The Order: 1886 has a lot of hype surrounding it. I was definitely someone caught up in the excitement of a steampunk fantasy adventure with espionage, cool gadgets and freakin’ Lycans! Plus the game was developed by Ready at Dawn and SCE Santa Monica Studio, who are the same people who made the God of War series, a game I have already noted as truly enjoying as both a game and a masculine experience.
I wasn’t expecting the same level of greatness as the God of War games but I did expect an engrossing experience and a game that I would want to come back and play on at least one additional occasion. Sadly, as some of you probably already can suspect, that wasn’t the case.
The Order: 1886 (also called the Order for sake of brevity in this article) does introduce some intriguing concepts. It revolves around steampunk technology and lycan hunting which on paper a fun experience. However the game takes a while to get going and meanders around some messy exposition and tropes that shouldn’t be worthy of attention.
The characters are well drawn and they all seem to live in their respective universe. However some of the voice acting is very hit or miss and leaves a bit to be desired in some aspects. The environments are pretty but a bit bland—I felt like I had seen them all before. Other than a well-planned set piece on a zeppelin, most of the environments are standard taverns, tunnels and docks that felt moody and very British, but not very fun nor inviting to explore.
Music and sound effects are top notch in this game. The little details of pages turning in a book, footsteps against cobblestone, aged wood and marble is seamless and the music done by Jason Graves of “Dead Space” fame is often pleasing and exhilarating.
The gameplay and the story are my two biggest complaints with this game. I’ll start with story since it is the least important aspect. The story is all the game really is; there are some fights, there is some gameplay, but it’s mostly quick time events to justify basically a three hour movie. And quite honestly the story is just one level above college fanfiction. Mixing in a mountain of cliches and predictable twists and turns prevents the story from being consistently captivating. It does have its moments but they are still usually painfully obvious and it comes off as very hackneyed for a game that is so clearly built upon the strength of it’s story, supposedly.
The gameplay is quite simply atrocious. The game is barely a game—there is an imbalance of enemy encounters, and those that do take place are repetitive. The controls are a tad clunky, and the mechanics are inconsistent. Weapons due to story constraints have varying degrees of power and impact, giving you little excitement when you acquire a new gadget. Most of the game is quicktime events and not even the entertaining or challenging kind like in “Heavy Rain” (a game I actually really liked mind you). If there is one thing that can kill a game’s entertainment level fast it’s too many quicktime events. Mix that in with poorly executed and unsatisfying ones and you get a game that doesn’t play in a good way on just about any faucet of video gaming.
Now some people complained about the length of the game. I have mixed feelings on that. On the one hand if a game is good the length doesn’t really matter. Many games that I love are not particularly long, but the problem with this game is they’re asking me to pay upwards of $45 on a game that’s mostly a bland story, piss poor gaming, polished but unremarkable graphics, and filled with unfinished mechanics. Quite honestly if you pay anything more than $15 you wasted your money, and that might be a generous statement.
The following paragraph contains one spoiler so be warned.
I did appreciate that, despite having a strong woman at the side of the main character, she is still very much internally a feminine woman. This of course means that she is swayed by her emotions, gets jealous extremely easily, and is insecure. People will claim she’s two dimensional but honestly she’s one of the more realistic portrayals of a woman in that kind of position I’ve seen in video games. Though I must note that this is a realistic portrayal of a late 19th century woman who hunts lycans so…
Gameplay: 10/45. Some will say I’m being too harsh but this isn’t a video game—it’s an interactive movie masquerading as a game, and not even in a honest way like “Heavy Rain” or similar titles. The gameplay where you actually get to control your character’s fate is rather dull and at times lacks urgency.
Controls: 12/25. At times too simple and at other points counterintuitive. It takes until about chapter IX for the controls to really become fluid and that’s right in time for more quicktime events than you can shake a stick at. It was frustrating that I had to basically just watch events play out and occasionally move from place to place and then preform some arbitrary quicktime event. It’s half-baked at best and purposefully infuriating at worst.
Graphics: 9/15. The graphics are obviously next generation and so pretty nicely polished, but the environments are limited and thus rarely seem to push the graphics engine to it’s limits. Character models are diverse and well drawn, but it all gets old very quickly for such a short game. It just feels as if they could have tried a bit harder.
Sound: 9/10. The strongest quality of the game, by far. The sound mixing and sound editing is outstanding and everything feels authentic in this regard. Little details are really handled with care, though the voice acting is a tad sloppy at points. The music keeps things moving and it feels crisp. However some of the sound effects are a tad overused and not always unique.
Story: 2/5. Story has it’s moments but for the most part its pretty predictable and cliché. Nothing happens that I didn’t see coming and it telegraphs just about every twist and turn throughout. The game feels like a poor man’s attempt at Van Helsing, Steampunk and Underworld. It dances with some deep concepts but it never does anything worthwhile to make any of the more grand set pieces feel earned. There might be a sequel to this game; if so then they need a new writer.
Masculinity Score: This game is fairly masculine driven. Your hero is a sophisticated man but he can still be a roughneck in the end. The women are strong but they still bend to the authority of a man they deem worthy, which I found realistic. There is some corny blood, violence and alpha male moments sprinkled throughout but it’s nothing special while at the same time a good level of masculinity that I’ve come to expect from games.