Game Review: Dishonored

Dan Jenko delivers his verdict on the first-person stealth adventure, out now for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (reviewed).

As the only new big-name IP among the roll call of 2012’s big winter releases, Dishonored has a kind of responsibility surrounding it. It represents the unique and innovative in an industry that puts out the same old names each year, and while on-paper ‘back-stabbing assassin’ does sound awfully familiar – Dishonored remains one of the year’s most exciting prospects. Without the aid of ‘big franchise’ power, however, there’s only one way for a new IP to succeed – be one of the very best around.

Thankfully, Dishonored more than fulfills this requirement. It’s a wonderfully-crafted and engaging Triple-A blockbuster that lives up to all the promise and more. While the odd problem does manage to sneak into the final package, Arkane Studios have managed to create a real game-of-the-year contender.

Set in a steampunk parody of Victorian London, Dishonored follows the story of Corvo Attlano, a mute bodyguard who is framed for the murder of his master, the empress of Dunwall. The game’s opening sees you escape from jail before your execution, and soon enough you’re thrust into a plot that sees you gain new allies in an attempt to put the Empress’ daughter Emily on the throne. It turns out your new allies need an assassin to take down the bad guys that stand in your way, which leads to you donning an awesome-looking mask as you begin to exact your revenge.

Dishonored’s narrative may sound a little simplistic on paper, but the setting of Dunwall really pushes it to new heights. Drawing inspiration from the Great Plague of London, the streets of this industrial Victorian city are littered with infected rats spreading pestilence everywhere they go. Disease is everywhere in Dunwall, with the unfortunate infected vomiting in the streets and feeding from garbage bins. The setting is a striking one; with wonderful art direction weaved into each of the game’s locations.

In fact, presentation-wise, Dishonored is an absolute masterpiece. An impressive cast of voice actors inject real personality into each and every character you meet. Susun Sarandon steals the show as the criminally-underused Granny Rags, with nerd favourite Brad Dourif and Mad Men’s John Slattery putting in stand-out performances as allies Piero and Admiral Havelock. Motion-capture isn’t used and this can lead to some pretty wooden animations, but the voice acting more than makes up for it.

Graphical flair and art direction only counts for so much, but thankfully Dishonored’s brand of first-person stealth action is instantly enjoyable. Playing as a supernatural assassin is – as you can probably imagine – extremely fun. The gameplay offers real variety through excellent level design, strong stealth mechanics and fluid combat.

Dishonored is a stealth game at heart, and although there is the option to go in guns and swords blazing, playing on anything above the lowest difficulty setting will make a brash approach very difficult. Hiding behind cover and evading guards’ line-of-sight works well, but it’s Corvo’s supernatural abilities that make stealth thoroughly enjoyable. There are options to teleport from cover-to-cover, pause time and look through walls, and you’ll have to utilise these abilities if you want to make things easier for yourself.

Fortunately though if you can’t stay hidden for long, there are also some excellent combat mechanics to fall back on. You have a sword to swashbuckle with guards on your right hand, while your left remains free to fire crossbows, shoot pistols, cast spells, throw grenades, set traps and more. With options to set a swarm of rats on your opponent, burst them into flames with an incendiary crossbow bolt or blow them away with a blast of wind Skyrim-style, it quickly becomes clear that Dishonored is vastly different from your average first-person action game.

Despite the vast array of weapons at your disposal, however, part of the beauty of Dishonored is that you needn’t kill anyone. In fact, with incentives like less rats in future missions and a more upbeat ending, you’ll probably want to take the non-violent approach – knocking guards unconscious rather than driving a knife through their back, and taking down your main target through non-lethal means.

This is a game all about choice. Each mission provides a new, open-world environment that you can explore at your leisure. Sure, you can go straight to your target and take care of business quickly, but you’ll probably find yourself helping out allies, finding runes to gain new powers, reading notes to learn more about a character’s history, listening-in on conversations and cracking safes as you progress. There’s so much to do in Dishonored, and you can spend hours just exploring.

The level-design in Dishonored is top-notch. There’s always the option to go charging through the front door, but you can also use tunnels, secret passages and rooftops to progress if you’re willing to do a bit of poking around. Overall, the amount of player freedom is quite incredible, and experimenting with your powers makes for great fun.

There is the odd problem that perhaps wouldn’t feature in most Triple-A blockbusters. Textures occasionally fail to pop-in on time and there are some bugs that can make traversal a little frustrating – but thankfully these are just minor annoyances and don’t really effect your enjoyment of the finished product. Word on the internet is that the PlayStation 3 version of Dishonored (the one I was playing on) does have the most issues, so these problems may very well not apply on other platforms.

Some more major problems include pacing, with the tension decreasing a bit at specific moments during the game. There are also a few frustrations to be found with the stealth system, including being spotted through no real fault of your own. Still, these kinds of problems are all common-place for new-IPs, so it would be great to see what Arkane can produce if they have the chance to iron out these issues via a sequel.

So, where does all that leave Dishonored? Simply put, in a very good place. A campaign lasting about 10 hours (if you play as thoroughly as I did) and nothing else may sound a bit light content-wise, but as soon as the credits role you’ll want to play it all over again, and see things play out differently if you make different choices.

Credit Bethesda for taking a chance on Arkane Studios and allowing them to produce the best new-IP since Bioshock. While not without its flaws, Dishonored is a thrillingly-unique creation that should be played by every self-respecting gamer. It’s an intelligent game with a gripping story, strong characterisation, striking graphics and above all genuinely fun gameplay. Do yourself a favour and pick it up.


FMV Rating: ****1/2


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