Hands-on with The Order: 1886, the steampunk-inspired PS4 shooter that’s now slated for 2015

Hands-on with The Order: 1886, the steampunk-inspired PS4 shooter that’s now slated for 2015

PlayStation developer Ready at Dawn has pushed back its alternate-history shooter, The Order:1886, until an early 2015 release. The game had previously been touted as one of the key exclusives this year for the PS4.

The Order: 1886 follows a group of elite soldiers in a fictionalized version of 19th-century London. Members of The Order fight against monsters and humans with the help of a substance called “Blackwater” that prolongs their lives, heals them and gives them special powers.

We sat down for a quick hands-on with The Order at a Sony pre-E3 event earlier this month. The game certainly looks sleek, from what little we saw of it. The mission we played picks up where the studio’s demo from February left off with the protagonists trapped inside a London slum.

When I wrote up my first impressions of The Order back in February, I noted that the game was taking “plenty of risks” with its attempts at filmic gameplay and branching quicktime events. From what I’ve seen, the game is either destined for greatness or it will fall flat on its face. There’s not much of a middle ground here. In that sense, the delay is good news for gamers, as it gives the team much-needed time to make sure the game is polished.

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With its cover mechanics, The Order plays a lot like a Victorian Gears of War. You won’t have to manually duck for cover, though, as the game has an automatic system. It makes the controls feel a bit sticky, but I’d still prefer the auto-cover over having to manage it myself.

For me, the best thing about The Order is the world and backstory that Ready at Dawn has created. By drawing on the legends of King Arthur and other fables and taking steampunk-like approach to reimagining technologies of the day, the game has the potential to weave a fascinating story that could be one of the most interesting gaming intellectual properties to arrive in recent years.

The weapons, for instance, are a literal blast to play with. We tried out a thermite gun that shoots out tiny bits of explosives that you then ignite with a flare, which is fired as a secondary mode. Firing it took some getting used to, but the pyrotechnic angle opens up several game mechanics, such as shooting thermite above an enemies head to take them out while they’re hiding. Ready at Dawn tried to make all the weapons realistic to the period based on alloys and materials, though it took some liberties with the details in order to err on the side of awesomeness.

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As for the cinematic gameplay, Ready at Dawn included a few seamless transitions between gameplay and story development in the demo, but I’m concerned about whether that will scale to a whole game without beginning to feel gimmicky. If the story is engaging enough, the blending of cut scenes and interactivity will make the experience highly immersive, but otherwise, it will feel like it’s getting in the way of the fun.

The hands-on time I had with The Order: 1886 didn’t do much to counter the nagging feeling that the developer is being overly ambitious. However, if Ready at Dawn manages to pull it off, the game’s going to be an amazing piece of entertainment and art.

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