Dishonored Review (Dueling Reviews 1)
New big-budget IPs are somewhat of a rarity these days. With rising production costs, publishers are less likely to try something different. The new ideas -- the radical ideas -- are often left to smaller, lower-budget indie developers willing to try out something new, to pull an interesting twist on an established gameplay mechanic.
Dishonored is the big-budget, fresh approach game we desperately need. It’s the new and interesting gameplay with a massive marketing campaign and budget title that was all but forgotten among the seemingly never-ending onslaught of sequels. While the core gameplay has been explored many times before, the freedom it offers players is something never seen yet. It’s a breath of fresh air and is also a reassuring pat on the back that creativity and risk among big studios is not entirely dead.
Dishonored is a first-person stealth game in which you play the role of Corvo, previously hired to protect the Empress and her daughter in a kingdom where whaling and the ocean are the primary economic drives, and steampunk technology is present in everything from transportation to street lamps. It’s a wonderful aesthetic that gives the world a unique and exotic setting far removed from the glut of gray-and-brown war zones seen in modern games.
Not long after the action begins, something goes horribly wrong, and the remainder of the game is spent trying to obtain vengeance. How you go about revenge is up to you and presents one of the game’s biggest mechanics right away: choice.
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Choice in video games is hardly a new mechanic, and while some games attempt to make the player’s choices have long-lasting effects, a majority are arbitrary, meant to give the illusion of choice, and beyond a different ending or slight altering of the game itself, choice brings very little consequence and accountability to the player.
In Dishonored, the way the game presents choices is done not only to affect the eventual outcome of the story but also to subtly alter the difficulty along the way. Unlike other stealth games, Corvo does not have access to copious amounts of weapons to slaughter his way through a situation if things go sour. Your main firearm, while upgradable, is slow, cumbersome, and really only useful when extremely close to enemies. Long-range weaponry comes in the form of a crossbow with a variety of bolts, but Covo is limited in how many he can carry. Killing enemies and leaving a heavy body count causes zombie-like enemies called Weepers to emerge. You can most certainly go full-on Rambo in levels (and get a completely different ending for the game), but it’s very clear from the get-go that stealth is the preferable (and more fun) route to take.
Stealth offers a variety of options to lethally and nonlethally take down your opponents. Sleep-inducing bolts can be used from a distance, and other gadgets will help you trap your enemies and methodically take them out one by one. However, the strongest weapons you will have at your disposal is your character’s mobility and supernatural abilities.
Corvo is incredibly nimble. He is able to climb obstacles and boxes as well as quickly disappear into vents and perch on ledges with ease. When he does find himself surrounded, he is able to make a quick get-away or use his various gadgets to allow himself plenty of room for escape. If the decision comes that an enemy needs to taste steel, Corvo is armed with a small but effective collection of sword blocks, parrys, and counters. Sword fighting feels violent and swift but never relies on button mashing. Careful attention needs to be used to appropriately counter enemy strikes.
The main feature in Corvo’s lethal bag of tricks are his powers. These powers include instant teleport to a location in eyesight and relatively close proximity, controlling the minds of animals and people, or summoning a horde of ravenous rats which can strip the flesh off enemies in seconds. By searching the environments, you can find items that further enhance your abilities.
Despite their appearance, the levels in Dishonored are fairly linear. One can take the most direct or the most roundabout way, but overall, the levels are self-contained. Discouraging aimless wandering actually helps to focus the experience. Each level still gives you plenty of options to take out targets, and even the final kill is open to lethal or nonlethal actions, both of which still have an effect on the game and ending. Dishonored stands as a beacon example of linear levels not equaling linear gameplay.
As excellent as the gameplay is, it’s the setting, characters, and enemies that steal the show here. Each is unique and memorable, lending personality and interaction to the world. Despite the time period, Dishonored's world is bleak and filled with desperate characters you can't help but pity. Your mind starts to speak as you go through the game, and your conscience may shine through in even the most unlikely circumstances. Is it truly justified to end an innocent bystander’s life just because he happened to witness your murder spree? Would sparing him be any different? Does simply going through the motions in this world equal living?
The enemies are just as varied. Common foot soldiers have full conversations with one another while mechanical tall boys descend upon you like the tripods from War of the Worlds. Once you reach the end, the variety of unique enemies you come across will have greatly expanded your combat skills.
Of course, all of this wouldn’t be possible without excellent visuals, voice acting, and audio. The game has a cell-shaded look to it while at the same time, this desperate world is somehow bright and varied. All this combines to tell a straight-forward story of revenge and loyalty. And unlike most big games of today, the ending is conclusive and does not cut itself short to shoehorn in a sequel.
My only complaint with this game is its length. While it is still significantly longer than most single-player campaigns of today, it's slightly shorter than it should be. Just when you begin to feel comfortable with your powers, and the enemies are harder and harder to beat, the games ends. It’s not a bad ending by any means; it’s just the pace suddenly comes to a jarring halt. I was left wanting more. At the least, this gives the player plenty of incentive to replay and try out a different approach.
Dishonored is a compelling game in which everything from the aesthetics and gameplay come together. The best games are the ones that immediately suck you in, the ones that, through story or pristine gameplay, can make you forget you are playing a game and allow you to spend a few hours lost in their worlds. Dishonored can now sit on the same shelf with Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3. Immersive and enjoyable, Dishonored is a must-play.
*Editor's note: This review is based on the PC version.