When Bethesda teased concept art for a new, steampunkish stealth game last year, it was hard to not be excited. Not only did the game have a prestigious pedigree attached, it was promising a return to a genre that has, by and large, disappeared. As a gamer who counts Tenchu as one of my formative games, I was particularly intrigued. After all, in a sea of sequels and lackluster one-offs, Dishonored stood out as being “the next big thing.” Does it live up to expectations? You bet your grappling hook it does.
Call him Corvo
Dishonored stars the silent Corvo Attano as the Empress’ bodyguard and faithful servant. Framed for her murder, Corvo must seek revenge upon those who saw him imprisoned and seek to rule the city of Dunwall with an iron fist. Dunwall itself is a grimy, rat-infested town which is at turns a wonder of steampunk technology and others a plague-ridden cesspool. The stark contrast between the posh aristocracy and the squalor of the lower class is palpable as Corvo slinks through the city. It’s steampunk (or whale punk, as they have titled it) done well, which is rare as it’s a setting that can quickly go from rich to cheesy in the hands of lesser designers.
Add to all of this a mystical layer with a mysterious man called The Outsider, who bestows Corvo’s powers upon him, and you have the makings of an intriguing world.
From Hell’s heart…
It is impossible to understate how cool Corvo’s abilities are. It’s equally hard to not draw parallels to Adam Jensen’s cyberpunk abilities in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, as each allows you to shape and develop your own unique sense of play in a similar way. Abilities like Rat Swarm are good for a *cough* more “direct” approach, whereas Slow Time is good for we stealthers. The gameplay demos did not mislead with how fun Possession is and can be, but it’s his Blink skill which makes this title stand out as something truly inspired.
Nearly every surface in Dunwall may be teleported to, meaning you are only limited by your own lack of exploration. Want to hop along the light fixtures to drop down behind a guard? You can do that. Want to scale up to a balcony, then to a light pole, then to another balcony and in through a bedroom window? You can do that, too. Or you can be boring and walk in the front door. My best advice is to find a bird’s eye view and take more than a moment to analyze your surroundings — you’ll be amazed at your options.
But it’s not just how you get to your mission. The choices presented to you within any mission are slick, too. Do you sneak in like a ghost, shanking only your target Rikimaru style, or do you go in guns a’blazin’ like Max Payne? Or do you find a non-violent means of disposal? Oh yes, assassination missions can be completed by removing the target from the equation without killing them. On one particular mission I chose the nonlethal method, though after I delivered said target to the NPC helping me, I had an immediate ill feeling that I had not chosen the nicest option. Not that “nice” ever plays into this game, per se, but it’s that type of investment you get within Corvo’s actions.
Yet amazingy, no matter what your playstyle or which choices you make, nothing ever feels wrong. Never do you sit and think “That’s probably not what they wanted me to do there.” And that’s what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.
A noble craft …
The story of Dishonored is good, but it’s not the strongest point. During the initial hour of the game, it would be easy to mistake this for yet another Bethesda game, as you follow the standard “oh look, you’re in prison! You need to escape” plot line. My only real complaint with the story is that their hand is revealed too soon, and there is little wonder as to which side every character is playing.
But even in this, Arkane found clever ways to bolster the story in small ways and make it feel more vibrant. Early on you are given a mechanical heart which can tell you things about the world and people. It’s never anything so ham-handed as “He’s going to betray you,” but rather little subtle things about the character’s past or their psyche. Details about buildings and organizations unfold, serving to envelop you within the politics and history of Dunwall. The story might not be complex, but the world sure is.
Patience is a virtue
Did we mention this game rewards patience and planning? Special note goes to your enemies in regards to patience. This isn’t the type of game where you can kill or stun an enemy, drag them just behind a doorway and continue about your business. The enemy AI is a smarter than that, meaning if you do want to have contact with your enemies, you’d better have an amazing plan for stashing bodies. Some people may get frustrated with this, but frankly, it made me giddy. Though I did often find myself wanting the decoy whistle…
Whenever a new IP is launched, it is inevitably categorized as “like this, but…” If’ you’re the type of gamers who likes comparisons, I guess it would be safe to say that Dishonored is like BioShock meets Deus Ex: Human Revolution. But even that falls short because so many features in Dishonored are unlike anything else, and that is what makes this not only one of the standout titles this year, but perhaps of this generation. The game is, admittedly, for people who want to take their time and have their patience rewarded. This isn’t an all-you-eat steak buffet through which you must race to the finish — this is a title which should be savored. In a market inundated with shooters and tacked-on multiplayer, Dishonored is a title that sticks to its old-school guns and for that, it’s hard to not love.
- Release date: October 9, 2012
- Genre: Stealth/Action
- Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Arkane Studios
- Publisher: Bethesda
- Rating: M
- MSRP: $59.99