I think it would have outstayed its welcome. What hurts the game most in terms of its longevity is the replayability, or lack thereof. As a story-driven game where the main hook is discovering what happens next, and with no branching narrative path structure, once you’ve finished it there’s very little incentive to ever go back to it. The lack of multiplayer component also harms it in this regard.
As mentioned earlier, the game’s combat mechanics are serviceable, if nothing spectacular. They very much follow in the vein of Gears of War, whereby you spend the majority of your time crouching behind some conveniently-placed scenery and popping your head at now and again to shoot/be shot at. Some enemies will rush you, others lob grenades in your general direction. There’s not a great deal of variety, as you’re mainly fighting people in different colour uniforms, but it’s largely enjoyable nonetheless. The battles with werewolves are rare and disappointing, though. I seem to recall only about three or so encounters during the entirety of the game, and they all consisted of me being attacked by three werewolves who, one at a time, would charge towards me, give me chance to dodge, and then run away for a while before coming back. I’m no expert on fighting tactics, but it did strike me that they would have been better off if they’d all swarmed me at once and didn’t give me a chance to pick them off one at a time. Ah, well, I guess that’s why you never see a werewolf on Mastermind. Or do you? (No).
Oh, yes, there are also a couple of QTE battles against certain super-powerful werewolves. These are dull and it was never entirely clear how much involvement I was actually having in their outcome.
I know I’ve been excessively negative here, and it some ways that’s unfair. The Order isn’t a bad game, it just isn’t a very good game either. In fact, for several long stretches, it barely feels like a game at all. When it does let you play, and you’re in the midst of a decent gun-battle, it’s very enjoyable, but these patches don’t last very long and you’re soon back to walking at a glacial pace around environments that are aesthetically wonderful yet interactively barren.