This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Order: 1886.
What is Order 1886? Well, it's a phrase that would be shouted from the counter of an unusually busy takeout restaurant. Okay, what's The Order: 1886? Oh, that. It's a PS4 exclusive shooter set in an alternative universe in which King Arthur's knights discovered the Holy Grail and have existed up to the 19th century as a sort of peacekeeping order of immortal warriors. Nice little idea, in a cut-price League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sort of way. Just a shame that it had to be attached to such an utterly inconsequential game, like a birthday card tied to an unsecured balloon.
I'm gonna have to make a list of all the words that used to refer to positive things but which I now associate with pain, like 'gameplay trailer', 'Ubisoft', 'backdoor romance'. Got a new one now: 'exclusive title,' which used to mean "better make the best game we possibly can to show off the potential of this cutting-edge device that we just convinced you to buy instead of 200 iOS games or year's supply of Twix", but now means "when you don't have to compete, you don't have to care." The exclusive game is now like a trophy wife: as long as it wears its prettiest dress, it doesn't have to do shit but stand there smiling with the YouTube buffering symbol cycling in its eyes.
So while The Order: 1886 has very pretty graphics, it plays like a laundry list of the blandest game mechanics yet devised by man, the absolute bare minimum to keep the needle smack in the middle, slipping into neither engagingly good nor amusingly bad. So it's another fucking cover-based shooter spiritually akin to Space Invaders, except at least the aliens got faster in Space Invaders as you thinned their ranks. The Order's idea of ramping shit up is to spawn another identical crowd of goons the moment you polish up the first, just in case you haven't had enough time to appreciate the current murky over-designed room.
At other times, we must reap a healthy harvest of quick time events, largely used as some poor excuses for boss fights. Oh yes, and Nikola Tesla shows up as a character, which I feel always comes across as a transparent and desperate attempt to go "Oh, look at all the nerd cred we've got splattering wetly down our inner thighs". Tesla's presence is part of this whole electro-punk aesthetic that only seems to exist to justify boring, typical modern-warfare shooter weapons being around in Victorian times. In fact, The Order seems to be making eye contact with Ryse: Son of Rome as they both stare forlornly out through the fences of their respective death camps. They are the stuff of the spunkgargleweewee modern shooter behind the thin disguise of an alternative setting, a funkmarbleteehee if you will.
In fact, the moment that crossed my mind I realized that the plot of The Order is point-for-point identical to the plot of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. We are Sir Galahad, a veteran loyal member of the Order with the face of Al Swearengen from Deadwood and the vocabulary of a shaved bear, pledged to defend the land from evil terrorists- I mean werewolves, but then find themselves having to fight off a civilian resistance and in situations like this you can put money down right fucking now on his high-tech authoritarian big boy's club proving corrupt and him switching sides to a resistance movement surprisingly accepting of a dude who murdered two hundred of their mates that morning- a remarkably inconsistent one, at that. "Grrr, I'm loyal to the Order." "Your Order is corrupt and I have proof." "Grrr, I hate you, but I will come and look at your proof as long as we don't kill any people on the way to it and defend my cast-iron sense of justice." "We need to kill some people on the way to it." "Say no more! *gun noises*"
Now at this point, you might be understandably confused if, like me, you've gotten the impression from the teaser and assorted marketing that this was a game about fighting werewolves. In truth, you fight eight or nine werewolves total, and about nine hundred million cockney sparrows with guns. Presumably, werewolves aren't suited to cover-based combat 'cause they can't hold a gun and are easily lured out of cover through strategic use of Beggin' Strips. And speaking of wrong impressions, in the run-up to release, I'd gotten the idea that The Odor: 1886 was a four-player co-op shooter, going again by the teaser and the four characters on the box art arranged with equal prominence. I wonder if that might once have been the intention, because of the three characters on the box besides Galahad, none of them are still participating in the plot by the final level, as if in the original first draft they were supposed to have been tagging along with you. Although having said that, the main villain is also no longer participating in the plot at the end. To go back to the Advanced Warfare comparison, it's like if Kevin Spacey just flat-out hadn't appeared in the final mission and the final boss fight was instead with Kevin Spacey's pet Staffordshire Terrier, with Kevin Spacey mockingly saluting from a hang glider with 'sequel hook' written on it.
It definitely feels like a game that's been heavily cut down, because way too many characters and concepts are fighting for space to tie up their loose ends. And after the dust settles, we're left with a game chiefly about humans shooting humans, and the supernatural elements end up as mere MacGuffin, an utterly vestigial element that could have been replaced with anything. The set-piece encounters with werewolves are blatantly similar to the fights with the hunter monsters from Dead Space, just to further illustrate that games being raggedly Frankensteined together from chunks of disinterred corpses is now near enough standard practice, and could easily have been swapped for sequences in which Galahad attempts to navigate a darkened room without bashing his shins on a coffee table.
Now I think I know how to sum this all up: The Snore-der: 1886 feels like a launch title: something utterly dull, carefully assembled from only the smoothest, inoffensive pieces with no ambition beyond showing off the graphics tech and being just about playable to an audience as broad and homogenized as a kiddie pool full of watery soup, a game from the awkward, earliest phase of a console's life before anyone had gotten to grips with it enough to try anything daring, doomed to forever haunt the preowned bin like the ghost of Banquo within a matter of months, if not weeks, if not the five-or-six hours needed to complete it.
There was point in the game where I went the wrong way and found myself in a small dead-end room, empty of gameplay but thickly detailed with copper pipes, unused furniture and highly detailed crates, and I thought to myself: "How about we wall this room off, take all the effort that was spent on those fucking pipes and use it instead to tack ten minutes of fun onto the game?" A naïve proposal, yes, but there was definitely something wrong with the priorities here. Perhaps it's that there was only one priority, and that was figuring out how to bypass the taste buds while trying to get us to swallow a cup of cold mung, milked from the barren flaps of an elderly, sexually frustrated hippo.
Son of the empire: Ben "Yahtzee Croshaw"
I don't think anyone uses the word 'werewolf' in this game; maybe 'lycanthrope' is the accepted PC term
What ho blighty top hole etc