Chapter I: Attestations
I’ve seen and heard some people question why The Order bothers with having chapters at all, since one can go on for an hour or more and then three more zip by in a matter of fifteen minutes, and largely as cutscenes. It’s simple, I think: it’s in service to the presentation of the experience as a whole. When “Chapter III Inequalities” appears on screen it just looks good. Remember in Half-Life when Anomalous Materials, Surface Tension, or “We’ve Got Hostiles” subtly appeared onscreen? It was just cool. Recall that not many action games tried to tell coherent stories before this. Feels like forever ago.
Everything that The Order does is in service to its presentation. I think it’s a point worth touching on, not only is this arguably the most graphically impressive video game in existence (I argue it is), it is presented so flawlessly that I didn’t for a moment question what the developers tried to achieve in that regard. With that they succeed tremendously. We find it remarkable when games have presentation-cracking flaws, be it small bugs that pile up over time in every Bethesda game since Morrowind, or facepalm-worthy deficiencies like Mass Effect‘s inability to load environmental textures before the player enters said environment. In the pursuit of fairness I choose to remark on just how incredibly The Order‘s presentation comes off. While I don’t go through a game in search of bugs or niggling issues– I am not that devoid of my humanity– I certainly notice them where they are obviously noticeable – and there are none to be found in this game. Not a save file problem, not an audio glitch, not a single screen tear or not-loaded texture. Maybe this doesn’t seem like much, but you have to see this game in motion to understand what an accomplishment that is. And it runs immaculately! Whatever frames-per-second the game is locked at (30 is the going rate, right?) there is nary a stutter the entire time. Telltale Games, take note and please for the love of your fans, have a meeting with Ready at Dawn about what it means for your game to be presentable.
I knew that my PS4 was a well-oiled machine by how it handled the onscreen chaos of Diablo III and by just how well the pause-and-go-to-the-dashboard feature works, but seeing what Ready at Dawn have done here will stand as one of those epochal touchstones of my video game-playing life. I’m confident that if I inserted this Blu-ray disc into my PS3 the console would just explode. Knowing what the PS4 is truly capable of, my expectations have been raised accordingly. I will hold it against similarly focused and linear games that don’t perform as well as The Order does, because it’s plain to see that they’ll have no excuse.
Chapter II: Expectations / Box of soap
I think it becomes increasingly important that, as more and more voices are able to be heard via the many means of the internet, we as consumers seek out familiar, reliable voices upon which we can form decisions when it comes to any sort of entertainment. We should all have our unique stable of journalists, critics, reviewers, what have you with whom we can form one-sided relationships of a Critic-Consumer nature. The goal of course is to not only find people whose tastes are similar to your own, but also someone you might not share similar likes with but who is very capable of articulating where their opinions are coming from.
So as a reader it’s important that you know where I’m coming from. I’m not going to spend any time here talking about why I don’t think you should play The Order – I’m going to make a
concise long-winded case for why you might want to if you’re anything like me. The traditional video game review format is dead to me – it’s utterly useless. I forget what outlet I was reading, and I wouldn’t call it out anyway, but they’re one that still uses individual scores for gameplay, graphics, sound, et cetera, and their graphics score for The Order was 9.5 / 10. I let out a burst of bewildered laughter when I saw it. Seriously, then what the fuck is a 10 out of 10? NINE POINT FIVE OUT OF TEN? For what is the most impressive looking console game by a million miles. NINE POINT FIVE? Why even bother. And to be clear, I have no horse in this race of console bickering. I’m sure that if this was an Xbox One exclusive it would look just as brilliant.
So yes, you should know that I won’t be trying to offer any sort of “objectivity” here, a word I dislike more every day when I hear game journos banter about their quest for objectivity and “being fair.” Fuck off, I have no obligation to be fair. I suppose there’s a time and a place, but not when it comes to speaking honestly to people buying games.
I too have my own stable of trusted critics, but when it comes to the major releases I tend to read/watch/listen to more than usual because I’m just interested to see which way the wind is blowing. It’s almost never good for my sanity. It just reaffirms that I don’t like what most people are saying.
“Demon’s Souls is the hardest game ever and totally unfair!”
“Dragon Age II isn’t Baldur’s Gate II so wahhh wahhh!”
“Commander Shepard kissed a boy and he liked it yuck!”
