The Order: 1886 immediately draws you in with its setting. An ancient secret order powered by the latest technology at the turn of the 20th Century – check; one of the greatest cities of the world embroiled in a bitter civil war – check; nightmarish creatures lurking in the dead of the night – check; a shady corporation brimming with conspiracy – check; historical real world figures with fictional extensions to their stories – check.
With all this going its way, the biggest question I had midway through the game was, ‘how could they mess this up?’ While investigating rebel territory as one of the Knights of the Round Table, Galahad, I let out an exasperated groan at the all too familiar sight on an open area with three clear points of entry and a plethora of conveniently placed waist-high crates and walls for cover. What followed was both predictable and boring. Standard enemies wielding pistols and machine guns would run dutifully into cover and pop out like clockwork to take shots at me. Every once in a while, a shotgun-wielding heavy would make a beeline in my direction. I went through the motions established by scores of games across two generations of gaming. I popped out, aimed for their heads and after fifteen minutes of rote shooting, the courtyard had turned into a graveyard. We pressed onwards on a rigorously linear path. A leap here, a shimmy there, until we came upon the next shooting gallery to go through the motions again.
Was Ready at Dawn playing it safe? Or did the more daring ideas get scratched off the drawing board in favour of the tried and tested? At no point does The Order: 1886 present something new or steer towards something unconventional. Even the story of the modern day Order that began with the legendary King Arthur that intrigues initially falls into the usual conspiracy trappings. Someone is up to something, someone else wants to get to the bottom of things, someone else ends up dying and its up to you to finish what he started and uncover some agonisingly obvious facts that shatter the very foundation of everything you believe in. Sounds familiar? If not, you may still get something out of The Order: 1886.
The game’s obvious inspirations are titles like the Uncharted series and even Heavy Rain to some extent, but in trying to create an experience that combines the best of both, they failed to dwell deeply on what made either of these games tick. The game lacks the smart level design or the fluid pacing that combined both platforming and gunplay to make the Uncharted games exciting. Guns, even those built by Nikola Tesla, will only get you so far. The Heavy Rain influences come in with the heavily cinematic choreography of the game. The camera zooms about and positions itself in the most favourable cinematic angles in some sequences, such as the supposedly breathtaking rappelling down the side of a Zeppelin. The view was beautiful, but the moment was squandered by the mechanical nature of the inputs. At times, for no apparent reason, the game forces you to pick up objects and then turn them about for far longer than anyone would care. As pretty as these objects (or the rest of the game, for that matter) look, none of it has any bearing on the progression.
Even the rarer enemies, such as Lycans, which the Order is tasked with hunting down, have a very formulaic approach. They charge, they retreat, they repeat. And the biggest offenders are the quick-time events. They seem so lethargic at times that the ongoing scene on the screen does not even seem to warrant them. A simple cutscene would have sufficed in most cases.
It is a pity in the face of the beautiful visuals and voice acting from the lead characters. The Victorian-era London draped in Steampunk wonders is achingly beautiful to look at. The cast, beginning with the protagonist, Galahad, and accompanied by his wise and noble mentor, Percival; the steely Lady Igraine, who is Galahad’s love interest; the Knight-in-training Lafayette, who brings lightness to the exceedingly sombre settings; and the fiery Rani Lakshmibai, the leader of the rebels, whom you meet later in the game, play out their parts admirably (though how a woman who has grown up in Jhansi comes about an impeccable English accent and a terrible Indian one is something of a question).
At every step, The Order: 1886 feels like a missed opportunity. There is no harm in taking inspiration, especially in the modern era of gaming that is brimming with new ideas, but carrying the game on the back of its visuals simply won’t cut it anymore. All it needed was a little more effort. Some more effort in building a more exciting and engrossing progression to the game. Some more effort in exploring some of its more interesting story ideas – maybe they could have dwelled deeper into the origin of the Order, and the history of the conflict between the Order and the Lycans. Like the excellent Shadow of Mordor, some more effort in building something new on top of an established foundation.
At best, the game prods and probes the edge of excitement, but never fully embraces anything it introduces into the experience. In endorsing the wondrous machines that its world relies on, The Order: 1886 has turned into one. A predictable output to a standard input, and nothing more.
The Order: 1886 is now available at Amazon.in.