#PS4 Review: The Order 1886

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Introduction

As I may have mentiond before when reviewing games within the genre, I am a big fan of steampunk. I’m a purist though. The steampunk that I like is of the more ‘hard SF’ or ‘alternative history’ style. The Difference Engine rather than Arcanum. In many respects The Order does tick the right boxes, but hopefully I’m not spoilering anything by revealing that it also includes supernatural elements – which I admit that I’m biased against.

The Order has been subject to some controversy, mostly centred around its playing time and its cinematic styling and prevalence of quicktime events and cutscenes.

I have no particular dog in the fight around cinematic styling (it certainly helped elevate Alien Isolation), I primarily care about whether the game and story are good. I can forgive a lot and I enjoyed Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair back in the day. I expect more these days, but have nothing necessarily against cinematic frame rate, film grain or qt events.

When it comes to play time, I do think there’s an issue to answer. My metric for time well spent and value for money is cinema. Locally you can expect to see a two hour film for around £8. I would hope to get at least eight hours from a shooting game (more from an RPG or similar). That means I would look to expect about twelve hours of joy for a cover price of £50, including replay value.

I finished The Order, without rushing, in about 7 hours. That’s about £30 worth of entertainment, sold for nearly twice that.

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Story

Here be spoilers.

You are a knight of the order, a tradition carried on since King Arthur’s day and a band of near-immortal knights empowered by the ‘black water’, drunk from the holy grail. You play Sir Galahad (Grayson) a stoic and principled member of the order who progresses through the story from absolute loyalty to questioning everything he’s been taught to believe and has upheld for centuries.

Taking the names of the knights (similarly to the conceit in Kingsman) The Order serves the realm and answers to no-one, concentrating on helping protect the realm and humanity in general against threats both natural and supernatural (rebellion, lycanthropes, ‘bedlamites’, vampires and more).

The Order has absolute authority and autonomy, commands police and soldiers, operates out of a palace and has access to the finest technology of the new age of science present in the game. This includes a diverse group of weapons from automatic pistols (based on the Mauser and the C-93) to automatic rifles, pump action shotguns and more exotic weapons like a thermite rifle, electrical arc gun and a recoilless explosive launcher.

You start with a flashback – or flash forward – where you have betrayed The Order and are sentenced to death. Crippled you make your escape with some difficulty and then flash back a considerable amount of time and back to your more regular duties. The Order are essentially a special operations unit and as you deal with bedlamites, lycanthropes and rebels you slowly uncover a conspiracy at the heart of the United India company that reaches into the heart of The Order itself.

Vampires, werewolves, knights of the realm, it’s all rather derivative – even in the language that’s used (lycans…) and owes more than a little to the Underworld film series, which is unfortunate. It would have been a stronger story, I think, without the supernatural elements which – at this point – are worn thin. It’s possible they could have been elevated, tired concepts can still work if handled well or if they’re aware of themselves, but The Order goes at its material in too po-faced and serious a manner for it to really work here.

Too much goes unexplained and while that can work – if you find out as you’re playing – you don’t find out enough to make proper sense of what’s going on in the game.

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Presentation

Graphically The Order is an astounding feat. The people look real enough that there’s no real uncanny valley feeling, even though sometimes there’s a delay in a character moving out of your way or responding to a cue from a button press to push a cart or give someone a leg up.

The sheer level of graphical fidelity is breathtaking, most especially noteworthy is the way that cloth moves and drapes. The design is perfect.

Oddly, this sheer level of graphical accomplishment sometimes works against the game because the sheer level of graphical detail and realism leads you to expect realism to such a degree that the flaws stick out like sore thumbs. The most glaring of these were the fact that you cast no reflection – leading me to erroneously believe that Galahad was a vampire for a while – and that things fail to explode, shatter or move when you run into them or set off an explosion.

The voice acting is superb and brings real emotion into the characters. The characters look like real people – imperfections and all. The musical score is appropriate and well done. Presentation-wise, this is a brilliant game.

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Gameplay

The game breaks down into four separate gameplay styles, one of which isn’t really gameplay.

  • Cut-scenes: Sit and listen to the various characters discussing this/that and the other. It would have added a great deal if you’d been able to choose your character’s input and conversational options during these.
  • Quick Time Events: Some of these occur during combat (stealth attacks, boss fights, melee). Others occur on their own basis during cut-scenes. Some of these are an improvement on normal QTEs as they’re somewhat forgiving. If you mess up it’s often not instant doom, but a setback you can recover from.
  • Cover Shooter: Once the guns are out the game is a cover-shooter, similar in feel to Gears of War, though a bit less bulky/macho. This isn’t bad per se, but the cover spots are obvious and many of the fighting spaces are so tight and constricted you might as well be in melee combat. The different guns are quite fun. The wild disparity in enemy toughness is disconcerting though.
  • Exploration: Occasionally you’ll be free to move around and not be in combat. There’s not much in the way of exploration, you’re primarily on rails the whole time with an obvious way to go. While exploring you can find beautifully rendered objects, read newspapers, locate clues etc but nothing that really has that much impact on the game or that would motivate you to search around when you don’t have to. You will find audio recordings, but since you have to interrupt play to listen to them and they have no real bearing on play there’s little reason to do so.

