Sony’s first big first-party release of 2015, it’s difficult to argue against *The Order: 1886* being a disappointing, unfulfilling game. Cutscenes intrude with shocking regularity, interactivity with the environment is non-existent, and the game takes linear design to new heights. Back when *Uncharted 3* was released, I worried about the frequency with which the game metaphorically took the pad away from the player, but *The Order* is on another level entirely, to the extent that it’s easier to just count the moments when the player does have control. Even when you’re given it there’s not much to do: walk forward, take cover, shoot, then watch the next cutscene, rinse and repeat. There’s some pulpy fun to be had in the game’s story, a conspiracy-tinged gothic horror that gets some mileage out of mixing late-19th century monster tropes with gleeful technological anachronisms, but you are mostly a bystander than a participant. By any gaming metric, this won’t do.
And yet, *The Order* is so stunningly presented and looks so absurdly beautiful that I’m hesitant to dismiss it altogether. The PS4/Xbox One generation, despite healthy unit sales so far, has found it difficult to shake off the well-founded accusation that it doesn’t provide enough of a leap for gamers, who had to wait almost a decade for new console hardware. PS4 and Xbox One have been on the backfoot from day one, with their laptop CPUs and middling GPUs delivering the level of performance that PC gamers already became used to – and left behind. Given the technological roadmap there’s no question of consoles even remotely catching up with PC, but *The Order* comes astonishingly close. It is simply a feast for the eyes, from the vast and immaculately realized alternate-history Victorian London to the billowing cape on the back of characters’s overcoat. It’s the incredible consistency of the visual presentation which impresses: there’s hardly any pop-in or glitch throughout (although ground textures are an eyesore), while the lighting, which more and more developers are now excelling at, is top notch. Purely in terms of pixels being pushed and frames per second *The Order* isn’t going to trouble the likes of *Crysis 3* on a top computer rig, but the sheer visual quality Ready At Dawn achieves here means that, despite various limitations the gameplay at times provides almost uncannily convincing moments. Whether you’re exploring evacuated underground stations, abandoned hospitals or transatlantic zeppelins, a real sense of physical authenticity is always conveyed. This is what rescues *The Order* from being an outright flop: the graphics *do* add to the gameplay, because the closer your character and the environment are to the real world, the easier your suspension of disbelief, and in this regard *The Order* reprensents the new high standard for console gaming. It’s just not backed up by more, better player participation, which is the pity.
All this gushing about the graphics shouldn’t mask the game’s glaring deficiencies. *The Order* is a car with Lamborghini frame and Ford Focus innards, sumptuous looks struggling to mask backward content. It would be easy to group *The Order* together with other good looking Playstation disappointments like *Lair* and *Haze*, but it’s never as bad as those. If Ready At Dawn can put more substantive gameplay under the hood the next time – if there’s a next time – they may have a monster hit in their hands.