Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Order: 1886 (PS4) Review

The Order: 1886 was one of the games made to showcase the power of the PS4 and how good next-gen (now current gen) would look.  At least that part was accurate.  The game does look really, really good.  The shadows, graphics, facial animations and lighting effects all look top-notch.  The downside of this is you can tell that is where most of the time, effort and money for the development went.

The game was developed to be more like a movie, which, in fairness, doesn't outright make it terrible.  Sure, it should be a game first, but cinematic games have become pretty popular, and can be pulled off very well.  The Order, sadly, doesn't fall into that category.

The story of the game is pretty average.  I will say the last 15 minutes or so were actually interesting, but the events leading up to it were fairly standard, predictable, or both.  My wife watched me play about two levels near the end, and without seeing anything leading up to it, predicted what one of the twists was.  At least being predictable is better than being terrible, and I did enjoy the end, but I'm pretty sure a lot of the groundwork they were laying for future sequels will go nowhere.  Dear game developers: please focus on making something good first, then figure out how to expand upon it.  Stop laying groundwork for things that may not / likely won't happen... it's a terrible idea.

Enough about the slight positives the game has.  Let's get to the gameplay.  The Order is, in some ways, a third-person, cover-based shooter.  The gunplay itself is not so bad, and the cover works for the most part, but the game can get grating in its use of certain enemies.  Guys with shotguns will rush your position, which is really annoying when you have no idea they are there because you are shooting the other six guys hiding around the map.  They also drop you in two shots, which will happen quickly.  Of course you don't have a visible health bar, just the "screen darkens" nonsense that has become so popular the last six years or so.  You sometimes have a chance to heal up and get back in the fight, but not if they shoot you again.  Then, it's back to doing the prolonged fight over again.  Many fights have someone else there with you, but they aren't likely to help.  Time to fend for yourself.

Too bad the shotgun guys aren't the end of the annoyances.  Some enemies will start spamming grenade throws so you have to keep moving while trying to figure out where the perpetrator is so you can stop their nonsense.  There are also some enemies that have grenade launchers, or the thermite rifle to bug you while you are behind all of the chest-high walls.  Did I mention some of these guys have armor so you can't head shot them and so they can absorb bullets?  Yeah, it is as annoying as it sounds.  Of course the fights wouldn't be complete without waves of guys pouring out of places like a clown car.  The Order isn't the worst offender of this in games, but it is still annoying whenever it pops up.

While that might sound bad, you aren't fighting groups like that very often.  Actually, you don't fight at all very often.  Sure, there are a handful of gun battles, but that only makes up less than half of the game's length.  Another big part of the game are the cutscenes, of which there are many.  Again, there existence isn't what makes the game worse, but the frequency and length of them.  It helps the story, but not the gameplay.  Plus, when there are whole chapter of the game that are just long cutscenes, it seems like a bit much.

So what makes up the last part of the equation?  Walking.  While the cutscenes can be boring, especially because you can't skip them, I'd argue the walking bits are worse.  There are big sections of the game devoted to walking down various hallways.  Sometimes, you even get a lamp to hold up (please read that in a faux happy, sarcastic voice)!  These sections have most, if not all, of the collectibles and other various things you can inspect.  Many collectibles are picked up by the main character, and you can use the control stick to move his hand around and look around some of the object.  Photographs can even be flipped over to check the back.  I'm guessing they thought the game was so pretty that players would want to lift up a scarce few objects and move it around in their hand.  It's... at least unique.  Unfortunately it does little to break up the monotony of lengthy walks to other places.

The overall balance of the three main components of the game just seems off to me.  There are big chunks of cutscenes, large stretches of walking around and looking at stuff, then drawn-out gun battles versus wave after wave of enemies.  I think it would have been more enjoyable if each section wasn't such a big section to itself.  Spread them out more.  As it stands, each is just a large chunk that I got sick of by the end of it.  Whenever a new section started, you knew you were in for the long haul before it would cycle to the next one.

Finally we come to one of the biggest gripes that the public had about the game just before its release: the length.  While it was famously quoted as being around 5 hours, I think a run is closer to 8 or so, especially if you are looking for collectibles, or re-doing some of the gunfights because you were rushed by a shotgunner.  While it seems short on paper, it felt like a standard length for a game of its type.  However, there is very little reason to play it past the first run.  Sure, there are collectibles and trophies, but those can be achieved in the first run through, especially if you have a guide.  I was able to get the Platinum in less than a week, and I didn't even play it everyday.  Yikes.  I'm not opposed to shorter games, but that plus no replay value doesn't equal $60 (to me, anyway).  Honestly, I think the lack of replay is worse than the game's length.

While it is obvious that I'm not too fond of The Order: 1886, I won't say that it is terrible, just boring.  The frequent unskippable cutscenes, long stretches of walking down hallways and clown-car enemy fights just need a better balance.  The length, to me, was not the worst factor of the game.  It's that there is so much time devoted to not doing anything interesting.  While a sequel seems unlikely, it could easily save the series, since I'd argue it can still be redeemed.  Until then, I'd recommend skipping the game, unless you have nothing else to play on your PS4, and really want to play a third-person shooter.

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