Written Wednesday, October 24, 2012 By Dan Webb
Like all normal folk, I’ve often pondered what it would be like to possess a fish. It’s a scenario that ultimately raises the same question though: considering that fishes have a 6-second memory, would you forget that you had possessed a fish and ultimately spend the rest of your life being a fish. I ask myself this question more than the whole "what is the meaning of life?" question. Firstly, how the hell did they find out the attention span of a fish? Sit it down and ask it to fill in a questionnaire? Secondly, that’s one hell of an outcome… spending eternity swimming around in circles, forgetting whether you’ve just eaten or just taken a crap. Thankfully, Arkane Studios’ and Bethesda’s latest outing answers that question once and for all: no, you don’t forget you’re a fish. It’s hardly scientific proof though, then again, we’re not scientists. Yet.
"Being an assassin can be a messy job, but someone has to do it."
Taking place in the city of Dunwall, Dishonored throws you into the shoes of Corvo, a silent but deadly bodyguard. Yes, ladies and gents, it’s another 1990s-esque silent protagonist! After being framed for the murder of the previous ruler and becoming a wanted man, you’d at least expect him to swear once or twice; it’s a lazy and archaic way to present the main character of your game. Despite that, Corvo's journey to clear his name tells a fine story that pulls you in and makes you truly care about the game’s cast of characters. Arkane subtly craft this bond with Corvo and one of the game’s main characters, Emily, and the adventure is stronger for it. Full of corruption, backstabbery, death and deception, it’s a revenge story that mirrors Dunwall as a city. As a city, Dunwall then is an oppressed and dilapidated shell amidst a plague, rife with poverty and full of rats – both literally and figuratively.
At its core, Dishonored is very much a gamer’s game. It’s a first-person action-adventure title that rewards careful planning, stealth and can be brutally unforgiving at times… in a good way, of course. Each mission – bar a few of the latter ones – is crafted in the same way: Samuel, your trusty boatman, will take you to a confined sandbox with a certain objective i.e. kill this person, kidnap that person, and so on. That’s the thing though, things are never quite what they seem in Dishonored. Want to complete the game without killing anyone? That’s possible, with each mission having a non-lethal way of dealing with the target, meaning that once you’ve played it through once, you’ll want to do it all over again and in a different way.
The fact that each level has multiple ways to complete it as well, well, that only adds to the replayability, whether that’s possessing a fish and going in through a storm drain or ascending to the rooftops and dropping in unannounced.
"Even the assassins you come across look like rats!"
It’s not just another assassin game though, thanks to the key game mechanics Dishonored is very much a unique experience. Courtesy of an encounter early on in the game, Corvo will not only have all the tools of the trade at his disposal, but he’ll also have a few key magic abilities to help him get to the bottom of this mess he finds himself in. Corvo as a result has six powers at his disposal, ranging from the very cool Devouring Swarm, where Corvo summons a pack of rats to assist and the possession ability, to Windblast, which is as it sounds, and Bend Time – a power that when levelled up to level 2, can actually stop time, which is as fantastic as it sounds in an assassin game. That said, I often found myself just using the Blink – a teleport function to cover a short distance in the blink of an eye – and Dark Vision – to see through walls – to complete each level, but that’s down to the player. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the ‘Blink’ mechanic is one of the finest mechanics to ever appear in video games in recent times. Ultimately though, Dishonored is a game that actually empowers you with the feeling of being an assassin, from planning the hit and gathering evidence, to performing the hit or, if needs be, damage control. Very few games offer such a rush.
