The knights of The Order 1886, the upcoming action-adventure exclusive for the PlayStation 4, aren't just declaring war on monsters. They're taking on cutscenes as we know them – and they're determined to slay them.
The problem with cutscenes should be evident to just about anyone who has played a cinematic video game. The formula – where fully interactive action sequences are broken up by the player passively watching animated segments – has been a staple for almost the entire history of the medium.
Till now the graphics technology has been out of whack; cutscenes are often considerably better looking than the rest of the game's action. When play resumes after a cinematic, the fidelity drop can cause a player to lose immersion and interest until the action picks up again.
"My personal preference is to keep the player as involved as we can," says Dana Jan, design director for Ready at Dawn, the California-based studio behind the game.
"If I can keep you immersed in the game and keep you feeling like you're playing these characters all the time – there's never a switch that you perceive – then I've got you all the time. I don't have to fight to get you back into the mindset."
The characters in question are heroic knights dating back to the time of King Arthur, some of whom have survived into the late 19th century by drinking a magical potion known as Black Water. Their mission, as the Industrial Revolution unfolds around them in Victorian London, is to defend the world from a monstrous offshoot of humanity known as Halfbreeds.
The game, scheduled for an early 2015 release, will focus heavily on story and character development, Mr. Jan says, which is why it's vital to keep players' attentions focused.
While other games have used the same engine technology The Order 1886 employs to animate both action and cinematics, Ready at Dawn's effort may represent a new high-water mark in equality between the two. The game doesn't fully eliminate cutscenes, but it does an amazing job of blurring the lines between them and the action.
At a recent demo in Los Angeles, which Sony flew journalists to, the game looked solid so far. It bears a closer resemblance to the third-person cover-based shooting mechanics of Microsoft's Xbox exclusive Gears of War series than Ready at Dawn's previous hack-and-slash God of War titles for the PlayStation Vita.
It's high fantasy, though, with the knights employing all manner of futuristic weapons and gear, including electricity-shooting rifles and wireless communicators. The technology is out of place in the late 19th century, but it does have a certain steampunk appeal.
"We looked at things that were on the fringe of being invented or that chemists and scientists were dabbling with, and we said, 'Well what if they could have figured out a way to harness that?' " Mr. Jan says. "We tried to think up ways to make it believable."
Mr. Jan showed off the PS4's power to run both cinematics and gameplay in the same stunning resolution. Rather than downgrading the cutscene graphics to match the lower gameplay quality, as some previous games have done, The Order 1886 does the opposite. The result is cinematic-quality animation throughout, with no noticeable shift in fidelity at any point.
Mr. Jan hopes the trick is enough to keep players focused on the story and characters, and ready for action at any time.
"If you don't like these characters and you aren't buying what it is they're saying, how you feel about the gameplay doesn't really have as much meaning."