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The Order: 1886 preview: warfare in Whitechapel

by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, May 27, 2014 6:00AM PDT

Victorian-era London is in peril in The Order: 1886, the upcoming PS4 exclusive from Ready at Dawn. Since its original announcement nearly a year ago, the studio had gone to painstaking measures to detail their ambitious plans to seamlessly blend cinematics and gameplay. However, very little had been revealed in terms of gameplay.

Shacknews recently had the opportunity to finally go hands-on with Ready at Dawn's third-person action shooter. In addition to seeing some more of the game's story, the brief demo also showed off some of its cover system and its unique weaponry.

The latest demo for The Order put me right at the beginning of the story's third chapter, shortly after the events of the previous preview. Whitechapel rebels and their illegal weapon cache have been discovered and the knights are looking to escape their onslaught.

The introduction to this stage demonstrated more of The Order's immersive blend of cutscenes and action. Gallahad and the other knights had arrived to lend assistance to Lady Igraine. After the dialogue unfolded, it took me a second to realize that combat had begun, since there was no loading time between the cutscene and the gameplay action whatsoever.

As Gallahad underwent heavy fire, I had the chance to play with one of the newer weapons on display: the thermite rifle. In addition to gunning down enemies with automatic rounds, the thermite rifle contains a secondary fire function that allows ammunition to explode when triggered. While the exploding rounds could stun enemies, the more practical use was to destroy the walls in the distance. The crumbling walls would then bury any enemy behind cover in debris, showing off some of the game's physics in the process.

After playing around with the thermite rifle, I had to lend a teammate a hand and drag him into a safehouse. Enemy reinforcements appeared, requiring me to pick them off with Gallahad's pistol as I dragged the body. Friendly AI offered reinforcements, but made no visible difference, as I ultimately had to dispatch the enemies myself.

After finding a way out of the safehouse, it was time to engage the enemy once more. Again, the thermite rifle proved immensely useful in this sequence, quickly dispatching foes in cover. When outnumbered, I tried out one of the focus features, triggered by L1, which increased Gallahad's speed and reaction time.

As ambitious as The Order is seeking to be, there are also some aspects of the game that need improvement. Some of the aiming mechanics feel slightly clunky, particuarly when trying to aim from cover. While I liked the thermite rifle's secondary fire ability, actually activating it turned out to be more trouble than I anticipated. By the time I managed to take down a wall, I had nearly run out of ammo. I also got hit several times while trying to figure out the finer points of the thermite rifle, but the red hue that indicated I was close to death was hardly visible. In fact, it blended in all too closely to the environment's copious amounts of gray and smoky textures.

There's also little challenge when trying to find a way forward. Sir Percival instructed Gallahad to find a way out of the safehouse, which appeared to be blocked on all sides. Escape was a simple matter of triggering a button prompt in the corner of the room, solving this problem in the easiest manner possible. I'm hopeful that similar situations don't prove to be this simple.

The demo offered more hints on the game's plot, as Percival was seen placing blackwater on his wounds in order to instantly heal them. Ready at Dawn co-founder Ru Weerasuriya pointed out that blackwater was the source of the knights' near-immortality and added that the mysterious essence would be a central theme to The Order's overall narrative.

As was the case back in February, The Order: 1886 is visually impressive. However, given the scale of what Ready to Dawn is aiming for and some of the shortcomings I saw during my hands-on time (including noticeable framerate slowdown), there was still the sense that the developer would need ample time to refine several aspects of the game. That's a good part of the reason why Weerasuriya added that the game's final release would be pushed back to Early 2015.

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