image

When I first read Ed Smith’s Speak up, The Order: 1886, I expected to come to his aid in defending the game. In fact, part of me wants to defend the experience. It wasn’t without its merits, and at this point I cannot even recall any of the original criticisms laid at its feet beyond how “short” the campaign was – a rather perfect length that allowed me the time to give it a play at all.

I am instead confounded by the merits he claims critics had given it and the “originality” he claims it to contain. Creative weaponry? I suppose the presence of automatic rifles in 1886 would be creative to some. Most would simply call it historically inaccurate. I fail to see how Nikola Tesla’s invention of weaponry would result in such an advancement ahead of its time, either. Instead, Nikolas Tesla is merely an excuse for a bog standard gun that gamers – including myself – would be comfortable with.

In fact, I was actually rather startled when a trophy popped up informing me that I had slain with each weapon once. My eyebrow curls once again upon Ed’s claims of originality, not only for the lack of inventive weaponry but for the commonplace “achievement” that nearly every shooter comes digitally packaged with.

Which is not to say The Order: 1886 is a bog-standard shooter or a Gears of War “clone”. It certainly shares the cover-based mechanics with a bit less polish – much like so many Super Mario imitators lack the physics and inertia that make those games enjoyable even today – but the goals are not to simply push the player from arena to arena gunning down opponents for the entirety of the game.

That’s only the goal for about half of the play time.

If I were to level a baseline criticism at the game, it is that the story may be complete, but its gameplay is still in prototype mode. In some ways this manifests in small user experience errors, such as the knife fight with the wolf. The game relies on the right stick to dodge despite the left stick being what is mentally recognized as “the movement stick”. Certainly this is a subjective error, as some will adapt immediately or remain calm enough to respond properly as opposed to rushing a hurried or panicked response. Even so, it seems odd that the universally recognized “look” or “camera” stick be suddenly responsible for movement.

What I truly mean in terms of prototype is that the vast majority of your time – and boy do I mean vast – is spent combating human beings. Hey! That’s not a problem! I shot plenty of humans in Titanfall 2 and I absolutely adored that game. Many of the arenas are quite cleverly designed as well, with plenty of flanking opportunities and opportunities to be flanked. There is a fight on a bridge that, with the exception of where and when a rocket wielder spawns, is positively memorable and adrenaline pumping.

However, there are far more moments that are just average corridors with waist-high walls. The game also has a habit of introducing powerful new foes while the player is alone, vulnerable, and easily slain, thus breaking a common and successful design trope to introduce new elements in safety before pulling off the restraints and adding challenging elements.

So yes, some of these fights are positively memorable. The bridge, identifying rebel from guard within an airship, and (generic as it sounds) sniping from rooftops. Yet the selling point of The Order: 1886 is supposed to be the supernatural. Werewolves were promised and vampires are spoken of.

This allegedly “original” game, according to Ed Smith, has very few werewolf encounters, and these encounters are ripped directly from Dead Space 2. This game that he exclaims defies genre conventions is merely ripping off of another title in a slightly different genre.

Note that these are critiques to justify hating the game. In fact, I don’t hate it! It just contributes to The Order: 1886 being all flash and no substance. There is a fascinating setting here with a bland and under-developed cast.

image

One of my biggest gripes is how absolutely tiny the writing is on these newspapers. The closest thing to world-building in the entire game and it hurts the eyes to read without your face being two or three feet from a monitor.

I admire Ready At Dawn for having some ambition. When it is not being a shooter The Order: 1886 feels like a prototype third-person adventure game. Something akin to Murdered: Soul Suspect’s exploratory moments.

Which is where the alleged criticism – again, as cited by Ed Smith, who is increasingly becoming an unreliable narrator – of “not enough exploration” is a curious one. I’d much rather say not enough rewarding exploration, though I imagine such a notion would be viewed negatively by Smith himself.

I don’t mean rewards like simple gaming tchotchkes – rare weaponry, achievement dinging collectibles, or audio logs. In fact, what audio logs you do find either add little depth to the setting or only preview material designed to tease an inevitable sequel. When I think of rewards, I reflect on early stages of the game where you can overhear conversations from the local populace. A real opportunity to learn about the situation in London and discover how the different people feel about it. To me, this is a reward for exploration. If, later on in the game, I could stand by an open window and hear a husband and wife discussing their thoughts on the recent events of the narrative, or perhaps even listen in on a poker game of sorts, I feel I’d be rewarded. Something that reminds me this world exists outside of the protagonist and his struggles.

These rewards are few. There is little of graffiti or notable designs upon the environment that add depth to the world. Instead, Ready At Dawn prepared a slew of finely detailed dead ends for which there is no reason to plumb the depths. A fact that is only infuriating as these exploratory moments require the player move at a slow, lumbering, casual pace.

I can see ambition within The Order: 1886. I have to wonder if Sony might have meddled with the title or simply demanded it release well before it was ready. Ed Smith is correct in that the game’s concluding moments are excellently done and have me curious to see what the next chapter holds. I also have a yearning to see if the supernatural will become more prevalent, or if we’ll actually better learn how the supernatural has impacted the rest of the world. Perhaps we can actually fight vampires next time instead of seeing just a few in a cut-scene?

image

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you genre-defying gameplay.

At the end of the day, however, one must ask the question of what a critic’s actual job is. By the end of his article, Ed Smith blamed the reception of The Order: 1886 on the dominance of the heterosexual white male and the lack of variety in such opinions that is bound to arise. Such an argument leaves me stuck, as I’m a white heterosexual male and therefore I’ll be part of the problem. Efforts to praise unique and different games such as Toren will no doubt come off like I’m saying “I’m not racist! I have plenty of black friends!”

That’s the issue, though. Ed Smith’s soap box doesn’t actually address the merits of the game nor does it provide a proper counter-argument to the criticisms themselves. It’s a deflection. Whether intentionally done so or not, Ed Smith subjectively likes The Order: 1886 for what it is and is going to blame all the critics that rated it negatively as being… well, for being white men that are attracted to women.

As a result, Ed Smith fails his job as a critic. On the most commercial level a critic exists to provide consumer advice to players. My personal takeaway is that The Order: 1886 is a gamble, and while some players will come to it feeling like they have gotten their $60 worth, others might feel ripped off even paying five bucks for it. The setting has potential and there are positive moments, but far more of it is either pointless meandering or average gunplay. For some, average gunplay and an interesting setting are enough! For many, it is not.

Even then, even if we’re discussing games as art, do the positives in The Order: 1886 outweigh the negatives or neutrals? What is it that we – as critics, as players, and as game designers – can learn?

Evidently, we can learn that it’s okay to rip off Dead Space 2 and Gears of War and if critics don’t like it, it’s because they’re heterosexual white men and should feel guilty for being born as such.

I’m sorry, Ed, but this game you love so much isn’t that bad, but it’s not quite good either. That you had to resort to some faux-progressive accusations and soap-boxing indicates that you’re either aware of this and don’t want to admit it or you just don’t know how to critique games.

But hey! I can confidently say that if The Order: 1886 drops down to $5 and you got about eight hours of free gaming time to squeeze in, then there’s worse ways you can spend your time and money.


 

New Review

I'm Playing:

Horizon: Zero Dawn Pokemon Ultra Moon Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy Xenoblade Chronicles 3D