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The winner of the best gameplay demo at E3 is easily Dishonored from Arkane Studios. Arkane, a sister studio to Bethesda, counts Deus Ex designer Harvey Smith among its employees. The company developed Arx Fatalis and assisted with BioShock 2. You can see elements of all three games in Dishonored.
In Dishonored, a First Person action-adventure-stealth explosion of wonderful, the empress of Dunwall, a Victorian Steampunk city, is murdered. Her loyal bodyguard Corvo has been accused of the crime. Players take on the role of Corvo as he wreaks vengeance on those responsible for the murder.
Corvo has a number of supernatural powers at his disposal. These abilities include Blink (teleportation), Possession (of animals, or humans when you level up), Rat Swarm (watching enemies get ripped apart by rats is kind of fun, not gonna lie), Slow Time (which is awesome for killing multiple foes at once) and many more. They work very similarly to Bioshock's plasmids and in the same way you need enough EVE to use them in Bioshock, you need to replenish your manna to use your powers in Dishonored, something that got me into trouble a few times during my hands-on time.
The variety of spells, gadgets and weapons at your disposal give you multiple ways to approach a mission. In the demo we saw, the developers played through a level twice to illustrate the non-linear nature of the game. The two playthroughs were so different from one another, you'd think they were entirely different levels. In the first play-through, Corvo possessed a fish and entered the building through the drainage system. Then he possessed the target himself, brought him to the balcony, and shoved him to his death. The second time around, Corvo entered through rooftops with guns blazing and took everyone out with bullets to the head.
The level design just adds to the diversity. Pretty much every building in the game has multiple entrances and exits - eight in the case of the demo - so you have several ways to approach. Furthermore, NPCs are randomly generated, including targets, so no two two times through will ever be the same.
When I got my hands on the game, it naturally wasn't as exciting as watching the pros, but it still brought me back to that Bioshock happy place. My mission was to kidnap a doctor named Solokov. In an attempt to recreate what we saw in the demo, I possessed the first rat I saw in order to enter the building. And got stepped on and killed by a guard. Oops. Second time around, I turned back to human form before anyone could squish me. Success! I then rather naturally figured out how to enter a blocked section of the building by rewiring a few things. I could have entered in at least two other ways, according to my handy Bethesda helper. When I eventually got to the room that obtained Solokov, I peaked through the keyhole, saw he was alone, and immediately took him out with a sleeping dart upon entry. I then grabbed a bunch of his inventions, and took off with his body. Rather than leave the building the way I came in, I opted for a quicker option, blinking from roof to roof until I got to the boat that would be our escape. But I also could have gone down the elevator inside, taken the stairs outside, or any number of other routes. With only one hand available for combative use while carrying a body, I didn't want to take any risks.
Although the combat mechanics will take some getting used to, I have faith that, like in Bioshock, they will become second nature organically, after I start from the beginning and have time to warm up into the controls. Playing and watching Dishonored is incredibly satisfying, more so than pretty much any other game at E3, and even though Dishonored much in common with games like BioShock and Deus Ex, there are enough original ideas here that Dishonored could be the start of a beloved franchise.
Dishonored comes to PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on October 9th. I will pre-order as soon as physically possible.