Dishonored – Hands-On Preview
Different is better. In an industry that seems to slowly amalgamate into third-person cover-based shooting, gritty war-focused FPS games and free to play MMOs all vying for your time and your wallet, the unique becomes the king. The advantage of such an uninventive landscape is that we’ll start to rightfully applaud the games that dare to be different, and that’s a major factor in the hype surrounding Dishonored. When it first came onto my radar it sounded way too ambitious for it to work – a first-person action adventure that lets you combine stealth, magic and violence in any manner you see fit to complete your objectives? My fears were allayed and my interest peaked when Markuz previewed it at E3 and awarded it his personal game of the show, and so as Gamescom approached I was perfectly poised to snipe the opportunity away from the rest of the Gaminglives crew to have Dishonored all to myself.
Desperate not to waste my appointment trying to accustom myself to the controls or wrap my head around the ambitious design of the game, I darted to the demo on the show-floor and patiently waited to get my first taste of Dishonoured. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about such things, as the transition from control confusion to accustomisation was practically non-existent. Your hero Corvo Atano has access to a variety of magic abilities that can be levelled up at the player’s behest throughout the story; from the ability to see through walls to possessing rats or enemies and even the power to bend the passage of time and slow it to a crawl. These powers can be bolstered via the aforementioned levelling, so looking through walls will later provide you with guards’ fields of vision, and rat possession will soon upgrade to the point you can control people. Additionally, these skills can also be accentuated by finding Bone Charms hidden around each level, though only three of these can be equipped at any one time. The catch is that while the demos gave you access to all of these from the start, it’ll be impossible to fully level Corvo within a single play-through, necessitating some careful consideration if you want to gear yourself towards a specific style of play.
Within no time at all I was teleporting across the landscape and plotting to stealth past nearby patrolling guards. I may have found myself a bit over-eager and quickly killed as my teleporting escapades come to a slightly humorous end when I attempted to possess an enemy, ran out of magic and was swiftly eviscerated. Both your health and magic are finite, though easily replenished with potions, and in the case of magic, only a small portion will be regenerated after use so that you can use low-key powers like the Blink teleport, but not higher-intensity skills like time-stopping. Another distraction posed itself in a second run-through when I noticed some people confined behind a ‘wall of light’, almost inviting me to possess one of the prisoners, murder the others and attempt to escape, only for the blue-hued energy barrier to instantly vaporise me and send me back to the beginning.
“Alright, no more messing around” I muttered to myself, shortly before possessing a guard and sending him charging into the nearby water, where I was promptly attacked by some aggressive fish who didn’t take too kindly to me invading their territory. “Okay, this time.” I mumbled as I soon found myself inside the building I was meant to infiltrate, and it was here where I began to appreciate the design aesthetics that allowed the player to take on the mission at their own pace and in their own style. While I could easily (and thus did) possess a guard, walk through a barrier and then start indiscriminately stabbing the place up, I could easily have gone through without killing anyone had I conserved my magic more appropriately, and I later discovered when exploring the level that I could have hacked the walls of light to that they’d be harmful to the patrolmen instead of Corvo. Unfortunately, I never got to see how this would pan out as I’d not only killed everyone in the area, but had to dash off to an appointment that I almost didn’t make on time as Dishonored had already begun to grip me within its vices.
As my appointment loomed, the possibilities of what I could have done in the show-floor demo abounded; I found myself mentally plotting out how I could have rewired the walls of light without being seen, if it was possible to free the prisoners and use them as a diversion, or whether I’d be able to finish the level and kidnap Sokolov without killing anyone by my own hands. These scenarios swirled relentlessly until I sat down with Dishonored once again several hours later and promptly professed my love for Markuz once again as I discovered I’d been booked in to play it on PC and channel my inner graphics whore.
Much like 2K’s Bioshock before it, Dishonored takes the style of a previous era and wholly makes them its own – the former adopting the fifties décor whilst the latter adopts the grim facsimile of Victorian England. Bleak though it may be, the style also seamlessly combines the steam-punk aesthetic to bring the more fantastic elements of the game to life; dilapidated buildings and brickwork are marched past by enemies walking on massive robotic legs, plague-infested humans known as weepers slowly shamble towards you whilst masked overseers grind music boxes that prevent you utilising your hidden magical abilities. The epitome of this idiosyncrasy is resolute in the Boyle Manor, which while lacking in unkissed pop singers or angry Scottish stand-up comedians does contain your next target; one of the Boyle sisters is funding your enemies, and thus you have been tasked with assuring her disappearance.
