pre-release previews often teach us, games often set out to offer dynamic,
emergent experiences allowing players to tackle them with stealth, aggression,
or some style in between. Sadly, final products rarely live up to their full
potential, despite their designers’ ambitious goals. Dishonored, Arkane Studios’
promising first-person action entry, may just buck this trend or, at least,
skewer it with a length of sharp steel.
their game’s backed by more than marketing-spun bullet points, lead designers
Harvey Smith and Raf Colantonio take a novel approach to demo-ing it. Rather
than attempting to wow E3 attendees with scripted events and cinematics, they
play the exact same mission twice, but showcase a very different play style
in Dunwall, Dishonored’s richly-realized fictional city,
we catch up with main character Corvo. Falsely accused of killing the Empress
he was sworn to protect, Corvo’s now seeking answers and revenge…well, mostly
revenge. Oh, and he’s also a supernatural assassin. Did we mention that?
with infiltrating a bath house and exterminating two of its best patrons - a
pair of crooked politicians - Corvo first adopts a stealthy approach. Utilizing
a combination of cover spots and a short range teleport ability dubbed “blink,”
he makes his way to the shady establishment. Colantonio claims there’s eight
different ways to breach the building, but for this sneaky run Corvo forgoes
the front door, window, and rooftop, in favor of a more creative method of
entry; conjuring one of Dishonored’s cooler powers, he possesses a fish and
swims in via the sewer system.
inside the building - and his own skin - Corvo uses “dark vision,” allowing him
to peer through walls and pinpoint patrolling guards’ line of sight. Upon
eavesdropping on a pair of gossiping working girls, he learns the whereabouts
of his targets (their locations are also conveniently updated on a mini-map.)
Following a few minutes of sneaking in the shadows, peeking through key holes,
and blink-ing between cover points, Corvo finds the brothel’s Madame; creeping
up behind the clueless mark, he steals her master key and heads to the basement
where his first hit’s apparently relaxing in the steam room.
quietly siphoning the life from a guard, the shadowy killer accesses the steam
bath’s control area with the stolen key. Cranking the heat, Corvo cooks the
first target a nice extra crispy before sneaking off to find his second victim.
As Corvo continues to carefully navigate the brothel undetected, Colantonio
explains that his powers can be upgraded with runes he finds in the
world - clutching a creepy mechanical heart will even help him locate these
precious gems. We get a taste of Corvo’s upgraded “possession” ability when he
takes over the body of his next target, convincing the snooty parliament member
to off himself in a way that‘s, well, let’s just say unbecoming of an
gotten his sweet revenge, Corvo’s mission comes to a close. As we discover in
the second go-round, however, revenge is a dish best served not with a side of
stealth, but with a heaping helping of bullets, blades and flesh-eating rats.
Immediately displaying his more urgent approach, Corvo forgoes swimming through
the sewers in favor of scurrying across rooftops. Combining a double-jump with
the blink ability, the fleet-footed death-dealer’s able to navigate Dunwall’s
cityscape with ease.
our attention to what he calls a “drop assassination,” Smith lets the leash off
Corvo’s blood-letting arsenal. Falling down on a group of unsuspecting guards,
the anti-hero unleashes a ballet of bullets and blades that could make Assassin’s
Creeds’ killers blush. Abilities such as the Force push-like “wind blast” and
action-slowing “time bend” only complement the cinematic display of shattered
skulls, sliced throats, and spilled innards.
a bloody swath through guards and prostitutes alike, Corvo pauses only
occasionally to trigger “rat swarm.” As sinister as it sounds, the power
summons a pack of rodents to viciously tear through targets until they’re
reduced to pulpy red puddles. Trading the eavesdropping and keyhole-peeping of
the previous play-through for slick combinations of supernatural power and
weapon attacks, Corvo’s deadly dance leaves our eyes struggling to keep up with
the lightning-quick action. With bodies, blood, and bloated rats in his wake,
he tracks down the pair of crooked politicians. His approach to silencing them
is far less inventive this time, but it is satisfying hearing one scream for
help while the other drops his name in a last ditch attempt to dodge death,
even as his entrails stain the pretty carpet.
much as the two-sided demo sells us on Dishonored’s ability to cater to
different gameplay styles, it’s the title’s immersive setting that continues to
pull us in. Described by Smith as “a steam
punk-inspired cross between plague-era London and an American whaling city in
the 1850's,” Dunwall’s right up there
with BioShock’s Rapture and BioShock Infinite’s Columbia in terms of inspired
originality and oozing atmosphere; in fact, we haven’t been so taken with a
world since setting foot in the former title’s soggy city. Of course, it
probably doesn’t hurt Dunwall spilled from the creative mind of Half Life 2’s
art director, Viktor Antonov.
absorbing as its atmosphere is, Dunwall’s population-wiping plague and
iron-fisted ruling class doesn’t’ exactly make it the ideal vacation
destination. That said, if you’re a vengeance-seeking supernatural assassin
wrongly accused of murder by a corrupt government, well, then, you’ll have a
hell of a time in Dishonored’s twisted world.
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