Dishonored is a first-person stealth game from Bethesda Software that manages to push the boundaries of gaming in new directions, thanks to its immersive storytelling and complex gameplay that’s easy to get into but challenging to master. Dishonored manages to capture the “wow” factor that I haven’t felt since I first played Half-Life 2 back in 2004. Yeah, it’s that good.
The story follows Corvo Attano, a revered bodyguard to the Empress of the industrial steampunk city of Dunwall. Shortly after returning home from a long trip, Corvo stumbles upon an assassination plot on the Empress. Despite attempting to fight off the skilled assassins, he is pinned against a wall by a man with magical powers. He can’t help but watch as they kill the Empress and kidnap Young Lady Emily, the child heir to the throne. Shortly thereafter it becomes clear that this assassination was just the beginning of Corvo’s problems, as he is framed for her murder. Unable to escape the guards, Corvo is imprisoned and tortured for six months. It turns out that Lord Regent Hiram Burrows was behind the Empress’ death, Corvo’s framing and the kidnapping of Young Lady Emily. Luckily for Corvo, not everyone is out to get him; a guard slips a key and note to Corvo, telling him that only he can save Emily.
Dishonored (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC[reviewed])
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Software
Release: October 9, 2012
Once Corvo escapes the prison, he enters a dream-like world where he meets the Outsider, a mysterious man that resembles Johnny Depp’s cringe-worthy portrayal of Barnabas Collins. The Outsider instills upon Corvo various powers he must master in order to clear his name and take down the conspiracy once and for all. Along his journey, Corvo will stumble upon runes and bone fragments, which are crucial for unlocking new abilities and perks.
Just when you think it’s over and your name is cleared, you are hit with a major plot twist that changes everything and adds an additional 3-5 hours of gameplay that are unlike anything you’ve played before it in the form of brutal, unforgiving gameplay that truly puts your skills to the test. All that it’s missing is a disgruntled Army sergeant constantly calling you “cupcake” while you work out the best scenario to get through the final levels. If there’s one thing Dishonored does right, it’s the story.
While it’s a little clichéd, Dishonored tells a story of conspiracy and revenge that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been there before. The skyline of Dunwall, which is modeled after Victorian London, is a breathtaking display to behold. While it’s not beautiful in the traditional sense, it manages to capture the depression the plague has inflicted on the world. It’s an ugly world, but few games have managed to capture a fictional era of turmoil along the likes of this before.
Speaking of ugly, boy, are some of the character models as ugly on the outside as the character is on the inside. Not ugly as in a sense of quality, but they are rendered as disgusting human beings, reminiscent of inhabits in Rapture from the BioShock franchise. Not only are they ugly as sin, but most of them look alike, leaving you wondering, “Didn’t I just kill this guy a moment ago?”
On the bright side, killing ugly people is quite enjoyable and there’s a wide variety of ways to commit murder. From the good ol’ fashioned knife from behind to grenades chucked in the middle of a crowded room, or a swarm of rats under your control, the world is your dead oyster. Of course, if you want to play as passive as a baby lamb in a world that wants to eat you alive, you can do that as well. Depending on why you play the game, people will view you differently and the world will change around you. High amounts of dead bodies will result in swarms of rats on the street to devour their corpses and Dishonored’s version of zombies, plague-infested Weepers, roaming the streets. If you decide that blood for blood isn’t the way to go, guards will be much more paranoid of their surrounds because, hey, they are living a world where they have every right to be on their toes.
Dishonored decides to autosave at the most inopportune times. For example, when I slipped and fell while climbing down a rope, Dishonored decided to autosave while I was freefalling a few feet from touching the ground, preventing me from grabbing the rope when I re-loaded the save. After I realized it was impossible to grab the rope and finish my mission, I accepted the fact that Dishonored’s autosave cost me 30 minutes of game time and I started the level over. From that moment forth I stopped relying on autosaves and would manually save before I created a ruckus.
The death animations can be a little wonky as well. Getting shot in the back can result in the camera doing a comical number of barrel rolls before finally fading to black, which would make sense if the hero was decapitated and his head was rolling down stairs, but that’s often not the case.
The AI is hit and miss. While they are smart enough to snoop you out, they can come off as idiotic wastes of time that can be easily manipulated. They have a wonderful line of sight mechanic they use, but it has its down sides. If another enemy is in front of them while they are aiming their gun, they will not holster it or wait for their friend to get out the way; they will shoot and kill them. When they spew the repetitive “You made someone a widow, damn you” dialogue, the irony is unbearable.
Despite some minor nuisances, Dishonored is a game that everyone should play. Within it are several similarities to the Half-Life series that make me feel as if Dishonored was specifically tailored to gamers waiting for Half-Life 3. I won’t go into them here because I believe they are best experienced first-hand, but when you see them, you will enjoy them. Dishonored is as perfect of a game as they come, providing easily 10-15 hours of solid gameplay with a replay value so high, you will find yourself assassinating the same targets over and over again without ever growing tired of the open-ended formula in which you can end their lives.