Tom Bissell is the author of my favourite book on video games, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, which I called "the finest account yet of what it feels like to be a video game player" when I reviewed it in The New York Times. These days, he is a writer for video games like Uncharted 4, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Battlefield: Hardline, and Gears of War Judgment.
Once upon a time, Tom was a video game critic, most notably for ESPN"s Grantland. But he hasn't said a word in public, to my knowledge (or his), about video games since reviewing Grand Theft Auto V almost two years ago. He broke his silence, though, to defend The Order: 1886, the critically panned PlayStation 4 shooter, on Shall We Play a Game?
Yes, The Order. The game that motivated Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton to write: "Do you like movies? Do you like video games? If you answered 'yes' to either of those questions, you should probably skip The Order: 1886."
"I thought it was really technically astounding — so technically astounding that I think anyone who's interested in digital art, or animation, or world-building, or just lighting, whether cinematic or virtual, should play this game," Bissell said. "It is a craftman's playground, to just watch the minute details in the game. Its eye for detail is just absolutely stunning."
He added: "I just like looking at all the stuff, just the looking at the tea sets with the steam coming off of them, and the pots and pans in the kitchen. And this might be coming from the last five years of being embedded in development teams, but those aspects of the game, to me, I found unbelievably moving and compelling, and just so amazingly realised. … Maybe The Order is not a gamer's game, but it's a developer's game."
The Order is full of "relatively subtle, hard-to-notice things," he went on to say. A shootout in a kitchen "has so much going on sonically": "Just the way the bullets sound in that tiled room, and when you hit a pot and a pan, and the pot falls and hits the floor, just the directional audio that you're hearing — I was just blown away by how much aural detail they were able to work into that space."
Bissell concedes that the opening scene is "one of the most off-putting sequences in video game history" and that The Order is, in the end, a game about an elite corps of werewolf hunters who do not hunt very many werewolves. He enjoyed it anyway.
"I guess I'm a sucker for style, and The Order has a lot more style visually and atmospherically than most other games," he said. "That's enough for me to recommend it."
For the record, I do not think you should play The Order: 1886.