Genre: First Person Stealth
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Price: £37.96 on Xbox 360 from Amazon
£37.96 on PS3 from Amazon
£27.99 on PC from Amazon
Part Assassin’s Creed, part Half-Life 2, part Bioshock, part Steampunk Dickensian adventure, and all parts good. Dishonored’s stealth action thrills are among this generation’s best. Find out why you’ll be playing (and replaying) Arkane Studio’s latest hit repeatedly in the coming months in our full review.
Not since the original Deus Ex have we played a game as truly free as Dishonored. We’re not qualifying that through Skyrim-like open-world vastness, nor Minecraft-like world-building creativity. Instead, we mean the freedom to exploit a tightly-directed game to suit your specific play style. Dishonored is the very best sort of sandbox game; one that throws you into the heart of a string of complex gameplay scenarios, and gives you all the tools and moves to allow you to approach them in any way your imagination can conjure.
You’ll take the role of disgraced bodyguard Corvo Attano, a loyal protector to the Empress of Dunwall, a sci-fi twinged port town inspired by industrial-era Britain. Framed with her murder and desperately hoping to save the late Empress’s kidnapped daughter Emily (heir to the throne), you’re sprung from jail by a group of revolutionaries out to stop the dodgy bureaucrats that set you up.Rather than being a sprawling, open world epic, Dishonored favours a directed, mission based approach. You’ll be given one or more heavily-guarded targets to dispose of, often hiding out in labyrinthine, detailed complexes.
As a premise, this may sound restrictive; Dishonored very much puts you at point A and tasks you with getting to point B, points C,D,E and F be damned. But what makes Dishonored one of the most incredible games in recent memory is the vast amount of approaches you can take to achieve your goals.
Perhaps you’d like to take the Rambo approach, using a mixture of guns, swords and supernatural abilities to raid bad-guy hideouts, killing every one of the traitorous fellows in your path. Or perhaps you’d prefer to stalk around in the shadows, preying on your foes when they least expect it, hiding the evidence of your silent slayings before creeping up on a target that’s been left defenseless and oblivious to the death surrounding them.Many games would stop here, having offered stealthy and aggressive options. Dishonored does not. It’s a game that loves to deal in shades of grey; for a price (usually in the form of well-hidden intel) you can often pay someone off to do your wet work for you, or even trigger scenarios so humiliating for your target that you never have to spill a drop of blood. The use of weapons and spells is visceral and executed with tight controls, but you can finish the entire game without killing a single person if you so choose.
It’s the flexibility of the skills at your disposal that make this both possible and such great fun. As well as silver swords and steampunk shooters, Corvo can wield a number of magical abilities. You’ll possess rats and other small animals, even guards as your powers grow. You’ll teleport short distances and perform superhuman feats of agility. You’ll even pause time itself, allowing you to sneak past guards or leave a bullet hanging inches from their faces, terrifyingly awaiting the laws of both time and physics to be restored. Each power can be enhanced through the use of runes, littered around the world, further encouraging exploration. You won’t be able to fully power all of Corvo’s abilities during each play through of the game, itself giving a reason to play through the game multiple times as the outcomes of each scenario can vary wildly depending on the skills you employ.This is all wrapped up in one of the most beautifully realised game worlds in recent memory. Aesthetically, the dystopian, Dickensian Dunwall is reminiscent of Half Life 2’s City 17 and Bioshock’s Rapture, as wondrous as it is oppressive. The likeness to City 17 isn’t without good reason; Viktor Antonov was a key designer on Valve’s much-loved sci-fi shooter, and is the visual design director on Dishonored. A murky industrial town, polluted and smoggy, its exaggerated proportions ooze character and stealthy opportunity; though you’ll encounter the odd invisible wall, each area encourages exploration as to best exploit your enemies weaknesses. It’s a reactive world too; go on one too many killing sprees and the plague-ridden city’s rat infestation will get visible worse while guard numbers will increase significantly, but take a more pacifistic approach and the oppressed locals will start talking of you in hushed tones like some sort of supernatural Robin Hood.
The illusion of a living, barely-breathing city is further captured through excellent voice acting and overheard dialogue. Stalking the streets, you’ll encounter plenty of downtrodden locals and shady fellows, again bearing exaggerated features that heighten their emotions and (often dastardly) natures. If the game falls down anywhere, it’s in the conclusion to its story; despite being detailed in its execution, the plot never builds to as grand a conclusion as the preceding twelve or so hours of gameplay deserve.But measuring Dishonored by its conclusion or length is to miss the game’s greatest strengths. The best stories in this universe will be the ones shared with your mates as you discuss past battle plans, only to realise you’ve all approached the same objective in wildly different ways. As for length, you could feasibly play the game dozens of times and have a significantly different experience each time. And play it multiple times you most certainly will; Dishonored is one of the most compellingly replayable games in recent times, and there’s not much higher praise one can give than that.
Dishonored ticks every box a great game should. Imaginative, addictive, fun, beautiful and replayable, it’s one of the best-executed games we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing for some time. We’re reaching the twilight years of this gaming generation now, but Dishonored proves there’s life in the old dog yet. We’d be shocked if this doesn’t spark the start of a very popular new franchise, and you’d do well to get in on the adventure as soon as you possibly can.
By Gerald Lynch | October 8th, 2012