Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dishonored (Sony PlayStation 3)

Dishonored
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Arkane Studios
Genre: First-Person Stealth/Action-Adventure
Release Date: 10/09/2012

Dishonored is a game that pretty much came out of nowhere this past summer. Seriously, I can’t remember hearing anything about it before E3. However, it made one hell of a showing. In fact, it instantly rocketed to the top of my most anticipated titles, and I only had to wait a few months!

Arkane Studios isn’t exactly a household name, even among diehard video game fans. In fact, the last game they developed was Dark Messiah of Might and Magic in 2006. However, they also did some work on Bioshock 2. Clearly, they were inspired by what they did, as Dishonored has much in common with that series.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that for a relatively unknown developer, the pressure must have gone from zero to sixty in record time. There wasn’t a single person I talked to who wasn’t SURE this game was going to be awesome. It won so many “best of” awards at E3, and was quickly catapulted to a “can’t miss” title.

Can Dishonored possibly live up to the hype?

Story

Dishonored takes place in the fictional kingdom of Dunwall. This island nation is inspired by a combination of seventeenth century England and steampunk. It also happens to be infested with a rat plague that is quickly decimating the citizens.

On loan from the empress, her bodyguard Corvo Attano has just come back from a diplomatic mission to elicit aid from other kingdoms. Sadly, he arrives home just in time to see his beloved empress assassinated and her daughter kidnapped. The blame is put on Corvo, and he’s set to be executed for the crimes he didn’t commit. Before his end, two factions come forth to save him. First, a group known as Loyalists spring him out in order to get revenge on the corrupt officials that have taken over the empire. Also, a mysterious deity known as the Outsider bestows the gift of magic on Corvo. He finds that Corvo is an “interesting” being that will have a profound effect on the future.

From there, the plot is a pretty straight forward tale about corrupt officials, betrayals, and revelations. It gets pretty darn predictable at times. However, the dull plot is saved by a huge attention to detail. By talking to characters, reading various notes left behind, and using a special device known as “the heart” to peer into people’s minds, a fascinating world is uncovered. There are a variety of rich and interesting characters throughout the game. A woman who was at first glance just a simple school teacher soon reveals herself to be a thoughtful character with dreams of an improbable future. A ruthless slum lord turns into a halfway decent man doing what he can in a dystopic society. For those willing to explore, there is a whole world to discover.

The game has become pretty well known for offering choices to players. These don’t simply show up as dialogue trees where you select a good or evil response. Rather, the world reacts to how you’ve played the game up until that point. If you’ve been a ruthless murderer, the city becomes even more diseased, characters treat you differently, and the path to your overall goal will change. If you’ve been killing only when you had to, you’re more likely to find a better place to come home to. There are also three endings to see, depending on your actions. It’s nice to see player decisions having a tangible impact on the way the story plays out.

Graphics

The art style for Dishonored is fairly unique. It clearly has some inspiration from Bioshock, but it takes it in a different direction. Characters seem to be oil paintings come to life. The environment is a world of decay where wealthy socialites hold grand balls while peasants die from plague only a couple blocks down the street. However, even the fanciest of parties can’t keep the rats from coming in.

Whoever created the animations for this game has a sick mind. I mean it. When you put a blade through someone, it’s brutal. Blood sprays, heads get lopped off, and you get to watch as characters take their last gasp of air. It’s a violent, brutal world at times. It’s simply not uncommon to leave a trail of body parts in your wake, provided you aren’t trying to go through the game without killing a soul. There are some odd moments where the rag doll physics leave dead or unconscious bodies in odd positions, but for the most part it’s all evilly fantastic.

Overall, this is a pretty darn good looking game.

Audio

For a game with so much dialogue, solid voice acting is key. From top to bottom, this is exceptional work. Even the lowliest maid has something to say, and it is said well. The best of the bunch is Granny Rags, played to perfection by Susan Sarandon. A creepier, more off setting character you simply won’t find. Corvo might not speak, but the rest of the cast is there to pick up the slack in a big way. Mostly consistent accents help keep the world feel cohesive. I can’t compliment the job these guys did enough.

Musically, the game is pretty low key. There are some fantastic songs throughout, but you’ll likely not even notice them for the most part. It’s more important for you to hear conversations, footfalls, and the disturbing squeaks of nearby rats. The music does ratchet up for combat and some other major situations. Heavy drums will beat until you’ve dispatched your foes or escaped. Small musical cues keep you in tune to what’s happening. You can tell when you’ve been spotted even if you’re not looking at the enemy who did the spotting.