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Score
Style: 5 (In terms of graphics, style and technical accomplishment the game is close enough to perfect as to warrant a 5).
Substance: 2 (Too short, derivative story, hidden story).
Overall: 3.5 (Solidly above average, but only dragged there by virtual of graphical and technological accomplishment).

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Opinion

The Order is not a bad game. It’s just not a great game. It doesn’t live up to its hype (similarly to how Watchdogs – an otherwise solid game – drew ire thanks to not living up to its hype). It is, however, a laudable and marvellous technological and graphical achievement which will be the new benchmark for console games from now on.

It is too short, ripping the feeling of having gotten value for money completely away and leaving one dissatisfied and even resentful.

With no plans for DLC we can’t even look forward to a more complete experience further down the line.

If the company takes their criticism to heart and addresses it for a sequel, they could well be on to a truly winning formula but it also remains to be seen how much of a success the game will be or whether the negative reviews have stymied any hope of a better sequel.

Personally, I’d love to see a Dishonoured sequel, rendered in this engine and with Dishonoured’s gameplay. That would be marvellous.

Like many things, this would probably make a better tabletop RPG than a computer game, as things stand.

I mean hell. I’d write the sequel for minimum wage, just to see a better story presented this well.

I hope we see this engine licensed and used for better games.

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Review: HuniePop

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(Disclosure: I got a copy in order to support the producers and show willing against fuss, censorship and wild and crazy missing-the-point that was going on. I am absolutely biased in favour of supporting adult material being available and against prudery).

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Ladies, ladies, one at a time!

The Game

HuniePop (Hunie to rhyme with Honey) is a strange hybrid of a game, part ‘Dating Simulator’ and part ‘Puzzle Game’. It combines a cast of characters that you are trying to seduce by giving them gifts, learning about them and taking them on dates with a match-three game in the style of Bejewelled. Its a peculiar sort of mix and given that there are plenty of free, pirated or dubbed dating sims and erotic games out there (courtesy of Japan and teams of dedicated western perverts) why would you buy one?

Story

In one of a great many knowing winks to the audience and the stereotypes of the genre, HuniePop starts you out as a hopeless loser with all the sexual charisma of a dugong in a blue rave wig. You have the lucky stroke of haphazardly hitting on what turns out to be a Love Fairy from the magical land of Sky Garden and she sets out to straighten you up and unleash your inner stud.

This consists of teaching you how to tell women what they want to hear, to give them gifts, to remember details about them when they ‘test’ you, and to play the match-three game as an abstract representation of your conduct and capability on dates. Play the games well, say the right things and you’ll impress them. Eventually you’ll impress them enough to get them into bed and with persistence and skill you can bed every character in the game and unlock new characters to seduce in turn.

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All your panties are belong to me.

The game does lack an ‘ending’. Some of these sorts of games have you choosing a particular girl at the end to settle down with and to end your ‘playa’ days. That might have been a good cap to the game story, even though story in these games is most often just a veneer to supply a reason for sexyfuntimes, and that’s fine. When you’re paying for a game like this you might want a little more.

Gameplay

Talking to the girls is mostly a matter of figuring out their stereotype and understanding what answer is best to give them. The game has taken a bit of flak for its stereotyping, especially when it is playing up to national stereotypes, but it is done with a nod and a wink and in terms of gameplay it gives the player a decent ‘in’ into figuring out what to say to them.

Gifts cost money and you get money for completing dates. You can also up your skill in things like ‘sexuality’ or ‘romance’ by earning points in conversation with the girls and giving them gifts. The more gifts you can give, the more points you can get to make your skill better and that, in turn, makes the match-three game easier to complete.

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Beli is my waifu.

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Outfit and hair customisation is a nice touch.

You’ll also get gifts in return, special items that you can use during the match-three game for special effects like extra turns, removing bobbles of different types (they’re thematic and different characters are more impressed by different types) and so forth.

You can also buy food and drink which lets you talk to your date longer or get her tipsy, which lets you be more charming and earn more points. After you’ve finished talking you can invite the girl onto a date and once you’ve succeeded on a date four or five times you can angle for a night date, which if you succeed on lets you take the girl to bed.

In the bedroom you play a different version of the match-three game where it’s really all about speed. You get a bar that constantly decreases and you’re trying to match bobbles as fast as you can to push the bar all the way up to the top – at which point you’re rewarded with the ‘pay off’. A bare booby shot in the censored version, a money-shot in the uncensored version. There’s no fail-state on this game and that makes it more frustrating than rewarding, a separate mini-game with a fail-state might have made this part more interesting and given the game greater longevity.

