Dishonored Review (Xbox 360/PS3/PC)
When the hype train rolled down the rails on Arkane and Bethesda’s first project together, there was always a concern that a game like Dishonored couldn’t live up to lofty expectations, but it’s a rare gem in that it exceeds expectations and raises the bar for the fps/stealth genre.
The city of Dunwall is in chaos. A plague is devouring the citizens and the city itself is crumbling into the sea. Corvo, head protector to the empress of Dunwall, returns from a personal mission to request aid, and now stands accused of murder after she is assassinated by a mysterious group.
With the future heiress to the throne kidnapped, and his name and reputation in tatters, Corvo breaks from his cell and joins a ragtag group of loyalists determined to overthrow the new regime and place the heiress back on the throne.
While the theme of revenge is at the forefront, Dishonored engages the true definition of loyalty, family, and honor. The plot puts the player in a position where they will shape the future of the city for better, or for worse. The plot isn’t original, and it can be a little predictable, but it happily drives the player to unique scenarios with some interesting characters, most of which are fully realised.
While the plague destroys the city, it reinforces the impact of the class system and the effect that has on various points of view. Not every aristocrat is a hateful and bigoted monster and it really brings home the concept of humanity with a deftness rarely seen in video games. The world of Dishonored is rarely black and white.
Despite the linear style of gameplay (more on that later) the world changes depending on your actions and it’s fascinating to see micro changes in each mission as the world reacts to choices and actions taken by the player.
Violence and stealth play into this and the level of chaos in the city is proportionate to trail of corpses you may, or may not, decide to leave in your wake. If you slaughter your way through each level, characters will speak to you differently, there will be an increase in rat swarms and infected citizens, and of course there will be heavier resistance to face in each mission. Your actions determine the reaction of the city.
Handling Corvo and his abilities is reminiscent of Bioshock 2’s dual wielding system, with a sword for combat and stealth takedowns in one hand, and another for the various pieces of equipment and the mystical abilities that separate this protagonist from the slew of stealthy characters out there.
It’s clear that there’s been a lot of love put into the mechanics which leads to an exceptionally smooth and enjoyable gaming experience. Movement and abilities like blink all combine to create an amazingly approachable and easy to use system that allows for some inventive murder and evasion techniques.
The gameplay may be linear in design, but each mission takes place in a series of free-form playgrounds where the developers have gone to great lengths to accommodate every play-style and every possible upgrade path in their level design.It’s this attention to detail that makes each environment a pleasure to dive in to and exploration is bolstered by the fact that this is a first-person stealth game that actually works.
While there’s no argument that games like Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution were great, Dishonored really brings us the whole package. It’s not only fun, but it’s functional in every aspect and never falls flat.
The only real concern lies with the tricky nature of creating a competent AI. NPCs are built around the classic cone-of-view, which is perfectly acceptable when creating a stealth game and has proved time and time again that it’s a great mechanic. However, there are routines that leave the AI looking a little dumb.
On about 10% of occasions the AI will refuse to follow the player despite having full view of them. It’s a little haphazard and can lead to some unintentionally amusing scenarios. AI is such an important piece of a stealth game, and thankfully the AI works perfectly the other 90% of the time, so all is not lost to a few niggling issues.
The art style is very much Victorian steampunk in a world where magic and industry collide violently. The art direction of Viktor Antonov, designer of Half Life 2′s City 17, is suitably dark and has a lot in common with the aforementioned city, so much so that the two have quite a bit in common. Everything is fantastically detailed, yet it’s the incidental work and the character design, design that borders on realism and caricature, that steal the show.
On the downside, enemy design is repetitive, which drags the presentation down, but the overall design is smart and snappy. It’s never too overwhelming and is just bleak enough to serve the its illustrative purpose, without coming across muddy and bland.
The music of Daniel Licht, fresh from the Silent Hill series, keeps the pacing of each scene very much on the mark, with sombre tones enforcing the despair and misery that embodies the spirit of the virulent city of Dunwall. Backing up an impressive score is a rather excellent voice casting, with the likes of Carrie Fisher, Chloe Grace Moretz and Susan Sarandon holding their own and adding that spark to what could be standard archetypes.
The city may be dying inside, but the dialogue and music breathe life into the game. The art direction, while familiar in places, is confident in itself and tells a story of a world shrouded in uncertainty and darkness ready to be molded by the actions of a killer, or a man seeking justice; choice is the key to the game’s success.
Dishonored is one of the very few single player focused games released this year, and it stands as the one of the standout titles you shouldn’t be without.
Dishonored launches today in the US, and worldwide on Friday. Check out the launch trailer below
Dishonored Review (Xbox 360/PS3/PC) ,