The PlayStation 4's "Neo-Victorian" era supernatural shooter has come out of the dark.
"The idea was to make sure that you never saw any visual discrepancies or breaks in continuity between gameplay and cinematic," Ready at Dawn founder and CEO Ru Weerasuriya said at the time. "Our game models and our cinematic models are one and the same, and everything is rendered real time in the engine as you play the game."
Weerasuriya recently had the opportunity to make good on those visual promises, showing The Order: 1886's first slice of gameplay from an early portion of the game.
While the glimpse of that gameplay — cover-based, third-person shooter mechanics and hand-to-hand combat that plays out with timed button presses — felt achingly familiar, it was presented with a level of graphical fidelity paired with sharp art direction that rivals the pre-rendered visuals games have been striving to match for more than a decade.
"The PS4 is capable of doing things you couldn't do before"
"We wanted to build this filmic aspect to the game, from the atmosphere, to the way we use cameras in the game, to make it more immersive," Weerasuriya said. "Even in gameplay, we use filmic cameras that would be more reminiscent of cutscenes, but try meld it to gameplay and make sure it works — because things like depth of field could wreak havoc if not done right.
"We played with it a lot and found happy mediums."
Graphically, The Order: 1886 can be simply jaw-dropping. There's a convincing sense of life in the faces of its protagonists, the knights Lafayette, a happy-go-lucky rookie; Galahad, the seasoned veteran; the noble mentor Percival and Igraine, the love interest/rival. Cloth physics give uniforms a heavy sense of weight and believable bounce as the knights traverse London's streets and rooftops. Motion blur, film grain and lens flare lend the game a warm, cinematic quality. Neo-Victorian London's dark, grit and grime aesthetic perfectly matches the overall dreary tone.
Admittedly, I found The Order's real-time graphics a bit hard to believe at first. It matched what looked at the time — last year's E3 — like a pre-rendered cinematic. But the occasional imperfect texture, hitched frame or aliased seam would pop up, proving that, yes, this is happening in real-time.
In the gameplay demonstration Weerasuriya presented, two knights of the order, Galahad and Lafayette, enter London's downtrodden Whitechapel district and do battle with members of a rebellion.
"As a member of the order, you protect humanity" from the creatures known as half-breeds, Weerasuriya explained, "but you're viewed as someone who protects the well-off." You'll do battle with supernatural creatures and the well-armed humans of the rebellion, which sees the re-imagined Arthurian knights as part of the systemic oppression of London's poor.
Ready at Dawn's version of Whitechapel attempts to stay true to the gritty East London district as it was at the time. Grit, soot and trash cover the area's crumbling infrastructure.
"We don't use the word 'sci-fi,' we make weapons that feel authentic to the time"
"We tried to infuse the London that existed at the time [into the game], not just the London we remember," Weerasuriya said. And while Ready at Dawn will faithfully recreate historic buildings like the city's Crystal Palace, it will also infuse 19th century London with fantastical, then-futuristic creations: dirigibles, an electrical grid, wireless communicators and super-powered weapons.
"Airships didn't exist [at the time]," Weerasuriya said, "but they're fun."
The same goes for The Order: 1886's arsenal, which includes an arc gun that shoots electricity, the thermite rifle that spreads fire and a shotgun that can also blast enemies with a non-lethal concussive force.
"We're building weapons that were not only cool and technologically advanced but believable at the time," Weerasuriya said. "These weapons did not exist, but every piece of it, the research [pulled] from things that existed at the time." The discrete parts — the metals, the capacitors, the wooden stocks — are pieced together, then meshed with the spirit of modern-day weapons to create something fantastical, but grounded by some tie to reality.
"We don't use the word sci-fi, we make weapons that feel authentic to the time."
Ready at Dawn didn't show much in the way of breadth in gun-based gameplay in its demo, instead teasing a variety of mechanics.
After a short conversation between Galahad and Lafayette, which hinted at some of the historical fiction gadgets the order has at its disposal, the two sneaked behind enemies, taking cover behind crumbled walls and corners, shooting down rebels with semi-automatic fire. That led to a close-quarters combat situation in which Galahad engaged in a knife fight with another rebel. Using a short sequence of timed button presses peppered throughout a brutal hand-to-hand fight, Galahad was quickly the victor. He recovered the knife from his fallen foe, slicing open his windpipe, then stabbing him in the chest to ensure the kill.
What seemed interesting about that melee encounter was that Galahad appeared to have options during that quick time event. When his opponent was downed but not out, Galahad seemingly had the choice to attack with his hands or reach for the knife.
Weerasuriya said that those types of encounters will play out differently for players; those "branches," as he called them, are not as tightly structured as they are in other games, and failure to nail a particular button press doesn't mean players will necessarily lose a QTE fight.
That's an intriguing twist on what appeared to be some well-worn gameplay, an approach that hopefully extends to The Order: 1886's other discrete parts.
"We are striving to break the barriers of a regular action shooter, by introducing diverse moment-to-moment gameplay," Weerasuriya told Polygon earlier this year. "We're finding interesting ways to introduce melee-combat in the genre that seamlessly moves you from gunplay to different combat experience."
Ready at Dawn will have to prove that out sometime this year, when the game comes to PS4.