Dishonored – E3 Preview
by Mark R
We’ve all been there – an odd whisper in the wind whistles past your ear and just enough manages to filter in and pique your curiosity to the point where you quickly resign yourself to the fact that you’re either going to end up seeing something utterly spectacular, or some clever marketing exec is setting you up for one hell of a fall when you finally get hands-on and it turns out to be a truck full of manure.
Knowing very little about Dishonored, in fact absolutely nothing at all beyond the teaser trailer, I still had an air of excitement as I arrived at the Bethesda booth. The livery suggested that there was a lot more to it than what I had concluded from the trailer, and that it wouldn’t necessarily be the first person shooter that so many had been talking about on the weeks leading up to E3. A discussion with the PR prior to leaving for LA had included talk of it being possible to stealth through the entire game, killing only those necessary in order to complete a quest-line but, with so many other games wrongly boasting this in the past, I still wasn’t entirely convinced. Either way, the setting and art style were enough to influence me into learning more.
Our presentation with Bethesda and Arkane Studios began with a brief run-down of the history behind the game, explaining that the main character, Corvo Atano, was the former bodyguard of the now-slain Empress who died in the arms of our protagonist, thereby holding him accountable for her death. As one would expect from someone holding such an important position of protection, Atano is highly-skilled in the art of combat and is not only trained in stealth, marksmanship, and a whiz with the sword, but also possesses a wealth of supernatural powers and uses these to his advantage whenever the circumstances demand more than typical combat moves.
During our hands-on time with Dishonored, we had the opportunity to play around with these powers, calling for a plague of rats to attack and take down foes without ever breaking cover, and avoiding guards or law enforcement by silently teleporting short distances and appear ahead of them using the ‘Blink’ power. The ‘Bend Time’ option caused the game to enter the now-familiar territory of what we’ve come to know as bullet-time, allowing you to make complex moves in near real-time as the action around drops to an incredibly slow pace. There are more powers available to the player, but the most interesting was the ‘Possession’ move whereby any other living being can be taken control of, absorbing the essence of our protagonist for a short time.
Although we dabbled with this during the hands-on time, taking control of guards to cause havoc against others, it was in the earlier presentation that we saw the full extent of how incredible this particular power could be. At one point, in order to gain access to the bath-house as part of the demo mission, the character walked to the edge of a walkway and looked out to an inland lake that ran alongside the edge of the city, with fish darting around by the entrance to a sewer grate which ran underneath the city. A quick flick of the d-pad swapped the player’s power over to the Possession mode and, immediately, the character’s essence had taken over one of the fish and was making its way through the grate and into the underbelly of the city until finally reaching the area beneath the bath-house, at which point he ended the possession and took on regular form once more.
Once you’ve managed to reach a certain area, it’s important to know whether or not you’ll be able to get past potential threats without alerting them to your presence, and that’s where the Dark Vision power comes in. Unlike when this type of mechanic within other games, such as Batman’s ‘detective vision’ or Elder Scrolls’ ‘detect life’, Dishonored’s take on this ability also allows you to not only see through walls, viewing the outline of the NPCs as they go about their business, but also their vision cones, so you can clearly keep track of where you can move without ever alerting them. This is particularly helpful if you’ve adopted the stealth gameplay style, killing only those who have been named as your target but, should you opt for the anything-goes style of gameplay where anyone who gets in your way becomes another notch on your bloodstained bedpost, it’s unlikely that you’ll use Dark Vision.
In true assassin style, there is an array of weapons and gadgets at your disposal as you make your way through various missions, from close-combat weapons such as the dagger and sword to the ranged style of the crossbow, longbow and even the ridiculously-steampunk wheel-lock pistol. The pistol was very responsive, and more accurate than I’d imagined, so perhaps the options were set up to have auto-aiming as standard, and the dagger was as deadly as it was beautiful, with stealth executions being the order of the day once I’d got to grips with them. While the environment serves up that very obvious steampunk flavour, with everything having that Victorian England appearance, it is the clothing and weapons which really drive home the steampunk style, and the Tall Boys do this better than anything.
Much like the power suit used by Ripley to battle the alien queen in Aliens, the Tall Boys are extensions of the wearer, enhancing abilities and allowing the user to perform more powerful actions than they could on their own. Their main purpose is to allow the elite guardsmen to patrol Dunwall without ever placing themselves in the heart of the plague-ridden streets, but their elevated position, dominating presence, and powered nature obviously pose a more dangerous threat than a regular guard would. At one point, being attacked by three of these Tall Boys at once, Corvo was able to quickly inflict damage to the leg of one before switching to possession mode to take over one of the others, using this newly-possessed beast to take out the other two before switching back to his own body and dispose of the last threat.
During the presentation, there were several occasions where I watched the fluid movements on-screen and marvelled at how easily they appeared to be executed as the developer flicked his d-pad, using the Blink feature to teleport to a point directly behind a target and, as he emerged behind him, immediately cut his throat from behind. As impressive as this was, it was when the character leapt from the top of a building towards the stone streets below that it became apparent just how flexible and incredible this particular power was. Unaided, with no grappling hook or concealed airbag with which to pad his fall, he began his nose-dive, hurtling towards the ground at high speed and, with the inevitable splat growing ever-closer, suddenly used the possession skill to transport himself into the body of a passer-by.
In case it isn’t yet apparent how possession works, it’s more than just your mind entering the mind of another in order to control their moves – instead your entire being enters their body and uses it as a vessel, so that when you leave their body you return to your solid form. By possessing the passer-by en-route to a messy rendezvous with the street below, the falling character would have vanished completely in mid-air, only to re-appear as he stepped out of the body he possessed, thereby preventing any damage. It’s an incredible move, and one which was executed with amazing prowess during the presentation.
Within seconds of taking hold of the Xbox controller, I felt it was important to learn just how much of the fluid movement from the presentation was down to the developers’ long-standing relationship with the game and the countless hours of play-testing. It was at this point where I fell deeply in love with Dishonored. The trailer pulled me in, the presentation convinced me that it was a game I would undoubtedly play and enjoy doing so… but it was taking control of Corvo Atano myself that actually cemented my feelings with the game. Almost immediately, after taking a few moments to familiarise myself with the HUD and hot-keying, I was able to pull off the same fluid motion that we’d seen in the presentation – effortlessly teleporting through the streets and to upper levels, performing stealth attacks, bending time and taking out enemies with a degree of showmanship and an element of flair.
On the face of it, having explored the various options available to the player, I would say that Dishonored looks to successfully bridge the gameplay styles of the Assassin’s Creed and Hitman genres while taking it to a much higher level of tactical approach. With what could quite easily have been its downfall, the supernatural powers on hand have successfully elevated the strategic potential of Dishonored, and offer repeated playthrough potential for those of us who like to shake things up and approach the same game from many angles. The combination of fluid gameplay, fast-paced action and quick-thinking make Dishonored a joy to play for those who demand more from their games. It was tough to walk away from.
With other appointments lined up, the gameplay had to be cut short, and it was with a heavy heart that I left the Bethesda booth, longing to go back every time I wandered past. Going in to E3 this year, I was sure that either X-Com Enemy Unknown or Borderlands 2 would be my game of show but, after being captivated by Dunwall and Corvo Atano, I can’t help but place Dishonored at the top of my list and state that it was not only the runaway lead from this year’s expo… but it may end up being my game of the year for 2012 which, as a Borderlands fanatic, is not easy to admit.
Dishonored stealths its way on to our shelves in October 2012. Buy it.
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