The effects are fantastic on every level. The magical powers convey an otherworldly tone, while guns make a deafening racket that always sounds impressive. Let’s not forget the clangs of sword on sword combat. Even lesser sounds work, from the sound of footsteps the creaking of metal doors being opened. It’s a game you’re going to make sure you can hear at all times.

Gameplay

Anyone who’s ever played an FPS will be able to move around with ease when playing Dishonored. The controls are where they usually are for games like this. You move with the left stick, turn with the right, crouch with the circle button, and jump with the x button. The right shoulder buttons control your sword, while the left shoulder buttons deal with using your various powers and gadgets. The controls scheme works for the most part. The only issue I can recall having was that the right shoulder button blocks for most instances. However, it also performs a non-lethal takedown on an unaware foe. It is very easy to to accidentally block instead of taking them down. You have to wait for the prompt to show up, and the ranges can be tricky.

Dishonored offers the player several separate missions that each create little worlds to play in. How one progresses through each world is entirely up to them, and all choices are valid, provided one has the skill to pull it off. Enemies can be dealt with via lethal or non-lethal means. There are more tools geared towards lethal kills, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Each level is chock full of different paths to take. In one case, you need to enter a building. You can use the blink ability to reach the roof and tackle it from above, sneak in via an underwater passageway, or just go barreling through the front door. Using a mixed approach is just as valid. In my playthrough, I used the possession ability to take over a guard and used him to go through the front door without raising the alarm. I then calmly put him to sleep and hid him in a nearby room.

Each mission gives you at least one main objective to complete. This mostly involves neutralizing a target. You can certainly do this by killing them, but there is always a non-lethal route you can take as well. The non-lethal approach usually has you going out of your way to do something different. For example, sparing a set of twins involves performing a few side jobs for a local gang leader. If you do what he asks, he’ll gladly remove your targets without ever so much as looking them. There are optional objectives in each mission as well. Going out of your way often results in you getting some benefit, such as a rune or a combination to a safe. Some of the side quests result in tangible changes in the future. For example, properly exploring one location can earn you the key to the tower you’ll assault in the next mission.

The star of the show is the powers. From the get go, you have total freedom in terms of how you upgrade. All you need to do is find runes hidden throughout each level. Each power can be unlocked by spending these runes. There aren’t enough of them in the game to unlock and level up every power, but there are more than enough to get a diversified build. There are six primary powers. These dark vision, blink, bend time, possession, rat swarm, and wind blast. While each of these can be useful on their own, the key is in using them together. For example, you could use the bend time ability to slow down the action while you used blink to teleport away without attracting attention. You could summon a rat swarm and then use possession to take over one of the little critters in order to get away. My favorite is using bend time to stop a bullet in mid air before possessing the person who fired it. Then you can have that person walk right into their own bullet! In addition to these six powers, there are four secondary abilities that bestow passive attributes such as more health, more agility, making enemies disappear when you kill them, and being able to perform quick kills in the heat of battle.

Not satisfied with those powers? Corvo also has a good number of weapons for you to try out. The sword is good for quick silent kills and melee combat. The crossbow can fire three types of bolts, including sleep darts for the non-lethal crowd. For those less concerned about being stealth, the pistol is great at putting down enemies fast. There are also grenades and mines to use. All of these implements can be upgraded, both in capacity and effect. You can also use a rewiring tool to change the target of defense systems to your enemies.

For further customization, you can use bone charms. These suckers are all over the place, and each one bestows a passive effect. For example, one might make it so you swing your sword faster. Another may increase the amount of ammo you find while scavenging. You can increase the number of these you can have equipped, and thus tool Corvo to truly fit your style.

The stealth system in Dishonored relies on a variable degree of awareness represented by bars on the side of enemies’ heads. No bars means they don’t suspect a thing, and they’ll continue to go along their route. Two bars means a simple head turn in the direction of the sound. Four bars means they’ll look in that direction until they’re sure they just imagined that sound. Six bars means they know they heard something and they’re going to find it. Should the bars turn red, that means you’re busted. Prepare to be hunted down until you manage to escape, incapacitate them all, or simply die. There are some issues. The AI can be pretty dumb at times. Guards don’t seem to care that others have gone missing. You might get the occasional “someone’s supposed to be on patrol here”, but nothing substantial. They also treat unconscious allies as if they were simply sleeping, no matter if it’s in the middle of a street. They’ll react in force to dead bodies, but if you take them out with non-lethal means, the guards won’t suspect a thing.