As Atano is rowed to a nearby dock, guards patrol in the distance. A robotically-infused sentry crosses the bridge. The mind boggles with possibilities. Though failure may have been imminent, I felt like there were no wrong answers. As the guard crossed the bridge, I paused time and bolted across before ducking by his patrol path and stomped on some approaching plague rats before the rest thought better of it and left. As soon as the coast was clear I made a break for a nearby building and breathed a sigh of relief before panicking at the sound of some nearby moaning; I’d woken up some of the weepers living inside, who didn’t take too kindly to my presence, forcing me to make a daring escape by teleporting away to a less plague-filled structure.
I soon arrived at the entrance of the Manor having bypassed the gates outside, and though I expected to be shooed away or fired upon, the guards didn’t say a thing. It turns out the party was a Masquerade Ball, and so Corvo’s masked features allowed him to blend in and keep him relatively out of harm’s way, barring any outwardly suspicious behaviour. As I was about to enter the party I discovered a man in a wolf’s mask and recalled the mission’s secondary objective, which instructed the player to deliver a message to said man. Upon doing so however, I discovered that the letter was one insulting his name, and thus dishonored (see what I did there) he demanded that we duel. As we were to draw our pistols, I endeavoured to stop time and shoot him at my own leisure, or escape without his need for revenge being satiated. However, I’d withdrawn my pistol and was branded a cheat, causing the guards to attack and kill me. The next duel was over a lot quicker, and as his lifeless body crashed to the floor the refereeing guards pronounced him dead and strode away, leaving me to loot his body and enter the party with blood already on my hands.
While there was plenty of freedom before, Dishonored truly came into its own when the party started; it was at this point when I began mentally comparing the game to a more supernatural Hitman, as both provide so many avenues for completing your objectives and make you feel like a genius when you come across them. While killing the sister may seem like a simple task, the complication occurs when it’s revealed that there are in fact three sisters, each of them are wearing alternative costumes, and the name and identity of the targeted sibling are randomised for each play-through. So, how best to discover the Boyle identity?
I set off to explore the Manor in search of clues, and though I received no scooby snacks for the privilege, I stumbled upon a whole manner of solutions and clues. As the guests mingled downstairs on the ground floor, a guest mentioned to me that the best way to find out would be to go upstairs and investigate their rooms. To do so, I could either find a way to reserve the wall of light blocking the main stairwell, possess a guard and walk through using his body, possess a rat and go through the ventilation shafts, or run down to the basement and distract the guard blocking the other stairway.
Upon reaching their rooms, Corvo could then look through the keyholes, or use magic to look through the walls and avoid, kill or knock out the guards as appropriate, making sure to hide their bodies away to avoid arousing suspicion. With most of the floor incapacitated, I began reading diaries and discovered that one of the sisters enjoyed music. Making my way back down to the ground floor, I spotted a piano, strode over confidently and began randomly plunking the keys, causing a disgruntled guest to push me aside and start playing himself as two of the sisters walked by and looked on with interest.
Stepping my game up, I wandered around the party some more until I stumbled upon a couple having an argument. The women, choosing to wear a fly mask, losing interest in her suitor turned to me and requested that I get her a drink. Returning from the flowing drinks fountain, packed beside a near-overflowing table of decadent food, she confided in me the colour of my target’s dress. With this new information in hand, I set out to find her, storming every room I could until I stumbled across her relieving herself in the bathroom, causing her to berate me for intruding on her privacy, though fell to the floor dead before she could do likewise for the knife in the back of her neck. My target eliminated, I holstered my knife, froze time, left the bathroom and sprinted for the front door before time restored its natural flow and anyone knew what had happened. With that, my time on the demo was over, and I was off to my next appointment.
That still wasn’t the end of Dishonored for me, and as the day continued my mind raced to think of even more ways to accomplish the mission, and I’ve since discovered several more. For one, you could discover that your target is desperate for a more delicate touch, invite her up to her room and dispatch her away from the bustling crowds. Alternatively, you could cause the walls of light to harm everyone but yourself, possess her and send her through to her death. There’s even a non-violent option where you can tip her off about her assassination, send her to the basement, knock her out and deliver her to a waiting suitor who’ll take her away and force her to a lifetime of matrimony. The pacifist approach is also an option with the man in the wolf mask, as it’s possible to stop time, possess him, move him in front of his own fired bullet and cause his own freak suicide.
There’s an undoubtedly huge amount of hype around Dishonored, and it’s almost too easy to explain why; it’s a gorgeous, intuitive and intelligent masterpiece that puts the player’s experience first. It’s not afraid to give the player an arsenal of tools, abilities and an end goal and lightly nudge them in its direction, and the amount of freedom it provides is so refreshing and engaging that you’re bound to end up discussing your play-throughs with friends for months to come. If you’re so inclined, you can even get through the entire story without killing anyone by your own hands, and there are so few triple-A titles that allow you to do so that it almost makes Dishonored feel like an innovator. Will it be the best game of the year? It’s incredibly likely, but still debatable. Will daring to be different, refusing to patronise the player and offering what so few others can cause it to be one of the most important games of the year? Definitely.
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