I’ve been playing The Order: 1886 for the past few weeks, slowly working my way through its handful of chapters in-between moving house. The Order is, I’ve decided, a pretty good game that would rather be a pretty bad movie. All the cutscenes and QTEs would be a fine treat if the plot or characters were engaging in any way, but I just can’t get invested in the nonsense the game is peddling. I’m more or less won over by the shooting, which I find to be satisfying and weighty, although a lot of that comes down to the animation. Oh man, that animation. The characters in The Order feel legitimate in a way avatars rarely do, I think, and they’re occupying a world I’m genuinely stunned by.
I’m also playing Ori and the Blind Forest, a much better game that is also totally stunning but in a very different way. This is the sort of game that – quite rightly – gets praised for marrying a superb aesthetic with an interesting, enjoyable, extremely well-crafted adventure. It immediately ticks all the boxes I want games like this to tick. Yet once I finish writing this article I’m probably going to return to The Order, and come back to Ori after I roll credits (which probably won’t take long, from what I’ve heard).
The Order: 1886 has reminded me of a simple fact about AAA games that I had slipped my mind a bit: if the underlying mechanics are at least passable, games have the potential to win you over on sheer wow factor. Other, better games have already shown me things that wouldn’t have been possible on older consoles through expanded gameplay possibilities (Sunset Overdrive stands out for me as something that probably wouldn’t have worked nearly as well on a previous system), but The Order is the first game on this generation that has me feeling like a little kid again, watching the Nintendo 64 ads on television and being blown away by what I saw.
When the Twitch footage on someone playing the game popped up on YouTube, I watched a bit and decided in my head that The Order was a strong contender for the Most Boring Thing In The World award. So grey! So many men with moustaches! So much steampunk, my most hated of aesthetic philosophies! And it won’t age well, I imagine. Once Uncharted 4 hits and inevitably improves upon the tech being teased here, The Order will likely be remembered as a curio, an early PS4 title that was impressive at the time but which isn’t worth checking out anymore by next year or so. But in the here and now, I want to keep playing it.
It’s a bit of an ugly truth to admit to oneself, that sometimes looks are enough. I’d like to be able to hold myself to a higher standard, and on some days I do. I want games that offer actual narrative depth, I want proper representation of humans beyond straight white men in a variety of quality games, I want gameplay mechanics and models that innovate, reinvent and refine. But then, sometimes, I’m perfectly happy playing a game that reminds me of how impressive the console I spent $450 on last year is.