“The Order is short and therefore worth less!”
Within most reviews or critiques there is a certain level of expectation held by the writer, whether admitted to or not, that in my opinion is an outdated way of thinking. Look, I’m not above anyone else, I’m just trying to be as self-aware as I possibly can and wade through the sea of bananas madness that is twenty-first century life, just like everyone else. Expectations are, to a degree, unavoidable; to be expected (I write good). I think, for someone who puts the controller down as the credits on Mass Effect begin to roll, it’s fair of them to expect that there is going to be a game called Mass Effect 2 and that you will play as Cmdr. Shepard. If Mass Effect 2 then came out and was a city-building simulator based in the Star Trek universe I think it would be reasonable to declare Hmm, well this has certainly defied my expectations! Yes, one could fairly state that they had expectations for Mass Effect 2 that went completely unmet.
Expectations of any other kind become unhelpful. Especially in today’s gaming climate which has become so incredibly diverse. I want creativity and diversity to be encouraged. Blizzard had a golden goose in Warcraft 2 and 3, and instead of making Warcraft 4 which would have been a sure thing, they took a huge risk in trying to make a better EverQuest. I’ve heard that it paid off.
Ready at Dawn is clearly a very capable developer, and I think that if they wanted to they could have made The Order into a multiplayer/co-op Gears of War clone (it has received those comparisons anyway) that was more focused on shooting and– brace for impact, here comes that word– gameplay. Instead they stuck to the vision of an ultra-polished and ultra-cinematic experience that does the shooting part simply “quite well;” I don’t think it’s exceptional, but that also matters less to me. I think the shooting parts of The Order work very well with a few caveats, but to say they’re central to the experience would be inaccurate. There are some very cool bits of combat, and other scenes that are rather average, but the reason I like it as a whole is because nothing lasts particularly long enough to overstay its welcome.
This has been all the hubbub: the game’s short length. I have a few opinions about that. First, the game took me about 8 hours to finish. I tend to play on the slow side, so I’ll grant that it could be a 7 hour game. The people who are saying 5 or 6 are full of shit. There’s no way, unless you’re just blazing through everything and holding sprint. Second, who thinks 8 hours is too short?! Nine times out of ten when a narrative-focused shooting game is passing the 10 hour mark and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight I start to get antsy. Really, you can’t wrap this up yet? As far as the value argument goes, that’s up to each person individually, and value wildly varies. Dark Souls is actually almost priceless to me. If you told me I had to pay $500 for the right to play that game I would strongly consider it, and probably settle on “yes.” The whole Assassin’s Creed franchise outside of II, however, to me has a value of less than $20. I’ve felt ripped off for each one of those games I paid for. I wouldn’t do it again. Live and learn.
Value versus length is complicated. It’s bullshit to just open that thread as a critic and wonder gee, I mean, it doesn’t bother me, but…well you should just know that this game is short. Okay, thank you for noting that, but tell me something about the length that matters and that you think should deter me from it. Do you mean to say it’s questionable because there is Day 1 and Day 45 and Day 90 DLC coming out that are each a third of the cost of this “full-priced” game that seemingly withheld content? There, that’s an argument. Bringing it up for the sake of bringing it up is worthless. I’ve also heard several reviewers use the word “shocked” to describe how they felt when the game ended; as in they couldn’t believe it was over already. I question their grasp of story telling. Frankly I saw it coming very obviously. So I don’t know what that’s all about. Yes, there is obviously a sequel being set up, but I don’t think the ending is a surprise.
Christ, what an enjoyable review this must be to read. “This guy sure hates life!” …Yeah something like that. I just feel so left behind by games criticism as a whole. Every now and then there’s a game that acts as a catalyst for everyone’s frustrations and irritations with games. A section of Mass Effect 3, for example, that lasts at most 10 minutes (of a 40+ hour game) managed to stir up the collective self-hatred of the whole goddamned internet. The iconoclastic Dragon Age II made man-children around the world yearn for their parents basements circa 1999. And here we are again: The Order is one of those events for many people. So it goes for me. While so many critics have chosen this moment to utter their displeasure for chest-high walls, QTEs and “games that play themselves,” I take it upon myself to talk about what I think it means to have the privilege to play video games.