What makes this game fun is exploration and creativity. It’s fun to work out multiple solutions to obstacles and then pick the best one. It’s fun to experiment with powers and abilities. It’s fun to teleport behind an enemy and instantly take them out. You truly feel like a powerful supernatural assassin. There are some issues of course. Most objects aren’t breakable, you can’t use poison, and guards can not be reasoned with, but the game makes up for all of these shortcomings easily. Any disappointment you might feel is quickly replaced by exultation when you pull off some new feat of daring.

Replayability

A straight play through the game can have drastically different running times depending on how you play. I can honestly say that you can run anywhere from four to twenty hours to beat the game. It all depends on how much exploration you do, how committed you are to staying hidden, and whether or not your going for any specialty trophies.

For people looking for multiple playthroughs, the game makes it easy. You can start from any mission you’ve already completed, you can use a different power set, and you can play with a different mindset. Playing as a badass assassin who slaughters anyone who gets in his way is fun. However, it’s just as much fun to sneak around the entire game without anyone so much as having an inkling that you were there. You won’t even be able to get all of the trophies unless you play through the game at least twice.

This is a game worth replaying, and it offers plenty of options that allow players to go through the game a second time and have a completely new experience.

Balance

At times, with the powers at your disposal, you’ll feel like a god among insects. That’s understandable. One on one, there isn’t a single enemy in the game that can compare to the sheer power you bring to the table. However, it is never a one on one battle. If you’re spotted, guards will call out for backup. Every available enemy will join in the hunt. While some swarm at you with melee attacks, others will happily shoot you from a distance. Your health bar can and will deplete rapidly in these situations. True, you can use various powers and weapons to tip the tide back into your favor. However, resources are finite. That’s the crux of the game right there. You can do all of these wonderful things, but you can’t do them infinitely. You can run out of mana, and you can run out of health. Potions are available, but not in large numbers.

There are four difficulty settings to try out, witch each switching up how much damage is dealt and how easy it is for enemies to spot you. Hardcore stealth fans will want to jack up the difficulty and limit the powers they earn in order to get a more challenging experience. Novice players can play on a lower difficulty to make sure all out combat is still a viable option. You can also turn off various assists if you choose, such as objective markers and HUD. This is a game that gives players options, even in the balance department. I like that.

Originality

Dishonored is a game that clearly has taken inspiration from other games. It is very easy to see parallels between this game and titles like Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed, and Hitman. However, the game does a splendid job of creating its own identity. By combining stealth action with deadly powers and environments full of possibilities, Dishonored manages to feel fresh. If someone likes this game and wants to play something like it, I honestly don’t know want I could recommend that offers the same mix of gameplay mechanics.

Addictiveness

Since the game is broken up so evenly into a series of missions, the end of each one feels like a natural stopping point. After all, what fun is it to stop in the middle of a mission and come back later no longer familiar with what you’re supposed to do? This can mean that players aren’t likely to tackle more than mission at a time. However, one forgets the allure of new powers and new opportunities to use them. New mechanics and abilities are constantly being introduced thanks to player progression. The game is also good about mixing things up in terms of the enemies you face and the layouts in which you’ll find them. This makes the game something that can certainly hook players for hours at a time.

Appeal Factor

The only people who won’t love this game are those who are skewed too far on either side of the gameplay. The action won’t be enjoyable enough for action fans due to the limited resources and rapidly dwindling health bar. Likewise, hardcore stealth fans will come away disappointed. The AI can be pretty dumb at times, and there are small missteps like not being able to break a spotlight to create an area of darkness or the fact that events are triggered by your presence instead of occurring naturally. For example, if you don’t stay in one location long enough, then your target will never leave the room he’s in. This can lead to some frustrating moments to be sure.

Despite these misgivings, the game is an absolute blast to play. It celebrates creativity in a way that not many modern consoles games do. Experimentation and exploration make the experience something that anyone can enjoy. After all, there just aren’t enough games out there where you can use possession powers to take over a fish.

Miscellaneous

Dishonored was one my most anticipated games this year, and it did not disappoint. It offers a gameplay experience that is both refreshingly different yet still an absolute blast to play. It really gives the player a degree of freedom not often seen in the first person genre. There simply aren’t enough games that give you these kinds of options. It might not seem like much, but once you play it you’ll understand.

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Very Good
Audio: Amazing
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Classic
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Great Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Dishonored is a game that lives up to the hype and delivers on its promise to appease all types of gamers. It can be a slow paced, methodical stealth game. It can be a fast paced action title. Either way, it offers freedom and a diverse set of fun to use tools that can be combined to create all kinds of results. With a great attention to detail on every level, this is one of the best games of the year, and one of the best new IPs to come out in a long time.

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