Just over a year ago Sony launched one of the best looking console games of the modern era with Ready at Dawn's narrative-heavy third-person steampunk shooter The Order: 1886. It was a technical marvel for spring 2015 and one that Digital Foundry editor Richard Leadbetter called "a milestone in the development of next-gen visuals." Indeed it still looks mightily impressive 16 months on.
The Order: 1886 offers a relatively short single-player campaign (Martin finished it in around seven hours), with little in terms of replayability. Is that worth the full £50 price tag? Should we care about the value of video games?
Famous for pushing the boundaries of Sony's PSP platform, The Order: 1886 demonstrates what developer Ready at Dawn is truly capable of from a technological standpoint when working with more powerful, modern hardware. While interactivity, run-time and replayability have dominated the headlines this week, what shouldn't be forgotten is just how much of a technological leap the game represents. Indeed, by focusing on such a tight, focused experience, Ready at Dawn is given the freedom to push visual boundaries in new and exciting ways, without the issues faced by larger open world experiences.
The Order: 1886 may well prove to be a highly divisive title - but for all its controversies, we're equally confident that it represents something very special, a sneak-peek at the future direction of real-time graphics on console hardware. Ready at Dawn's visual technology is simply immense: so good, so precise, so realistic that at times it's like you're playing a game that looks as good as a pre-rendered movie. This is a milestone in the development of next-gen visuals.
Implementing the very latest rendering technologies and integrating them with a superb level of consistency throughout the rendering pipeline, this is clearly a stunning visual showcase. Every element of the scene, from environmental materials to clothing, hair and skin is exceptionally rendered, beautifully lit according to how light interacts with their physical properties. There's little - if anything - in the way of hard geometric edges to give this game an old-school gaming aesthetic, while the more traditional high detail texture work found in most games gives way to a softer, more filmic look.
Effects work is lavish, rendered at a high quality, but without any single effect standing out over the others. There's a pleasing consistency in the quality of the rendering we've not seen here since Crytek's Ryse - camera and per-object motion blur along with a high quality depth of field effect blend perfectly into a rendering pipeline where every element has its place, enhancing the cinematic nature of the scene. Jaggies are mostly non-existent owing to the excellent anti-aliasing, but we're unsure bout the technique utilised here. Ready at Dawn's graphics presentations to the industry mention the use of 4x MSAA, but there's the odd manifestation of shimmer on edges and very rare sub-pixel break-up, hinting that a post-process AA technique may be in play.
Leaving the EGX demo stand for The Order 1886, I can't say I felt I knew a great deal more about the game than I had before picking up the controller. Without any kind of backstory fanfare, or introduction to the characters and the mission at hand, the demo simply plonks you straight into the third chapter of the game, with only a light roster of seemingly arbitrary objectives to achieve, and a handful of toys to complete them with.
Sony and developer Ready at Dawn have delayed PlayStation 4 exclusive The Order: 1886 from late 2014 to early 2015.
Speaking at a pre-E3 Sony event in Santa Monica, Ready at Dawn chief Ru Weerasuriya tells Eurogamer the decision was made so the developer could try to make sure the entire game was at a high quality level, rather than just certain sections.
"We want to hold true to something we've talked about in the past," he says, "which is delivering the experience without having this ebb and flow of: oh, this was really great and that was kind of meh, because we sacrificed a little time on it."
A good few minutes of our first proper look at The Order, the PlayStation 4's high-profile, big-budget exclusive, pass before we see anything resembling traditional gameplay. Even then it's brief - a short, staged shoot-out in a crowded Whitechapel alleyway where third-person cover-based gunplay gives way to a fist fight before our hero Galahad crashes through a weak timber roof. Except it's one of those fist-fights, as Galahad's actions are brought to life via on-screen prompts that, when pressed in the correct order, see him reaching for a knife before plunging it into a rebel's neck.
It wasn't any moment in particular that inspired PlayStation 4 exclusive The Order: 1886; it was the feeling Ready at Dawn co-founder Ru Weerasuriya had after completing Uncharted 2.
It was a feeling that, four years after Naughty Dog's incredible action game released for the PlayStation 3, Weerasuriya still struggles to pin down.
"It's that emotion they created in people," Weerasuriya, who 10 years ago co-founded the California developer of the PlayStation Portable God of War games after a stint at Blizzard working as an artist, tells me in a cool, calm hotel room set away from the chaotic whirlwind of Gamescom's Koelnmesse.