Chapter III: Jurassic Bark
^ Damn good episode of Futurama. Okay, let me get down to brass tacks. [Disclaimer: I don’t know what that saying means and am not going to look it up.] There seems to be one central question to the entirety of video games. One question that answers all other questions. It is echoed by so many voices, yet I see it as a supremely flawed question.
“Is it fun?”
This is the question I hear countless people ask, and maybe it suits you, that’s fine, but it doesn’t suit me. Though if we’re at all alike, it may not suit you either. Every button press, every jump, every shot fired, it all comes down to that all-important question: is the game fun? There might have been a time when I asked that question, but I don’t anymore. There is a revitalization of folks to whom that question is central; who live by the mantra “gameplay is king” or something similar. If you fall into that camp then there’s a good chance that The Order will leave you unsatisfied. I don’t fall into that camp. This is the part where I tell you why I don’t fall into that camp, and what I like about The Order.
First of all, what the hell is “gameplay?” Well, I think most people who play more than a few video games every year have an idea by what people mean when they say gameplay. Someone who treasures “gameplay” above all else probably prefers Super Mario Bros. to Sonic the Hedgehog or LittleBigPlanet. It’s that tightness. That responsiveness you feel in the controls. The satisfaction of seeing something happen onscreen that you completely meant to have happen. And for a lot of games I would say those factors are crucial. I think that Super Mario Bros. is a million times better than Sonic or LBP games, precisely because it controls so well. Part of why I enjoy Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls so much is because the controls are so excellent. There is consistency in those games; consistency in every Mario game that very quickly shows you how to play and what your range of abilities consists of, where lesser games fail to achieve that consistency. (Read Tevis Thompson’s criticism of Sonic games and why they’re lacking. It’s enlightening and full of wit.)
So gameplay is important to me a lot of the time. But not all the time. Gameplay is not king when I lose myself in the world of Fallout, or Journey, or Papo & Yo. The gameplay of Fez isn’t outstanding; it’s all the elements of what is being presented coming together– the perfectly fine platforming, the music and sound effects, the artfully constructed whimsy beamed into my eyes– to form a magical experience.
And there, that’s my word: “experience.”
“Is it an experience worth having?”
The gameplay of Silent Hill 2 sucks. But the experience of playing that game? Holy fuck. No one would rate STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl as a terrific first-person shooting game. But ask around these parts: most agree it is an experience worth having. The best and most recent example I always think of is Heavy Rain. I didn’t have fun playing that game. It actively made me feel like shit and would genuinely change my mood to one of despair and self-loathing but in a way I found pleasing. I came back for more. I felt bad and I wanted to keep going. I describe that game as a sadness simulator. There’s a really small chance of getting the “happiest” ending in that game, and at the end of the day no matter what there’s been a handful of near-death experiences, harrowing trauma, likely rape and necrophilia if Madison gets killed in that creep’s basement, and probably even some off-camera child molestation. That is fucked. If you know someone who had fun playing Heavy Rain please hug them. But for me it was a powerful experience. More than anything life-endangering and idiotic that caused real stress to my parents that I’ve done in my own life, I learned from playing Heavy Rain that being a parent is basically a mixture of small victories and brief joys sprinkled throughout a lifetime of worrying and feeling inadequate. (If you’re a parent and think what I just said is stupid, please give me some rope. I’m still relatively young and stupid. And I’m being a little facetious.)
Could I possibly talk more about things that aren’t The Order in this supposed review of The Order? Probably!
I liked The Order | 1886 mostly because as a whole it was an experience that wasn’t quite like any other game I’ve played. I also like it’s length, and I don’t regret paying “full price” for it, though I don’t think it would have hurt if it were ten dollars cheaper. If anything, there’s half of one of the longer chapters in the game that’s a sub-par stealth scenario which the game would have been better without. You heard it here first: this game could have been even shorter! The last level also unfortunately has the longest (I think) combat section of the game, similar to how The Last of Us’ final level played out. It felt unnecessary here as it did in TLoU. Speaking of Naughty Dog, The Order most resembles the Uncharted games more than anything else I can think of. The shooting parts are sort of a riff on Gears of War, but feeling a bit more loose. It looks incredible (as I’ve mentioned a few times), and it’s a very cinematic experience. Just sub out Raiders of the Lost Ark and sub in … I don’t know … werewolves and the Knights of the Round Table.
