A few years ago, a couple of friends and I were having a discussion about what we thought “next-gen” would entail. Graphics? New input methods? VR? We all had different ideas, but the one thing we all agreed on was that next-gen would not simply be better graphics. Short of going to 4K resolutions (which at the time was in its infancy), we all agreed that there probably wasn’t much more that graphics could do, and that “next-gen” would really have to bring something revolutionary and different to the table.
We’re now a couple of years into “next-gen,” and so far there have been very few games that I could comfortably call truly new. Most games feel like games that could easily be release on last-gen consoles if not for the increase in graphical fidelity. Assassin’s Creed Unity feels like it could have easily been an XBox 360 game with smaller crowds. Sunset Overdrive could probably have been a 360 game as well, with less sharp graphics. The Xbox One has dabbled with cloud computing in Forza 5, but that’s not something that’s readily noticeable to the consumer. In short, so far “next-gen” is not much more than a prettier “last-gen.”
When The Order: 1886 was first revealed at E3, I was cautiously excited. It looked great, but we’ve all fallen for great looking E3 trailers before, only to have the final product look far inferior. I didn’t want to get my hopes up for 1886; it probably wouldn’t look as good as the reveal trailer. i was far more interested in the gameplay. As a new IP, what new gameplay elements would we see? Was this going to end up as just another generic shooter?
Interestingly enough, the reality of the final product is somewhat the reverse of what I was worried about. The game looks as good as I remember the trailer being, so as far as the visuals go, I’m not in the least bit disappointed. What I am disappointed in is the gameplay, unfortunately. 1886 does indeed end up being just another 3rd person cover shooter, with a few extra annoying quirks thrown in for good measure.
First, lets address the issues of the game’s length. I’m sure by now we’ve all heard the complaints: “This game can be completed in THREE HOURS!!” “No no, it’s five hours, but it’s still super short and not worth $60!!” And so on. Unless you’re making an effort to speedrun the game, I’m having a hard time believing that anyone completed it in three hours. It took me around 6-7 hours to complete, which is short, yes, but not anything out of the ordinary when compared to something like the Call of Duty games. The glaring difference between the two, however, is that once you’re done with CoD’s short campaign, you have hours upon hours of multiplayer to sink your teeth into. 1886 is just a short campaign with nothing more.
Now I’ll be the first to say that not every game needs a multiplayer component tacked on. I hate multiplayer options that are thrown on just because, and I’m extremely wary every time I hear of a traditionally single player game adding multiplayer. I’m not saying that 1886 NEEDS multiplayer; it just needed something more than a short campaign. For something that’s supposed a new AAA IP and a full $60 purchase, it simply doesn’t offer much. Sharp graphics and a cool atmosphere can only take you so far.
And what of the graphics? In short, they are amazing. This is what I pictured when I think of “next-gen” graphics. The game looks wonderful. Everything from the foggy, moody look of London, to the details on the Knights’ clothing, to wonderfully brilliant burst of color whenever I ignite a cloud of thermite and set a bunch of unsuspecting enemies on fire look fantastic. I love that Sir Galahad’s clothes flutter when he runs, and the facial designs look extremely convincing as well. This game gave me some gnarly beard envy.
The biggest gripe I have the with the visuals is the game’s decision to utilize a cinema styled 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which means you get black bars above and below the image. On one hand, I can understand the decision to go with this look, since it gives the game much more of a movie feel. On the other hand, it gives the impression that so much of the image is cut out. I know it’s not; I’m pretty sure Ready At Dawn consciously fit everything they intended to fit within the aspect ratio, so I’m not suggesting I’m “losing” any part of the image or anything. However, the 2.35:1 ratio unintentionally makes the image seem too compressed, and I feel like I can’t see as well as I could if the image took up the whole screen. Couple that with the fact that the camera angle sits really close to Galahad’s back, and you have a situation where it seems a good third of the screen is blocked, and the rest is too squished to see anything. I would have honestly liked a full screen image and for Ready At Dawn to not worry about maintaining a cinema feel. For cut scenes, it’s fine, but for gameplay, not so much.
One of the highlights of the game is the voice acting. Say what you will about the story, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, and thought that the actors did a fine job in their performances. Having an alternate version of Victorian London where the Knights of the Round Table are not only still an active order, but engaged in a war with half-breeds, which are half man/half monster, werewolf type of creature, is a pretty awesome premise, and one that I enjoyed very much. The style of architecture and clothing along with weapons and gadgets makes for a very believable alternate universe that seems wholly believable.
The gameplay is where chinks start showing in the armor. The Order: 1886 doesn’t do any one thing terribly, it’s just that everything it presents from a gameplay standpoint has either been done to death in other games, or simply isn’t anything exciting. Take the combat, for example. You find some cover, pop out and shoot every now and then, and if the enemy gets too close for comfort, you press the Triangle button for a melee attack. If that sounds like the the same system for Uncharted, Gears of War, or basically any other 3rd person shooter out there, it’s because it is. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The same goes for the scattered “platforming” sections throughout the game. It plays like a poor man’s Uncharted; you basically look for the telltale white colored portions of a wall or building, climb up and shimmy along these sections until you get to the next area. The only difference being the speed in which Galahad moves as opposed to the faster and more spry Nathan Drake.
1886 also has quite a few quick time events, which as a concept, I don’t have an issue with. I was first introduced to QTEs in the Shenmue series, and I’ve liked them ever since. I don’t really even mind if a game has numerous QTE segments, especially with boss fights. 1886’s QTEs, however, pop up in the moist random times during cut scenes. As a result, I can never relax and simply enjoy the story during cut scenes. I have to always have my fingers hovering above the buttons, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. A QTE could pop up at any time, surprising the pants off of me.
I have seen some complaints where the game’s linearity has come into question. Yes, The Order: 1886 is a very linear game. There’s a specific story that needs to be told, and the developers ferry you down an extremely tight, predetermined path with little room for any additional exploration. And you know what? I’m 100% ok with that. Not every game needs to allow open world elements, and if exploration is not the focus of the gameplay, then I don’t see any need to have it in there. The way 1886 presents their linearity is smart because it isn’t blatant. FInal Fantasy XIII caught a lot of flak for the linearity of most of the game, but where I feel FF XIII fell short was the fact that the bulk of the levels were designed as corridors. They LOOKED like corridors and they felt like corridors. You couldn’t help but feel restricted and claustrophobic. You felt forced into one way of playing.
In 1886, the levels are designed in such a way that the linearity is somewhat masked. Sure, you’re still essentially being prodded down a single path, but at least the level design doesn’t make it so obvious. Each area feels like there’s room for exploration, even if there really isn’t. The levels designers made each section believable with carts blocking paths, fires, piles of debris, etc. You can see past these obstructions, giving the impression of a bigger world out there, but the reason why your path is blocked makes sense. Couple that with the fact that there might be explosions from mortar fire going off around you, and you won’t even have time to think about the linearity.
The best way to look at The Order: 1886 is to treat it like a long tech demo. It has impressive visuals with a fantastic atmosphere. Characters looks great, and environments look believable. The story is entertaining enough to keep me satisfied, and anyone with any love for the steampunk style should feel right at home here. Just don’t expect to be blown away by any fantastic gameplay. The game could stand to have more content, and I really don’t like the aspect ratio, but if you want a pretty game with a cool story, this could be worth your while. Just maybe don’t pay $60 for it.