Dishonored has the unfortunate task of having to win players over with a new IP during a season of established juggernauts being released at the tail end of the current console cycle. It looks like an also-ran that might be a little fun, and could put a stop gap in your desire to play the upcoming Assassin’s Creed. What you think you’ve been seeing isn’t always the truth. First, this is not a salve to soothe the Assassin’s Creed wait. Dishonored is its own unique game, one that is clever and fun most of the time, but is far more reminiscent of the Thief series.
Bethesda’s Dishonored has some cobbled together aspects that are worrisome. For instance the animation is not always spectacular. Video games today utilize artistic license in world creation where that persnickety Uncanny Valley can take the player out of the game. However there’s a version of that valley when it comes to animation that niggles at your mind as you try to figure out why things are so wrong.
A blatant example of this is a scene with the character Admiral Havelock, who is shooting his pistol. The man’s holster is located on his chest, a unique location that distinguishes him. The problem is that during the scene Havelock clumsily places the pistol against his chest, let’s go, it than transposes itself up an inch and magically into the holster. It’s awkward and takes you out of the experience, which is important in a game like Dishonored where the player feels so immersed in the character’s story. All of this is brought up to point out that there are glaring flaws in Dishonored, but that all falls away as you have an obscene amount of fun with the game.
The story conceit is pure cliché and is there only to provide some reason for your antics about the world. You’re the Lord Protector, Corvo, and you have failed your Empress letting her die and the precious princess Emily is taken. You’re found at the scene and, surprise, you take the fall. Now months later you’re tasked with bringing down the new regime, getting vengeance, and restoring the proper order.
Dishonored is a sneaking around game, but rather than just being an assassin with a crossbow and knife you’re given some mystical powers. Abilities like animal and human possession, a form of teleportation, and the most useful ability to see enemies through walls and their line of sight, take the game to a familiarly interesting level. The latter powers were constantly mapped to the d-pad during my playthrough because of their usefulness in sneaking about.
Gameplay is simple, but varied enough to keep missions interesting. In your right hand you hold a blade, activated by the right trigger. In your left you hold either a projectile weapon, a special heart that leads to important items, or a magical ability. Think of BioShock with a lot of squat walking and silent takedowns, which makes sense with the work developer Arkane Studios did on BioShock 2. You can quickly cycle to other powers or weapons with the right bumper, or map the most used items to the d-pad.
Where the game shines is in how you choose to play. Dishonored makes you interested in how things turn out because you’re invested in what type of man Corvo chooses to be. Without spoiling anything I’ll explain a bit about my actions in an early mission.
A high level official is to be killed, and information about young Emily’s location is to be recovered. I decide that even though Corvo was emotionally destroyed, at his core he is a Lord Protector. The betrayal has not changed that, but he is now willing to kill for his own ends. So each mission he decides, based upon what he learns about the target whether they should live or die. This time around the man is so despicable that Corvo decided to shame him in the worst way possible.
After going through the level, being sure no one is killed, Corvo is presented with the option to poison the man or remove the poison from play. He removes it, which also saves an innocent man that he’s being told about previously. Saving innocents will always take precedence for my version of Corvo. What happens next is the stuff that you talk for hours about with your buddies because it’s so much fun, and so damn cool.
Corvo follows his target, who travels with a companion, for a long while. Then when the moment comes he teleports directly behind the companion, shoots over that man’s shoulder with a sleep dart nailing the target, and before the companion can turn around chokes him out. Corvo then grabs his target’s unconscious body and renders the man powerless, a process I’ll let you learn about for yourself.
Dishonored has a few flaws. It’s not a polished looking game, and for a new IP that could be an issue. But Bethesda has something so solid in the formula that I hope we see the franchise evolve into the next generation. The gameplay choices are varied in the best of ways. You travel through Dunwall avoiding the rat plague, tracking targets, and tangling with guards. Or you teleport across rooftops and ledges, throw bottles to distract guards in your way and rewire traps as you become a shadow terror. The choice is yours, and often there are a myriad of paths to take. You’re not regulated to the Dark/Light options of recent games. This time around when the game tells you it’s your choice how you want to play, they mean it.
In fact you could theoretically finish the game without a single kill. I chose to kill when necessary. And early on I decided that if a guard detected me I would fight my way, with deadly force, to safety. That happened after resetting a few times and finding that I’d been pushed back about 15 minutes in the storyline.
The only gameplay issue is that sometimes the hit detection seems a bit off. You’ll spend a lot time trying to get out of water and going back under because the game doesn’t quite line you up right. And forget about climbing ropes and chains, they’re frustrating moments that you tolerate. Worst of all is coming up behind a guard and blocking with your sword three times before choking him out. But these are only minor problems in a refreshingly open and wonderful game that can be played however you want. So load up on your Agility, Blink, and Dark Vision powers to sneak about Dunwall or use the whirlwind ability to become a killing machine. The point is that the choice is truly yours, and it’s fun as hell.
Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks