Ru Weerasuriya, creative director of Ready at Dawn‘s upcoming PS4 title The Order: 1886, isn’t shy about admitting his influences. “One of the biggest inspirations we have as developers,” he says, “is other developers.”
As such, it’s no surprise that The Order: 1886 feels a lot like another famous PlayStation–exclusive franchise. The game’s steampunk-style rendition of Victorian London may not look much like the lush green jungles in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, but the two titles feel remarkably similar under the hood. These third-person, cover-based shooters both drop square-jawed leading men into exotic locations, pitting waves of hapless bad guys against a never-ending stream of bullets.
That’s not to say that The Order is bad; it’s just not new. The twenty-minute demo that Ready at Dawn brought to Sony’s PlayStation Experience (PSX) on December 6 and 7 was a lot of fun. Thanks to sound designer Carsten Rojahn and his team, weapons were loud, chunky, and powerful, and art director Nathan Phail-Liff’s detailed environments were full of vases, plates, and other Victorian-era treasures to obliterate. Anyone who’s familiar with Nathan Drake’s globetrotting adventures will feel right at home when The Order launches later this winter.
Gameplay isn’t the only area where the game borrows from Naughty Dog’s hit series. In terms of plot, pacing, and character development, Uncharted is often compared to Hollywood blockbusters. That’s a feeling that Weerasuriya wants to emulate. During a PSX panel about video game narratives, Weerasuriya implied that The Order wasn’t born out of gameplay ideas, but rather the desire to tell an emotional, character-driven adventure tale.
“Creating The Order was about telling the stories of human beings,” Weerasuriya said. “Humanity is one of the most amazing things to look at, purely because of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and people have the tendency to inspire all the time.”
Weerasuriya, game director Dana Jan, and technology director Garrett Foster certainly seem committed to pushing the limits of digital storytelling. Instead of relying solely on animators, all of the game’s cutscenes were “filmed” using actors and the latest motion capture technology. This allowed the team to import the actors’ performances directly into the game, leaving room for the kind of improvisation that happens on traditional film sets.
Motion capture isn’t a new technology – last year’s hit The Last of Us took a similar approach to its cutscenes – but the idea of fully including actors in the creative process is still a relatively fresh concept in the gaming industry. After all, these are developers, not experienced movie directors, and Weerasuriya admitted that some of The Order’s more ambitious scenes, which featured up to five actors at a time, were “hell” to film. Still, he thinks the end result is worth it. “They were not exactly hitting their marks,” he said, “they were taking some liberties, they were saying things that were not exactly what the script was saying, but everything was right because they were in the middle of it.”
Cutscenes aren’t the only way that Weerasuriya hopes to make The Order: 1886 feel more cinematic. In a somewhat controversial decision, the game uses a 1920×800 resolution (as opposed to the 1920×1080 of most modern televisions). This gives the game a cinematic, “widescreen” appearance, complete with bars on the top and bottom of the screen, but makes the actual picture significantly smaller. By itself, that’s not a huge problem, but the in-game camera is positioned so close to the player’s character that parts of the environment are sometimes obscured. It’s a good-looking game, and it’d be a shame if players didn’t get to actually see it.
The Order: 1886 was originally scheduled to launch this year, but was ultimately delayed until early 2015. Even with that extra time, the demo didn’t feel quite as polished as we expected; enemy AI was a little glitchy, and jumping in and out of cover wasn’t as smooth as it should’ve been. Still, Ready at Dawn’s got a couple months before the game’s February 20 release date. Let’s hope the company puts that time to good use and delivers a final product that lives up to Weerasuriya’s ambitious vision.