What exactly was the press shown of The Order: 1886? This can be said in two different ways, but we were shown both enough to make us want more as well as very, very little.
What Ready at Dawn CEO Ru Weerasuriya showed was a portion of a single level, a level that takes place in the overpopulated slum of Whitechapel. While many of us may have been expecting werewolves and the battle of humanity against the half-beasts, today's introduction was to the new industrial age war between the impoverished and the knight-backed aristocracy. While perhaps not the most enthralling level, it was useful in providing an up-close look at the city, the knight protagonists and some of interesting gameplay design that's pervasive throughout.
"Why, what's more interesting that shooting guns at werewolves?" you might ask. Ready at Dawn wanted to make clear that The Order: 1886 was more than just a shooter and that it was full of various tasks and events designed to draw in the player moment to moment. In fact, it seemed as if the demo quite clearly cut out certain shooting scenes so it could fit in as many of these immersive moments as possible.
Was I impressed with these moments is another matter entirely. In context they were certainly interesting and if I was playing through them rather than watching a developer do that perhaps they would also be fun. Impressed would be an exaggeration. I also have a worry that's continued to itch past the event and that's how these events would fit with the pacing of the game overall. Even with a developer led demo there were times where things seemed to have slowed down much too much considering the gravity of the situation. Perhaps this was also a symptom of the demo's cut -- that is, whether they cut sections of the level so as to create a more succinct demo for their timeframe.
Let's move onto specifics so as to paint a better picture. Ready at Dawn's demo began with CEO and Creative Director Ru showing us protagonists Sir Galahad and Sir Lafayette standing atop a roof in search of their comrades somewhere fighting in the slums below. Galahad takes out his binoculars, with which the player can look around the city and hopefully discover a scene of gunfire not too far away. There's no switching away from the binoculars, as discovering the gunfire bars our heroes from progressing down the linear path. Such is the case for all scenes in The Order: 1886's demo that we were shown. Almost constantly was it weaving short cinematic movies in-between short segments of gameplay.
Before proceeding down the rooftops, Galahad calls in a request to one of the nearby dirigibles in the sky. In order for the dirigible to acquire Galahad's location the player performs a short Morse code mini-game, though I disdain calling it that. The player quite literally taps out a Morse code message via the PlayStation 4's touch pad. From a watcher's perspective, it felt more like a way to bring the player into the moment, as opposed to a gimmick, a mini-game or a tutorial of sorts. That is to say, it looked very much like the action that Sir Galahad would perform at that moment and the player got to be directly involved in it. Sounds good to me.
From there the two knights take a run through the city, jumping from one building to the next and working their way to the streets. At times it's hard to tell if we're seeing a brief cinematic in-game transition or everything was 100% gameplay. I suspect it was the former, but that's a testament to the game's high visual quality and quality camera-work that it was so hard to tell the difference. This somewhat short travel sequence was one of my favorites actually, because there was nothing to show off beyond the well-designed buildings, the sounds in the background, and the conversation between the two knights. Here I found myself very excited to learn more about The Order: 1886's protagonists, more than in any other part of the demo. They just felt real in this scene -- sometimes less is more. Still, the sequence couldn't have been longer than a couple minutes.
As for the shooting, I have to say it was the least impressive portion of the demo to me. Mechanically everything seemed to fit alright: the player took cover, looked out and shot when the enemy presented himself. There was crouch-walking, reloading and the ability to pick up weapons off the ground. It was standard shooter gameplay. Only there were a couple oddities: one, a couple enemies were like bullet sponges and soaked up live fire without showing any reaction until they keeled over and died full of lead; second the enemies were quite dull in terms of AI and would stand in the open nonchalantly eating bullets and none the wiser.
I'll give those rebels one thing, their clothing flapped handsomely as the fell to the ground. If there's one strong positive to walk away with in this scene it's how gorgeous simply firing a weapon was. Ready at Dawn's done a great job with muzzle fare, bullet streaks and tufts of smoke. All in all it created a very dirty and visceral feeling to the shooting that, let's be honest, the PlayStation 3 could only dream of.
After mantling over a portion of crumbling rock Galahad falls through a wooden roof onto a rebel soldier, which he then wrestles with in what Ru called a quick-time-event choice tree. Succeeding or failing at given actions in the QTE could lead the player to different events, including a failure state. We only saw one of these branches so it's impossible to say how significant having a tree of choices available may be, but it at least sounds better than the pass/fail standards we know and hate.
Galahad's hand-to-hand fight successful, he's then saved by the older and more experienced knight Sir Percival. Again, they lightly converse, which isn't as meaningful to me as it's all a cinematic, and we enter our final sequence. The rebellion has acquired some high-tech weaponry that shouldn't be accessible to, well, anyone, and both Galahad and Percival mean to find out how. The player takes hold of the weapon and is able to look over it, twisting it in Galahad's hands in search of a serial number or some sort of stamp. The demo then ends, though I'm betting the werewolves were probably just around the corner.
There's only so much one can say definitively after previewing a hands-off demo. The Order: 1886 absolutely looked gorgeous and the knights were the best looking characters by far that I've seen on the PlayStation 4 (sorry Knack and your billion bits and pieces). Whitechapel wasn't the most scenic of settings, but those early moments looking out over the slums with a monocular were wonderfully detailed. Lighting was also outstanding, and I know Ready At Dawn's been talking up the way their protagonists' skin reflects light and so on, but I noticed several cases where lighting was quite glitchy. Keep in mind this a game still mid-development and we saw development-in-progress footage.
My criticisms should hopefully be apparent. I'm not sold on the shooting aspects of the game, though they were not the focus of this demo. Also, all of the events, whether they be quick-time or more immersive and ambient, are something I'd need to experience first-hand to approve wholeheartedly. I respect the team's aspirations to draw the player in moment to moment, as should always be an aspiration in game development, but I'm skeptical that QTEs of any kind belong.
My highlight of The Order: 1886's demo was without a doubt the knights that we were shown during the trailer. Galahad, Lafayette and Percival all look like living, breathing people and are genuinely interesting characters. I can't wait to learn more about them and see how their relationships with each other unfold throughout the game. There, I said it, I want to spend more time with this game, and I think that may be all any demo can aspire to.
Wait, wait, one more thing. I went through this entire preview and didn't mention moustaches at all? What's wrong with me. They've got some damn sexy facial hair in The Order: 1886. Best facial hair 2014 nominee, no doubt.