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PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners have hardly been spoiled by exclusive games for either console. In fact, it's quickly becoming an important milestone whenever one of these rarities is released into the wild, if only because they have the potential to sway prospective console buyers one way or the other.
The Order: 1886 is a notable mile marker on the highway of exclusives, not only because it's the first major title for either platform in 2015, but also because it's a game Sony chose to tease during the company's PlayStation 4-focused E3 2013 press conference. Historically, only the real heavy hitters get that kind of face time.
From developer Ready at Dawn, The Order: 1886 is a departure from the team's portable-heavy legacy, a catalog comprised mostly of successful follow-ups to already established series like God of War. In the case of The Order, Ready at Dawn is debuting a brand new franchise, one set in a dreary and overcast Victorian London.
It's the year 1886 (but you knew that) and you are Sir Grayson Galahad, a Knight of the Round Table -- an order that has battled a race of overgrown beasts for centuries. As if these "half-breeds" weren't enough trouble, Galahad and his knightly buddies must also deal with the rise of a deadly rebellion.
On top of the fantasy elements, the 1886 presented in The Order is a historically alternative version of London with zeppelins flying high, smokestacks billowing into the sky and the only man capable of completing the true steampunk trifecta: Nikola Tesla.
Luckily, the order is on Tesla's good side, giving you and your team unadulterated access to a swath of gadgets and weaponry compliments of his underground laboratory, all of which are inexplicably ahead of their time -- and way more awesome. The Order takes plenty of creative liberties when it comes to the technology of real-life 1886, but this anachronous fantasy plays a big part in the beautifully realized atmosphere of the game.
The Order: 1886 plays much like most of the over-the-shoulder third-person shooters you've seen before. Surprisingly enough, I kept mentally referencing Gears of War during my play.
What separates The Order is its absolutely stunning visual presentation, art direction and scenery. It's easily the most beautiful PlayStation 4 game around, regardless if you object to its anamorphic aspect ratio (on a normal 16:9 TV there are black bars at the top and bottom). So on one hand you have what I believe to be one of the best looking games around -- but on the other you have a gameplay experience that sits in the shadow of its production value.
I had a variety of issues with The Order's controls, from its occasionally frustrating movement to its strangely selective use of cover. There's also this ominous feeling that you aren't really in full control of Galahad, with a few ugly moments where the game might as well be on rails.
For instance, you can't always maneuver Galahad the way you might want. The game forces him to walk a lot -- painfully slowly at times. You also can't always aim your weapon, which is a dead giveaway that you aren't about to face any enemies. At other moments your character can't snap into cover. I encountered dozens of walls, barriers and other masses that should rightfully be usable as cover, but instead just didn't work. It's these moments of incongruence that really knocked me out of sync with the game.
For the handful of moments when the gun play ramps up, The Order does provide glimpses of a chaotic masterpiece. Bullets whiz by and cut through wooden crates, leaving a detailed smoke trail in their wake while shotguns kick back a barrage of sparks. You're almost guaranteed to fall in love with the thermite rifle, a two-system weapon that allows you ignite a cloud of dust after you've coated an area.
It seems Ready at Dawn chose style above everything else, and that's reinforced in The Order's story. Unfortunately, this isn't exactly the gripping thriller you might be looking for. To be honest, parts of it are outright boring.
The first hour or so is filled with cut scenes that seem to go on for too long, leaving noticeable gaps in the action. It plays hell with the overall pacing of the game, which really doesn't pick up until you're essentially halfway through.
It feels like a missed opportunity, because The Order has some fantastic cinematics and convincing performances from its actors. It's also a technical marvel. You'll never encounter a loading screen during play time and the game inexplicably boots up a saved game in just seconds.
Each room you enter is a uniquely crafted dwelling that seems like it's begging to tell a story, but ultimately doesn't do much beyond providing non-essential morsels of interactivity. Tragically, The Order's landscape and distinctive environment feels wasted in its lack of substance.
There's a lot to like about The Order: 1886, but some of its technical missteps are surprising. The game isn't a terribly long experience either -- I completed it in about 8 hours.
That's not to say The Order is a disappointment, I just think the final product didn't fully tap the game's true potential. I was left wanting more. But maybe that's the point. If it is, The Order: 1886 deserves a sequel. I'm certainly rooting for one.