The Order: 1886 Preview: This could be the reason to own a PS4
3. The Order isn't necessarily the good guys
Narratively speaking, what struck me most about Ready at Dawn's press demo was the objective of Galahad and comrades. All four are being sent to infiltrate Whitechapel, a historical district of London once infamous, in our history, for its rampant prostitution. In The Order: 1886, there's a little less of that and more political upheaval, as resistance fighters--the poor, starved, and downtrodden--have made its dingy streets and dark alleyways a makeshift base of operations. Dilapidated shingles and overgrown vines cover dwellings of the underprivileged. As members of The Order, you're tasked not only with ridding the world of its half-breed aggressors, but also with maintaining stability by protecting society's wealthy upper class and government from the 99 per cent eager to rise up and change the system.
It all feels very 'French Revolution' to me, and while Ready at Dawn declined to elaborate on The Order's motivations or the political conflict itself, I was left with the impression that members of The Order are more keen on following commands from above than paying attention to the ethics of a situation. It's a safe bet that orders and morals will come into conflict before long, as I'm already finding it difficult to accept the mission to exterminate resistance fighters without due cause. Nevertheless, that's exactly Galahad, Igraine, Percival, and Lafayette find themselves doing, and it remains to be seen what threatens the group more: the half-breed monsters, the resistance, or the soldiers' own feelings about the job.
4. The Order and Uncharted have a lot in common...
The Order: 1886 takes strides to bridge gameplay with cinematics in new and interesting ways, but the foundation reminds me of Uncharted. For starters, much of combat is carried out via third-person gunplay where taking cover is an essential element. The Order even takes cues from The Last of Us, with Galahad and co. faced forward in a realistic fashion when crouched behind a wall or object. But there's also a great deal of traversal; in this demo, Galahad and Lafayette climbed over and under obstacles and leaped between buildings in somewhat scripted fashion. Meanwhile, quiet moments of exploration and conversation offer constant storytelling, Naughty Dog-style. In fact, it's fair to say that, in this particular demo, infrequent combat moments punctuated an otherwise contemplative atmosphere, not the other way around.
5. ... but cutscenes are seamless, and gameplay almost never stops
Here's where I delve into Weerasuriya's claims of emergent gameplay and explain what it all means. As the demo opens, Galahad (your character) and Lafayette are looking out over Whitechapel, a district thought to house operations and members of the resistance. There's air support waiting to give our intrepid antiheroes a hand, and as the two discuss their battle plans, Galahad takes out a monocular and peers out over the city. Without a single missed beat, the camera transitions to peering through the looking glass--suddenly, and without a tutorial message, control of the monocular is handed to the player. Galahad and Lafayette continue talking as the demonstrator spies out locations, and when it's time to call that air support, a series of touchpad holds and presses creates a Morse code message to the zeppelins above the city.
Later, Galahad and Lafayette are fighting through the dingy, apocalyptic streets of Whitechapel, quelling the rebel forces. Seeing an enemy soldier below, Galahad leaps down for a melee bout that throws quick-time conventions to the wind. After several thrown punches and dodges, Galahad gets his adversary to the ground--suddenly, and without warning, the screen's color drains and you're given camera control. It could be a knife, or a brick-either way, you urgently need to decide what to look at and grab. While this particular melee encounter was fairly scripted, the emergent conventions of close-quarters combat make use of environmental weapons, otherwise superfluous objects scattered on shelves or the ground, to dispatch opponents in creative ways.
And yes, you can fail these melee encounters and other button prompts. That doesn't just mean instant death; failure to grab a nearby weapon in time may lead to a different branching moment with its own outcomes of success and failure.
The final highlight of seamless cinematic gameplay came when Galahad and Lafayette rendezvoused with Malloy (or, Percival) in a basement-turned-rebel-stockpile of illegal weapons. Galahad finds a thermite weapon in a crate mid-cutscene and examines it. The camera transitions (again, without interruption to the cutscene's rhythm) to an over-Galahad's-shoulder view, and the player is able to rotate and inspect the foreign, yet aesthetically familiar, gun at will. A few seconds later, the cutscene continues as if control was never subtly handed to the player. No game I've seen has done so with such self-confidence and frequency.
With gameplay innovations laser-focused on making a linear story seem to unfold around the player's actions, The Order: 1886 is doing something new in a modern genre pioneered by the "newness" of titles, like Uncharted 2, that came before. Jaw-dropping visuals aside, the best thing I can say about The Order: 1886 is that seeing it for the first time felt like seeing Uncharted 2 for the first time. And just like Uncharted 2, The Order: 1886 may come to define the early years of a console experience for me. Like I said: This could be the reason to own a PS4.
For more on The Order: 1886, stay glued to PSU for heaps of coverage. In the meantime, sound off in the comments below with your impressions after watching the game's latest trailer and checking out a whole bunch of new screenshots.----
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