The story is a mish mash of Victorian steampunk blah blah blah. It was fine, never overbearing or underwhelming. Just okay really. But the characters were quite good. I connected with each of the main members of the Order crew and a few other supporting cast, I think for the same reason it’s easy to connect with the characters in Uncharted: they’re brilliantly animated and detailed and exceptionally performed, visually and audibly. The voice actors all did a fine job of giving the characters life and enough personality that I want there to be a sequel, one that Ready at Dawn obviously wants to make by the way they ended the game. And don’t take my above brushing off of the story to mean that it’s bad by any means. It’s alright, but to me it really took a backseat to just watching the characters playing their roles in the world. There’s certainly room for improvement if a sequel in fact gets green lighted.
While it was often unexpected to lose control at some moments for a cinematic to take over it worked so well for me because there’s absolutely no break in what’s happening; it’s all so seamless that I actually came to like how often the game did this. I really can’t overstate how good it looks and what role that played. I’ve tried to be explicit, but again, this is not Gears of War. There isn’t a ton of action. You’ll be introduced to some really neat weapons (the thermite rifle, for example) that you might only use two or three times in the entire game, for sections that last no more than three to four minutes. I appreciated this brevity. It was a rare example of limiting overexposure. The game could easily have been stretched out but it would have suffered, it was already probably half an hour too long. I like the Uncharted comparison best because it’s most similar in that you’re not really there for the gameplay elements, you’re there to watch and occasionally do neat things. I don’t know, maybe some people really love leaping up, down and around cliffs? I tired of it by the second Uncharted. I can think of one key difference though between the two: there is none of that ludo-narrative dissonance in The Order. Sir Galahad is an angry dude, and when you burn, electrocute and explode a few dozen moving targets you don’t question his capacity for murder. He is murder-y as fuck. Which is kind of weird for a gallant Knight … but I still believed it. Similar to how I believe the Dark Side ending is easily the canon ending for KOTOR, because Revan should have been pissed. “I’m a fucking Darth so and so, and you guys didn’t tell me? Oh you’d best hide Zaalbar because I will kill a wookie..”
For what it’s worth I enjoyed the experience of The Order as much as I enjoyed any of the Uncharted games, even the best one, Uncharted 3 (oh no he didn’t just say that!)
Sorry this thing had no pictures. I’m too lazy for that nonsense. And because just fucking Google them yourself. Okay here.
One last thing. There has been talk of QTEs. It’s over exaggerated. As an aside: I wonder if there has ever been a meeting at Apple in some board room where a bunch of guys in suits were like yeah all our products are doing really well, but man, whenever we take our show on the road everybody really, really hates our Quick Time events! I don’t get it, I think it’s a pretty decent media player!
Here’s the thing about QTEs, or quick time events. What are video games? They are, at their most basic level, a series of button presses. Let’s envision a person enthusiastic about video games talking about performing the most basic act of playing video games, and please envision this in Jeff Gerstmann’s voice, just because his appalled/amazed voice is my favourite: “fffuucckkkk yeahhhhhh!!!! videooo gaammmes!!”
Now here is that person’s response to QTEs, which is just a series of button presses, essentially the same thing as the most basic act of playing video games, again in Jeff’s voice: “fffffffuucckkkkkk this bullllshitt!!!!!”
I rest my case.
Chapter IV: Unexpectedly brief ending, or something, lol
Well then . . . *puts on sunglasses* . . . it’s a good thing I wrapped up this review in . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . short order (eighty-trillion double entendres and puns intended, baby) *takes off sunglasses, universe implodes*.
Epilogue: In summary
I like how I start off sort of serious and like “I’m gonna change games journalism!” and then just end it by careening off the fucking rails. What a disaster. Anyway, in honour of Eurogamer, to hell with review scores. Here’s a chart that is only useful to you if you are intimately close with me, which as far as I know approximately zero people on the internet are.
Verdict: totally recommended if you’re maybe like me.
Buy it? Yeah, do it. What else were you gonna buy?
The Order 1886 was:
Better than: Metal Gear Solid 3, Canadian Trivial Pursuit, hot dogs.
Equal to: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, The Mindy Project.
Not as good as: Half-Life 2: Episode 2, hamburgers, Serial.
Email the author of this free enlightenment at firstname.lastname@example.org.