AMD Radeon HD 5850
With Assassin’s Creed cornering the night-supernatural people stabbing market, there’s not much room for competition. Unless said competition is supernatural to the max, lives in a steampunk universe and has a cool mask instead of looking like a Play-Doh sculpture of Adam Sandler. Dishonored is the teleporting and stabbing star of this autumn’s game line up and it deserves every bit of praise that it gets.
You step into the shoes of Corvo Attano, the awesomely named Lord Protector of the empress Jessamine Kaldwin. Rat Plague has befallen the capital city of Dunwall and the monarch sent her most loyal defender to the other islands of the state to seek help. Alas, poor Corvo returns with empty hands. However, the Empress doesn’t get much time to ponder the bad news since she’s attacked by supernatural assassins who also kidnap her daughter, the lady Emily. This is no simple lady stabbing, of course, and a bunch of conspirators promptly accuse Corvo of killing the Empress. Luckily, he’s freed by the Loyalist conspiracy (they’d probably get more support if they called themselves anything but a “conspiracy). And, even better, he attracts the attention of the Outsider, a mysterious being who gifts him with amazing powers and gives him “the Heart of a living thing” to help Corvo on his path to stabbing-related justice and the eventual freedom of Lady Emily.
For the ‘Turned-Back’ disorder, most doctors prescribe some Stabbing.
And that is going to be quite easy, since the control scheme is pretty standard for anyone who has ever played an FPS game. One mouse button controls the sword hand, the other the utility hand, that uses ranged weapons, gadgets, and powers. Simple, yes? Your favourites can be bound to quick keys and everything can be accessed through the inventory wheel. The only inconvenient thing is the binding of block key to “CTRL” (of course, you can change it), but a stealthy character won’t find much (or any) use for it.
Because, you know, Dishonored is one of those games that implores you to be not only stealthy, but also have Ghandi levels of forgiveness, even if the most guards that you see are grade A dicks. Ya see, the game flatout states that the more people you stab, the worse the ending. Since more corpses mean more rat fodder and more rats mean more rat plague - and the plague ain’t candies and lollipops. Still, that doesn’t explain why I can’t kill Weepers (the local zombie proxies with bleeding eyes), since the game also states that rats don’t eat them due to their advanced stages of illness.
Then again, it would probably be hard to explain your innocence when you’re standing knee deep in dead guards and civvies. And this is a great incentive to actually replay the game and see how the world and endings change depending on your stabbyness.
Now listen here Corvo, after much careful drinking we've decided...
So, what’s left for you to do? A lot of sneaking, choking (you won’t get that intimate with that many men in any other game that I know of), carrying and hiding a lot of limp bodies. These tasks are aided the most by sleeping darts for the Deus-Ex inspired mini-crossbow and the “Blink” power, with “Strong Arms” charm of super choking power taking the second place. Time warp and possession also come in handy at times, when you want to single out enemies or choke a lot of guys at once.
Surprisingly enough, almost the same skill set can be applied by a shadowy mass murderer, since you can both stealth and kill people. And unlike in Deus Ex: Human Revolution - in which lethal melee takedowns were somehow loud while nonlethal alerted nary a soul - you can get a special passive power that disintegrates corpses when you kill unaware people. The Shadow Killer is probably the one that will get the most use out of such things as mines or security rewires since he’d be stealthy enough to place them before hand. Me? I was like Solid Jesus, so I my inventory was positively overflowing with various deadly implements that were useless for my cause.
Of course, you can go the stabby-shooty route and just straight up murder everyone you see without using any stealth whatsoever. It’s a bit hard, but possible - the whole adrenaline mechanic was made for that. And, of course, now you get to use the pistol that you upgraded from the one shot standard to a rapid fire killing machine. It will be hard, but with creative use of grenades, blocking and counter attacking (ah, the Assassin’s Creed school of fighting), local variation of “Force Push” and the power to miracle up flesh devouring rats, you may come out on top. You bloody wanker.
Ah, Dunwall, grand ol' dump, ain't she?
This still leaves the matter of targets to be assassinated. And, unlike Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored goes out of it’s way to give you a non-lethal option for all of them. Of course, this means you’ll have to do a lot more sneaking and exploration, but with complaints about the short length of the game (it isn’t that short, by the way) you must appreciate that. Heck, in one mission you can actually accomplish the mission without actually seeing the targets. Of course, most of them are prime douchebags who deserve every stab they get, but the non-lethal ways have their own subtle cruelty.
However, there are a lot of guards between you and your target. The Heart supposedly tells their secrets and one person I know used it to judge their worthiness of stabbing, but I found it to be an unreliable tool. At any rate, most of the enemies will be composed of the various elements of the city watch - from the oft ridiculed members of the lower watch to the fancy and agile officers and Tallboys, who are so armored that they scoff at sleep darts. With the exception of tall boys, they are armed with swords and the occasional pistol. Overseers, the militant branch of the Abbey of Everyman also bring grenades and immunity to, uh, facial headshots to the fray - among other things. At any rate, the design of the enemies is superb and they are quite interesting to watch (and fight).
