The Order:1886 is seemingly derivative, but underneath is a blend of media forms which celebrates both cinema and video games inside of an attractive shell.
Major studio games failed to find their visual individuality once they graduated onto CD-ROM. Interactive software continually poked and prodded the underbelly of movie blockbusters long enough for “cinematic” to enter critical vernacular as a positive.
The Order embraces the philosophy to extremes, drizzling and then soaking itself with “cinematic” splendor. It is unapologetic about the direction, too. At times, The Order is dangerously close to self-parody in its divisive video game artlessness – the locked 2.35:1 scope presentation, faux grain, frame rate choice, sound design, editing technique. Movie procedures take precedent.
In fact, The Order does everything those critical of this overbearingly loud sector of the market despise. It snuggles up to theatrical trends of fairy tales, super heroes, and werewolves. Hints of blues and oranges stretch for all six to eight hours. Story segments swell between action and become a geek repository featuring gunsmith Nikola Tesla, steampunk, knights, and Jack the Ripper. Everything about it feels wrong… until it doesn’t.
Order in the (Round Table) Court
Not only does The Order recover, Ready at Dawn’s work begins to apply a craftiness to this litany of clichÃ©s which bolster its otherwise mimed world. As much as it may antagonize the medium (even abort it) through lamentable QTEs and blasÃ© ledge climbing, The Order is smartly doing what it wants with them. They’re a means to a filmic end.
Combat is often routine, a series of duck-and-shoot encounters with throes of faceless rebels. In-between are werewolves. They’re more than targets; they’re a force. Situating their few confrontations outside of the standard point/fire mechanisms broadens the wolfmen’s power. They cannot be beaten through traditional means. Lycans need to be stabbed and shot repeatedly before slinking back into their quivering human form. Doing this inside intimate QTEs increases their pathos and elevates their fear-inducing prowess.
It’s another cinematic trick: Friday the 13th’s Jason takes a cleaver to his head midway through only to rise unharmed later, creating a credible, ghostly threat. Jason is someone to fear and something to shock. Similarly, The Order makes grand supernatural struggles count.
In some way, The Order rolls the design back. We’re in a period where pithy full-motion games of yore are returning, only now with polygons and linear corridors. The latter is not intrinsically a negative. Staying on the path ensures timed and sensible narrative delivery. That’s what The Order wants (whether the intent is smart is clearly divisive).
Staying on the path ensures timed and sensible narrative delivery.
It also protects the superficial, yet ravishing display, of technology. Bricks are sweaty, London’s fog permeates the October air, and gloomy aesthetics create a visible odor. And these are not only direct signs of the locale. The Order’s equivalent of production design – stacked with disheveled bookshelves and the influence of Tesla’s adolescent electrical trickery – relives an era of mutton chops and top hats, albeit enhanced for modern tastes. Thermite and head exploding shock guns ahoy. Oh, and The Order openly demands you play by the whims of its firearm selection. Guns are not a choice. The Order’s rules as a game are clear.
The Order of Things
Mind you, this work does not necessarily spend its time well. Welcome diversity only amounts to incomplete, embryonic characters by the end, allegiances are predictably soured, and as a whole, the narrative is back-loaded. The rebels who spark much of the action are mere composites, never established until the opening of the third act’s hectic race through chapters. By then, The Order has solemnly slipped into an ill tale of corporate conspiracy without layers, albeit with an attractive Victorian/horror slant.
To counteract those failings is Galahad, more than a stiff or silent vessel meant to hoist a gun. As a lead character, he is loyal and proud. These Knights of the Round Table have mythically served for centuries. Even if The Order’s plotting is malformed, Galahad is a stout leading man whose sense of right will supercede an assignment’s wrong-headedness. His honor drives him to learn. Compared to the shameful routine of AAA’s protagonists (who are often inexcusably silent), Galahad becomes a revelation – which may not say much.
There is credit due. Lots of it, actually.
The Order is not stuffed with launch DLC. Derided, shoehorned multiplayer is non-existent. Females in an inherently macho fable are refreshingly self-capable (if still forced to a side status). It is all together coherent too. The Order seems almost alien when in consideration of its whole.
To lambaste QTEs is to ignore their purpose in context.
The non-infamously low scores assigned to The Order for surface level criticisms is shallow, although it unquestionably invites some of the dissatisfaction of its own accord. To lambaste QTEs is to ignore their purpose in context. To belittle length (and it’s not too short) berates a game properly fitting its own skin. To slam its adherence to gameplay conventions – well, that’s probably on point. The Order is not something to cherish so much as it is an intoxicating melding of media forms, completely unafraid to swerve between or imitate them as need be.