Just when you think the game’s going to get stale as well, Arkane mix it up a little, introducing plenty of puzzle solving; decommissioning or circumnavigating security fences; smarter enemies like fellow blinking assassins, overseers who block magic and dogs; Arc Pylons – which electrocute any enemy within sight; different mission objectives that could mean kidnapping someone instead; or even something as simple as trying to make you work for your kill and do some leg work, like working out who the target is at a masquerade party. With a few side missions and optional mission objectives too, those who put in the hours and effort, whether it’s eavesdropping, reading journals for clues, doing favours for some of the world’s inhabitants or trying to work out the combination to a safe, those people will get the most out of Dishonored. Heck, you’ll probably spend a lot of time, like me, looking for Runes – which help upgrade Corvo’s powers – and Bone Charms – which grant the wearer special abilities. There’s also the opportunity to help some of the locals throughout your adventure too, whether it’s freeing someone from a cage or stopping guards from killing a local, it all helps craft Dishonored’s overall feeling and firmly raises the immersion levels.
"That's one hell of a mask! What's that? It's your real face? Oh, sorry!"
It’s a game that creates great story moments too, I could sit here and list a ton of anecdotes and it’d never get boring. Things like, when I went into the Boyle Mansion to take down a target, I decided to do the humane thing and let her live, but that meant dragging her unconscious and lifeless body to the wine cellar to meet with my contact instead of just killing her. Easy, right? Well, because I wanted to do it like a true ghost of an assassin, it meant stopping time, crossbowing her in the head with a sleep dart and then grabbing her body and throwing over my shoulder as she fell. All of this in the middle of a packed masquerade ball. Epic sums up the feeling of elation that came with that moment. It’s all about the stories, and this game has the potential to create lots of them.
Those who treat Dishonored like a stealth game will be rewarded most. Granted, the combat isn’t completely incredible, but it serves its purpose. You’ll want to spend your time avoiding people anyway, that’s how assassins work, right? Or didn’t you get the memo? Going around and slaying everyone is only going to raise your ‘Chaos’ level, meaning that more rats and Weepers – infected inhabitants of Dunwall – will appear on the streets, so it’s only going to make things harder for you. You do get darker and more brutal assassination death sequences though, so it might be worth the trade off.
Bethesda titles of late haven't fared as well on the PS3 as they have done on the Xbox 360. Rife with graphical issues and bugs, it seems as if PS3 owners have always been an afterthought. In Dishonored, that's thankfully not the case. The PS3 version is just as stable as its 360 counterpart and the title only really has the odd bit more tearing than that version, but honestly, even that's hardly noticeable.
In terms of trophies, it’s a list to love and hate. To love, because there’s some original and unique ones in there which will reward you for playing the game in hugely unique ways. And hate, because it requires multiple playthroughs… which, although playing Dishonored multiple times isn’t such a bag thing, to do so for a trophy kind of is. You’re looking at, at least two playthroughs, maybe even more. The not being seen, killing anyone or setting an alarm off trophies are easy enough though, you just need to put in the time and take a more methodical approach to the proceedings. That said, it is a game that you’re going to want to play again. And again. And again. It’s that good.
I’ve always said that every generation a new IP comes along and just “gets” it, you know? A game that gets what gamers crave for. A game that gets its claws into you. A game that gets it right straight from the off, which for a new IP, is very rare. Ladies and gents, Dishonored is that new IP. Fresh, engaging and full of spunk. It’s like Britney Spears, the early years.
A steampunk inspired and often disturbing soundtrack compliments the whole feeling of oppression that Arkane were trying to convey. Plus, Chloe Grace Moretz voices one of the main characters. You know, Hit-Girl out of Kick-Ass.
Not the most incredible looking game on consoles, but one that has its own charm and still looks great. The art direction is the most noteworthy thing about it. It's very inspired in places.
It’s a complete joy to play and after the first few hours you’ll be blinking around the world like a madman and assassinating anyone who gets in your way. Completely brilliant.
A 12-15 hour single-player experience that will capture your imagination and having you clicking “New Game” the moments the credits stop rolling. Inspiring stuff from Arkane that you'll want to play again and again!
Some hugely original trophies populate the list, but you’re going to be playing this multiple times in set ways to get them all.
Dishonored is this year’s must-have new IP, with fresh ideas, plenty of charm and inventiveness, and tying them together in a stylish fashion. Who said creativity in the games industry was dead, huh? Dishonored says hello. Your free time says goodbye.
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