The Order: 1886 is so keen to be filmic that it actually restricts its frame-rate to 24fps – a bizarre but worthwhile exercise, since it really does tap into those brain receptors which scream “cinematic”. And it has a stylised, at times near-monochrome, look that is far braver and more distinctive than anything that has emanated from Hollywood in recent years, and complements its setting of a steampunk Victorian London beautifully.
So far, so good – but there’s a catch. Viewed purely as a game, The Order: 1886 is pretty unimpressive. And yet, it should excite movie-lovers. It casts you as Gray, also known as Sir Galahad – the Arthurian name allocated to him as a leading light of The Order, an aristocratic team that has been fighting the incursion of “half-breeds” – werewolves and vampires – for centuries. Being one of The Order’s knights has its perks, most notably access to Blackwater – water from the Holy Grail, mixed with blood, which has instant healing powers – and some insane weaponry designed by Nikola Tesla, including a sparking arc gun and another which shoots clouds of thermite that you can ignite.
As Sir Galahad, you’re fighting on two fronts. Firstly, there’s the low-level threat from “lycans” (werewolves, essentially), and then there are the increasingly bold incursions of a rebel group (based, Ripper Street-style, in Whitechapel) that wants to overthrow the ruling order. You know you’re in for a storyline that twists and turns, thanks to a flash-forward intro, which shows Sir Galahad locked up and tortured in the catacombs below the Palace Of Westminster, before making his escape by plunging into the Thames. Less propitiously, that intro gives you the worst possible impression of The Order 1886’s gameplay, as it consists entirely of the dreaded “quick time events”, albeit with a slight twist requiring you to aim at items.
Luckily, things swiftly pick up, gameplay-wise. The Order: 1886 is really a cover-based third-person shooter, and you’re soon taking out hordes of rebels. The game’s weaponry is pretty good, especially the large-calibre automatic rifle, although the shooting element never feels as sublimely fettled as, say, that of Gears Of War. Veteran third-person shooter enthusiasts will find it laughably forgiving and very easy. But there are periods of stealth, puzzle-solving (generally using some of the game’s deliciously baroque gadgets) and clambering around to leaven proceedings, so at least the gameplay has a good ebb and flow to it – with the ebb being provided by those quick time events, which do recur like a blight.
Story-wise, The Order: 1886 is guilty of telegraphing the big change-ups, but otherwise, it bears up pretty well: Sir Galahad’s fellow knights and adversaries are nicely characterised, and the central theme of being ruled by a high-handed, privileged cabal desperately preserving its business interests is one that certainly strikes a chord in 2015-vintage Britain. Sir Galahad also gets to know precisely who his friends are.
But perhaps the star of the show is the environment: developer Ready At Dawn has created a fabulously alluring steampunk Victorian London which is a constant joy to traverse. It’s a real shame that it isn’t an open-world game, but it looks thoroughly next-gen.
The Order: 1886 is an odd one indeed. Viewed purely as a game, it’s pretty lacklustre and, with a typical seven to eight-hour completion time, it doesn’t leave you feeling all that satisfied. But the one subset of the games-buying public that will love it, appreciating its filmic strengths while glossing over its gameplay flaws, is the one which has a deep love of movies. If that describes you, it’s a very worthwhile purchase. But if you would describe yourself primarily as a hardcore gamer, it will disappoint.