There was a time once when the only choice a gamer ever had in his game was whether or not to save before a boss fight, but now the gaming market is flooded with games that put the power of choice in a players hands, ultimately allowing the player to get a completely unique experience every time they play…or at least that was the idea. While in the past there was only one path to success and players were punished for their wayward meandering, today the developers say “why throw the body of that guy you just shot in the face in the river, when you can throw him at a nearby guard patrol and sit and laugh while a horde of mangy rats swarm the area biting they’re ankles”. This is the kind of choice – ridden dilemma that players will face in games like Dishonored.
In Dishonored you play as the betrayed and vengeful bodyguard turned assassin Corbo, who is framed for a crime he did not commit. In his quest to seek vengeance against those who murdered his charge, the empress, he is enlisted by the local rebel movement as an assassin and must kill specific targets to uncover the conspiratorial plot behind his betrayal. Add in a visitation from a mysterious and powerful god like being called the outsider who grants Corbo magical powers and you’ve got a game that takes stealth and assassination to new and surprisingly interesting heights.
Dishonored is an interesting game as it manages to be unique and unoriginal at the same time; “but how is that possible?” you might ask. The answer comes out of the mouths of the developers themselves, as in an interview at E3 they quite clearly stated that the game was going to be original and yet would take generous amounts of influence from a variety of other similar games. That being said, Dishonored’s roots are as clear as day, with similar stealth and silent takedowns to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, sword and sorcery elements that are similar to Skyrim not to mention the graphics and character designs, which clearly resemble fable 2. This game took all the bits and pieces that made other games unique and adapted them to its self. Now, you might think this would make the game seem boring as it might rely too much on the elements it took from its counterparts, and you’d probably be right, if it wasn’t for the fact that those elements work together so well.
Dishonored succeeds where many others have tried and failed; it took the best elements of the games that gamers love and turned those elements into a single game, and surprisingly, it worked. The gameplay emphasises the stealth elements of the game, gearing players towards finding alternatives to all out carnage (which never ends well) and encouraging players to think outside the box to avoid conflict and while offering player choice in gameplay is good, too many games try and fail at this approach, offering only limited choices in a restricted environment. While Dishonored has a clear path of progression, it gives you a myriad of choices of how to achieve your goals from possessing a rat to get past patrols, going all guns blazing or just sneaking through over the rooftops. This again is similar to Deus Ex; however you will find yourself replaying missions to try different approaches just to see which is more fun, or you could just gallivant around the city leaping across the roofs like a crazed spider monkey. The choice is yours.
The magic elements in the game primarily give you an advantage in stealth, however you will find yourself primarily using blink, which has a low mana cost and allows you to seemingly teleport to nearby locations, which makes scaling walls and crossing roofs a lot easier and more practical. That being said, the magic abilities you can learn are limited to only five or six different abilities and five or six permanent effects, such as an increase in total health, which primarily give you an advantage in stealth. I was disappointed that the game didn’t have a wider variety of abilities and a more advanced and extensive leveling system rather than only allowing you to upgrade your skills to level two. As well as that some of the characters voice acting was not as good as others for example, many of the conversations overheard by the guards sounded awkward and out of place, or lacked any clear emotions. If that wasn’t enough, the game had a few bugs that didn’t quite catch the attention of the beta testers. I recall fighting a series of guards all shooting at me and jumping to get over a banister only to start floating up to the ceiling and getting stuck by a nearby pillar while they riddled me with bullets. At least it was entertaining.
The games story was intriguing and there are many books, notes and voice recorders to listen to which extend your knowledge of the world around you, however it can be quite boring listening to these as the voice acting being average and the conversations not being as interesting as the gameplay or stealth elements makes it easy to just ignore them and continue your meandering.
And that’s the best thing about player choice, focusing on the stuff you like and ignoring the stuff you don’t. This game was excellent and a lot of fun. Despite my minor technical complaints, this game does so much right that I’m quite prepared to forgive a few loose ends. If you enjoy stealth games or any of the other games I mentioned in this review then get this game, or even if you don’t have experience playing those games, you won’t be disappointed. Sell your cat, sell your microwave, sell that vintage collection of baseball cards you’ve treasured since childhood, it’s a small price to pay for hours of fun.
Dishonored is out now on PS3 and Xbox360
Review by Matt Lowe
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