In the past week, I’ve possessed a rat to eavesdrop on my enemies, knocked out an entire household with sleep darts, conjured a swarm of rats to devour a pack of city guards, and teleported all over the place. I have Dishonored to thank for all the fun.
In this first-person stealth game, you play as Corvo Attano, royal protector to the Empress. What should be a happy reunion ends in bloodshed as she is murdered before your eyes — and you’re wrongfully arrested for the crime.
One of the first interactions in the game is an optional round of hide-and-seek with the Empress’s daughter, Emily, which lets you test out some of the game’s unique mechanics. This includes the ability to lean and peek around the corner while crouching in cover without being seen. Such mechanics make it clear that Dishonored is a stealth video game unlike any other.
It feels as if there’s no limit to the number of ways you can complete missions. It’s possible to play as a swashbuckler wielding sword and pistol or a supernatural stealth machine who can see through walls. As much as possible, I went the latter route, because the supernatural powers in this game are unlike any I’ve seen before. Exploring is also encouraged, as this helps you find runes that enable you to equip and upgrade weapons, gadgets, and supernatural powers.
Missions require you to get past city guards — including Tallboys on spindly metal legs — Plague-ridden people, thugs, and Walls of Light that zap trespassers. One of the first shockers in the game is watching a pack of rats topple a pair of city guards and eat them alive. At one point, I was gnawed to death by a Weeper with the Plague. Clearly this is a wicked, oppressive world — and in this age of endless video game sequels, it’s refreshing to have an original steampunk world to explore.
What’s most unique about Dishonored is that you play as an assassin who doesn’t actually have to kill anyone. When you sneak up behind someone, you have the option to slit his throat or merely strangle him unconscious. You can even force your assassination targets to suffer fates worse than death — basically, making them get their comeuppance — instead of outright murdering them. Though these options still make it hard to play hero, the death toll is yours to manipulate.
Taking a stealthy approach requires a breathless patience, and after awhile the temptation to run straight into a group of guards, blade drawn, is almost overwhelming. When I was caught and decided to start a mission over, before reloading I let loose with Corvo’s blade and found the fencing and gun play to be wickedly fun, even though I knew I wouldn’t save it into my game.
But the real pleasure is in accomplishing a mission without being seen. This is surprisingly difficult, thanks to the intelligence of the A.I — not to mention the limit to the number of sleep darts you can carry. If someone suspects your presence, white wavy lines reminiscent of an alarm sound visual appear on either side of his head, and they turn red once he’s spotted you. When your cover is blown, the Blink power helps with the getaway as it launches you almost instantly to a targeted nearby location, such as a nearly-hidden balcony or rooftop.
The weakest point for me was the revenge story, which was a tad stale. The first mission is the cliched escape from prison. Still, it serves as an easy frame for the creative mechanics and deliciously detailed world. The art in this game is just that: true art. Subtle touches such as raindrops splatting almost imperceptibly on the screen add to the stylish look and gritty atmosphere. And to be fair, even the tired story didn’t feel so exhausted when dished up in this grisly original world, featuring a unique supernatural assassin.
The game also has different RPG elements that most games have, thanks largely to the non-lethal options that actually limit the number of rats and spread of the Plague in Dunwall, as well as the endgame. And though there’s a distinct lack of interesting loot, open-world exploration in this moody city is a pleasure.
That being said, it’s difficult to forget that you’re playing a game — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some people may love the emphasis on mechanics over story. The need to reload when stealth fails, the skippable dialogue cutscenes, and the scoreboard that appears after every mission — detailing kills, Chaos level, and achievements — make this role-playing experience much more of a game challenge than an utterly immersive tale. And that’s really the basis of Dishonored’s unique appeal.
Considering all that, Dishonored is a game to savor. Rushing through with crossbow and sword shortens the game by many delectable hours, so I found it worth going about missions the hard way — and that meant the long way, with lots of reloading when things didn’t go according to play. In a way, being a successful sneak is more a test of patience (and nerve) than all-out fun, but the sense of accomplishment that follows is rare — all because this game doesn’t hold your hand. All of Dunwall is on the lookout for Corvo, and there’s no escaping that.
Besides the detailed world, this game is all about the distinctive gameplay — and specifically the supernatural powers that let you embody a guard or rat to make quick escapes and send enemies flying with windblast. When it comes to innovative gameplay, it will be a long time before any other game tops Dishonored.
GO Rating: 4.5/5