All this would be for naught if the City of Dunwall wasn’t such an interesting place. The level designers used their craft to tell the story of a city that has been lost half its people to the plague and is suffering from it dearly. You will find dead families in isolated apartments - or a couple frozen in their last embrace in the sewers. The streets are lined with condemned and boarded up windows. Desperate graffiti dots the walls. Squalor and decay is everywhere and the atmosphere is only aided by the plot twists and even sound bites. Oh, the wail preceding public announcements, how dreadful are you! And the texts you find about the world, especially the mysterious and maddening continent of Pandyssia, just only help to thicken the atmosphere. I hope they don’t make a sequel in which they try to give us more answers.
Posing bodies in silly poses is the high point of any stealth game.
As you may gather, the visual design of the game is superb, with everything done to top notch quality. Of course, this is hampered a bit by the aging Unreal 3 engine, but if you forgive these misgivings, everything looks great! The steampunk (more like whaleoil punk) visuals are nice, as well as stylised people. And whoever came up with Corvo’s sword is a genius! The sound design is great as well, although I’d doubt you’ll remember the music. On the other hand, the PA system will stick in your memory!
Dishonored is the probably the best game we have this autumn and has the best and most endearing characters since the Darkness II. Which is funny, since D2 was about killing people in extremely gruesome ways. At any rate, be you a whirlwind killer or a saint in the shadows, you will like Dishonored.
- Varied: you can kill or you can be merciful, you can stab everyone or be stealthy.
- Rich atmosphere: the texts, the people, the city itself! All comes together as a wonderful painting.
- Easy to learn: the powers are easy to use, so I abused “blink” like a red head stepdaughter.
- Unreal 3: the engine is a bit old at this point.
- Non-lethal: some people will love the enforced less than lethal path, some decidedly less so.
- Some physics glitches: I teleported into the wall once and some say the geometry isn’t friendly. I didn’t run into that.
Dishonoured fully deserves to be nominated for this years’ Game of the Year in the VGA. Setting aside most of the restrictions modern titles impose on us, the game gives you near-total freedom when it comes to fulfilling your goal. Indeed, it gives the option for some ridiculously awesome gameplay where the only restrictions are the ammo count and your own imagination. On the other hand, should you be the more cautious, silent type, Dishonoured allows you to take to the shadows and strike forth with sudden fury. Experimentation with your abilities and weapons are vital to fully enjoying the game and it thus plays very differently from other games of the genre that are sadly stricken with the ‘press-button-to-unleash-hell’ plague which has taken hold in the industry. The game is not only beautiful aesthetically speaking but its particular ‘watercolour’ style and Steampunk environment, which is realistic enough yet leaves room for the imagination, gives it a certain vibe that makes me feel very immersed when playing the game.
Of course, Dishonoured is not without its problems. While the storyline does leave room for certain changes and surprises, I found myself never truly bothered by the twists and turns. Instead, while skillfully placed, they were fairly obvious and in line with the ‘status-quo’ of storytelling. Naturally, some restrictions when it comes to the world and your abilities apply and these will, due to the perceived freedom the game offers, be more visual than in other titles. Still, I can’t think of any kind of person who would not enjoy Dishonoured except maybe the occasional hippie. Yet, with creativity and imagination directly fueling your gameplay and satisfaction of the game, should you be lacking in those, Dishonoured will not play any different than most FPS titles to date.
In the last several years there has been a relative drought in big stealth games, making Dishonored a welcome refreshment. With that said, it isn’t a stealth only game – while a silent approach is strongly encouraged from the very beginning, the game can also be played as stealth, action or a mix of both. “Humane” players can even avoid killing anybody, achieving the necessary results through alternative means. Unfortunately, the arsenal for the non-lethal path is a bit lacking, so if you don’t care for some achievements, your arsenal can spice things up. Getting even further into the action side of things, full and creative use of magical powers will make a mess of your foes. Unfortunately, the attempt to encompass such a wide spectrum of play styles bites back, as some stealthy approaches feel too simple and cheap. The storyline progresses in a linear manner, with some slight alterations depending on your actions, leading to slightly different endings.
On the visual and technical side of things, Dishonored has some major strengths and minor weaknesses. Running on UE3, the technical side of things is decent, but default settings aren’t far from consoles, so some standard .ini tweaking is recommended. The visual style is the gem of Dishonored – the highly stylised steampunk design, the architecture based on 17th–19th London and some surreal levels thrown into the mix. The visual designer of the game, Viktor Antonov, has worked on Half-Life 2 and the resemblance is noticeable in many places, sometimes heavily reminding one of City 17. Overall, Dishonored is a very nice game, which had a potential to be truly legendary, but missed that goal a bit. It’s really worth playing, especially if you like experimenting.