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'The Order: 1886' - quickly, press X!

The action usually alternates among stealthy platforming, searches for evidence, shootouts involving human enemies and fights with half-breeds.

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By BRIAN BOWERS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 20, 2015

Most werewolves aren’t preening pretty boys hoping to win a girl’s heart. No, they’re more likely to eat her heart.

That’s why we need heroes like Galahad in Ready At Dawn’s “The Order: 1886.” He and his companions in this PlayStation 4 exclusive are part of an elite order of knights formed by King Arthur. Their current mission is to protect Victorian London from the threat of lupine “half-breeds” and rebel elements.

Galahad and friends are helped in this endeavor by some unusual new technology, much of it developed by the favorite scientist of video game developers, Nikola Tesla. They are armed with arc rifles, incendiary rifles and assault rifles, as well as some really wicked knives that are handy for dispatching werewolves. They also have access to dirigibles, mechanical lock picks and cool gizmos that can short-circuit electrical devices.

Perhaps the most intriguing item among their equipment is Blackwater. This substance provides almost instantaneous healing of wounds. It also extends the lives of the knights by centuries. By 1886, Galahad is about 600 years old, though he still has the reflexes of someone one-twentieth his age.

Galahad’s hunting grounds are a London that would seem familiar to Sherlock Holmes. Fog shrouds the slick streets and alleys, which are flanked by gloomy buildings. And nefarious schemes unfold in the brothels of squalid slums and the salons of posh estates. The game’s graphics engine brings this all to life in detail that’s virtually unmatched by other games. The facial renderings and animations also are top notch.

This supports a storyline that’s very good by video game standards. Sure there are few elements that could have been explained a little more thoroughly, but overall the story is compelling, with plenty of action, angst and intrigue involving characters who are diverse and interesting.

The action usually alternates among stealthy platforming, searches for evidence, shootouts involving human enemies and fights with half-breeds. The latter are the most intense. Unfortunately, these encounters are likely to prove fatal until you get the hang of the fighting mechanics.

Ready At Dawn — whose credits include a couple of “God of War” titles — decided to go with a refined version of the quick-time events used in the games featuring the Spartan warrior Kratos. This involves quickly pressing the correct button when given a prompt on screen. Success initiates an attack that unfolds in a brief cinematic. Failure brings death.

Personally, I find these mechanics annoying, but manageable. What I didn’t find easily manageable was an extension of this system. In the middle of some encounters, a pair of small indicators appear on the screen. You need to line these up using the right-side control stick and immediately press a button that is also on the right side. The problem is that this maneuver is counterintuitive. It might sound picky, but most games that use this sort of maneuver use the left stick. Making the switch to the right side means that you have to think rather than react, which takes precious time. In addition, it just doesn’t feel right to use the same thumb to move the stick and immediately press a button. When split seconds count, these idiosyncrasies can prove deadly for your hero.

That’s not the only control problem. Overall, the controls feel very sluggish. Galahad seems to be wading through a pool of molasses most of the time.

While the story is very good, it is also very linear. There’s one path to follow and no decisions to make. A small degree of freedom is granted only when you engage in a shoutout, stalk a guard, fight a werewolf or search a room for evidence.

A combination of the quick-time controls and linear story make it feel like you have very little input into the course of events. It’s like you’re watching a movie where you’re periodically asked to hit a button to allow the action to continue. That has always been my complaint with this control mechanic. It makes me appreciate games that allow you to choose your own path to a goal and make decisions that have repercussions. I suspect that most others feel the same way since we see relatively few of quick-time games anymore.

The game earns its mature rating for violence, gore and a few instances of frontal nudity.

Bottom line: “The Order: 1886” presents an intriguing story that’s beautifully presented, despite a few issues with the controls.

bowers.brian@stripes.com
Platform: PlayStation 4
Online: theorder.playstation.com

Overall, the story is compelling, with plenty of action, angst and intrigue involving characters who are diverse and interesting.
SCREENSHOT

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