Gifts and dating success also unlock other, more innocent, images which the girls text to you – a nod to modern dating – as well as unlocking customisation options for the girls – hairstyle and clothing.

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The dating screen.

 

Presentation

The art is done in an anime-ish style, part of the weird circle of influence from the US to Japan and back. It’s pretty good and well executed. The girls have a distinctive look and the voice acting is a nice touch, making the game more charming and fun (even when you’re being sworn at by the megabitch) than its free alternatives.

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The sexy fun-times screen.

 

The writing isn’t fantastic, but you do get a sense of the personalities of the different girls. Much of the reason for the writing issues, such as they are, is as a result of playing up to the expectations of the genre. What girl would really be impressed at you asking her bust size, let alone remembering it? (Unless you were buying her lingerie as a gift).

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Beats the hell out of unsolicited dick pics.

 

The game’s well done, it runs on linux as well as PC and Mac, which is nice. The lock-out of the adult content on Steam is annoying, but fairly easily fixed. It’s just a pointless, needless, roundabout way of doing things and you really might as well just have the full-on adult version available on the platform.

There’s barely any animation, something that would have been nice to see and would have helped the characterisation some more.

All in all you don’t need great presentation for these kinds of games, but by the standards of these games this is very nicely done.

Score
Please note that typical magazine/site scores are biased upwards. On my scale 3 is truly average – and that’s not to say anything bad. A 3 is a perfectly worthwhile and fun game, it’s just not outstanding.
Style:
4 (Nicely presented, fun, charming characterisation).
Substance:
3 (There could easily have been more depth, more options in conversation and some more spins on the game. A decent end to the storyline and a bit more writing and ambition could have improved this massively).
Overall:
3.5 (Worth buying in order to stick-it-to-the-man and to see if the studio can do even better).

Commentary

There’s the review. Here’s the opinion:

Dating Sims Vs Bioware

The dating sim is a weird subgenre of games and one I’d likely not have heard of if it hadn’t been for being an early-adopter on the anime front back in the 80s and 90s or my fascination with sexuality in media and games. HuniePop definitely plays up to the expectations of the genre and they’re not particularly flattering to men or women (lie and buy your way into people’s pants and be shallow enough to be fooled by that, respectively).

Dating sims, especially the erotic ones, get a lot of flak. Partially because any and all pornography and erotica does but also because of the reasons I gave above. There’s an element of taking it too seriously when you’re talking about a wank-game, but there’s also an element of truth. I give HuniePop props for understanding the ridiculousness of the genre and making fun of itself (one of the characters even calls you racist – with a laugh – for giving stereotyped gifts) but the next step is probably to go beyond parody and to try and improve the genre.

People who criticise games like HuniePop as being shallow, but praise Bioware’s games such as Mass Effect or Dragon Age for their romantic and sexual components are, frankly, being hypocrites. To bed a Bioware hottie you do exactly the same things that you do in HuniePop. You tell them what they want to hear and you give them gifts (sometimes in the form of quests). Indeed, you could see Dragon Age Inquisition is simply being a really, really over-bloated dating sim.

The success of both Bioware and HuniePop dating sims definitely shows there’s an audience for romantic and sexual material, beyond the bounds of the ring-fenced niche of the porno-game.

Steam & Censorship

Steam – in the form of Dread Lord Gaben himself no less – recently stepped in to reverse a decision to censor the game Hatred. A rather graphic game of mass murder. This was the right decision, absolutely to make. However, in order to unlock HuniePop’s truly adult version you have to dick around with adding a small file to your install to remove the restrictions.

This is pointless.

This is especially pointless when there’s a thread on the Steam forum itself, with Steam’s blessing, telling everyone how to get around it.

What may be going on here may be a problem relating to payment processing, advertisers and some of the other companies selling via steam. Some of these services are weirdly touchy about adult material, don’t want to be associated with it or use the shaming that adult material encounters as an excuse to add surcharges.

HuniePop’s fix to this issue might be a pointless and needless workaround, but it also might be a way for Steam itself to hold up the middle finger to censors. There’s no real way of knowing, but it’s a frustrating situation. Adult material should have access to the same markets and points of sale as anyone else.

Ambitions for Adult Games

The idea of treating adult material in a mature and integrated manner is one I’m somewhat obsessive over. HuniePop and others make me want to work on adult material more and make me want to move forward on erotica versions of Choose Your Own Adventure books. The form needs to be more ambitious though, to go beyond eye-candy to engage the mind in the way that the best written erotica, a very few films and experiments with erotic ASMR have been going. Equally, it would be nice to see the big development studios truly commit to the half-hearted efforts in Bioware games or The Witcher.

The rise of the indie is an opportunity to do it right and to aim a little bit higher.