As inevitably as death and taxes, the euphoria among gamers following the arrival of each new generation of consoles gives way, after a while, to a nagging sense of impatience as we await the arrival of fresh, new types of gameplay.
Given its status as one of Sony's first big guns custom-built for the PlayStation 4, The Order: 1886 has been hotly anticipated – but the tantalising glimpses of the game we were afforded over the past year largely glossed over its gameplay.
So is The Order: 1886 Sony's damp squib for 2015, or a reason to run out and buy a PlayStation 4 immediately?
The Order: 1886 casts you as Grayson, given the title of Sir Galahad by an aristocratic organisation called The Order, which has been secretly fighting the rise of "half-breeds" (lycanthropes and vampires, essentially) for centuries.
The game's setting is a brilliantly imagined steampunk version of Victorian London, in which wonderfully baroque technology features – mainly manufactured by the legendary Nikola Tesla, who looms large as a friendly character.
Sir Galahad, with his fellow knights of The Order, is pitched into a battle against both an increasingly confident band of anti-establishment rebels (headquartered in Whitechapel, naturally) and "lycans" – werewolf-like beasts who have no need for a full moon in order to transform into such slavering attack-beasts.
Proceedings start with a flash-forward in which Sir Galahad, in disgrace and imprisoned in the catacombs beneath Westminster, manages to escape from his torturers before the game develops. It's all very cinematic and engrossing.
But now for the bad news. The gameplay mechanics kick in and things instantly bode badly: you must effect Sir Galahad's escape by the means of a number of the notorious "quick time events" – i.e. timed button-presses.
The Order: 1886 is positively old-fashioned. Not quite 19th Century archaic, mind, in that it's not throwing hoops over a stick, but sometimes its button bashing isn't far from it. And it's frustrating since the game has many other excellent attributes that mark it down as a truly new-gen gem – to look at, at least.
Fortunately, developer Ready At Dawn has at least added a spin to the creaky initial mechanic by occasionally forcing you to aim with the right stick before you can execute your button press. But the end result is that, at first, you don't feel particularly in control of Sir Galahad.
At its heart 1886 is a cover-based third-person shooter, with a smattering of sequences when you have to solve (very simple) puzzles, take a stealth approach and climb around, Uncharted-style.
But third-person cover-based shooter fanatics will find its core gameplay disappointingly basic – it lacks the fluidity of, say, Gears of War, and is over-forgiving as far as key aspects like maintaining accuracy when you shoot automatic weapons are concerned. It does throw up some fairly challenging sequences in which you face hordes of aggressive enemies, but viewed purely as a third-person shooter, you would have to say that it isn't top-notch.
Beyond the gameplay, however, The Order: 1886 is impressive to look at. Ready At Dawn has opted for a deliberately filmic look, with letterbox black bars top and bottom throughout, and a 30fps frame-rate supposedly to maintain that filmic look (it's not 24fps though, which is at odds with that idea). Even so, it certainly looks every bit the new-gen game, and from start to finish feels like a digitally created film.
The interiors and exteriors are jaw-droppingly gorgeous too: 1886's reimagined London is a place you'd want to explore for months. Except you can't because it's very much a single-path game.
There are also too few occasions in which you get to avail yourself of the best weaponry, although you can usually get hold of the best all-round weapon, a large-calibre automatic rifle with real punch.
Other gloriously baroque guns and gadgets are available too: the former including one which shoots clouds of thermite which you can ignite, an electric arc gun designed by Tesla; the latter a pneumatic lockpick and an electric override which invites you to balance balls of mercury.
The story may telegraph its plot-twists somewhat, but it is absorbing and serpentine, with some notably great characterisations. And it has a lot to say about a country and empire ruled by a privileged elite looking after its own interests – very apposite in our current circumstances.
But it's not a long tale, and however decadent its looks and political its underbelly, a weekend of play at most for the £49 full cover price won't pique most people's interests.
The Order: 1886 is a potentially great game let down by average gameplay and a short lifespan. Although you would have to be masochistic indeed to whizz through the game in five and a half hours as some internet alumni have – seven to eight hours is a more realistic completion time for those who want to enjoy its agreeable surroundings.
The game would score as heavily as any other if considered purely as a game to watch someone else play through, because it's simply stunning. But in this day and age, gamers quite rightly demand more than that.
Fans of studio Quantic Dream's output, or even Telltale Games recent click-and-button-bash titles might find more pleasure than your average, but as the mainstream hit it was aiming to be, 1886 comes up short. It's that archetypal curate's egg: thoroughly new-gen to behold, depressingly old-fashioned to play.
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