Recently, “The Order: 1886” — a new AAA title for the Playstation 4 — was released and was met with mixed reviews. From what I have read thus far, a lot of the praise that the game has received has revolved around its presentation, fresh narrative and aesthetics; some even name this title as the single best looking video game to hit home consoles. On the other side, the game has been faulted for its “gallery-shooter” play style and “look-don’t-touch” atmosphere. These two criticisms are very fair in my opinion; this new generation of console gaming should invite the player to scour every nook and cranny of the diegetic world while balancing fun gameplay with an engaging story arc. Yet, one thread of criticism for this title really bothers me, and that’s the short time that it takes to complete the game. Before I start, I’ll start say this: I completely understand the frustration with a short campaign, especially with a game that only has a single-player option. As gamers, we tend to expect to take advantage of the full-mileage that $60 implies when purchasing any game. However, I also believe that there is an underlying issue within this expectation for longer narratives in every video game.
Everywhere you look today, there are gamers that attempt to “speed-run” the campaign. Even back in the early days of gaming, players will challenge themselves to beat a game in record-setting fashion with little or no regard to the title itself. To me, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather an alternate style of gaming that can change the experience of the game. As my close friends know, I will elongate my gaming experience to the very edge of decency through higher difficulties, quicker runs on challenging levels/chapters for accolades/collectibles, and through the brilliant achievement system that has become a mainstay between this generation of gaming and the last. In this sense, I believe the “time length” of a video game to transcend that of the narrative, allowing video games to become as short or as long as possible in respect to the player.
Now back to my issue with expectations. With any narrative-driven title there arrives a sense of finitude; eventually the story will end and it’s up to the player to either delve back into his or her favorite chapters, play the game again and again (much like re-watching a favorite film), or delete the game from his or her console upon completion and move on to the next title. None of these paths are measurably better or worse than the other, they are merely different forms of consumption. This is the pseudo-infinitude of gaming, which does not profess an endless experience nor a limited one.
If we, as gamers, fault a game for what it never intended to provide rather than praising it for what it provided, we will undoubtedly become cynics and skeptics to every game we pick up. From the beginning of development, “The Order: 1886” never professed its goal to create a lengthy narrative experience, but rather evoke a highly cinematic experience through the video game medium (check the 2.40:1 within the 16:9 aspect ratio of the screenshot above). We can fault this title for being a dry experience in respect to its gameplay and lack of opportunities to interact with the environment, but to retract from what this game accomplished in respect to bringing video games that much closer to the art of cinema is applaudable and, quite frankly, astounding.
P.S: I haven’t gotten around to purchasing “The Order: 1886” yet due to my college student salary (which is next to $0), but I plan on picking it up in the coming weeks! If you have played already, please let me know what you think of the experience below!