Release date: October 9 (North America), October 12 (Europe) Platforms available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC Developer:Arkane Studios Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Genre: Stealth action-adventure
From Arx Fatalis developer Arkane Studios, the Bethesda-published Dishonored is a unique first-person action-adventure that invites the player to decide how they want to play. They can ghost through levels with stealth, tackle guards head-on with combat or a mix of both. Combined with an impressively-realised steampunk backdrop, there may not be many games this year that will top Dishonored where immersion is concerned.
The title's silent protagonist is Corvo, a loyal bodyguard until he fails to stop the assassination of the Empress. Six months later, he is given the opportunity to seek revenge and restore the Empress's daughter Emily as the rightful heir to the throne.
Now an assassin, Corvo undertakes a variety of missions aimed at weakening the present tyranny. Though this is a game where you can most definitely leave a trail of bodies in your wake as you slaughter the targets, Dishonored always presents a stealth option.
You could charge in through the front door, or you could climb up to the roof and enter via window. You could engage in sword fights, or you could sneak up behind them, knocking them out and hiding their bodies. The game will even present non-lethal options to take down your required targets - you could go through the entire story without spilling any blood, if you desire.
The stealth itself can be very satisfying, especially when you're credited at the end of a mission for being undetected throughout. It starts off fairly straightforward, but soon requires a lot of patience, particularly when you start encountering tallboys - heavily-armoured guards on robotic stilts, with no easy way to take care of quietly - or when areas become a lot more open deep into the campaign.
If you get tired of sneaking around, the combat mechanics are solid enough for violent confrontations. Corvo will always wield his blade with his right hand, with blocking and countering vital to besting enemies. It's pretty simple but never really gets stale, even though there is a limited variety of guards. It's very easy to become overwhelmed when at a clear numerical disadvantage, but other than that, you just have to be careful against anyone wielding guns.
Corvo's left hand is where his strength really lies, though. For the combat-minded folks, equipping a gun or crossbow is highly effective, but he can also learn a range of new powers. 'Blink' allows him to teleport short distances - handy for avoiding guards or accessing alternative paths - while with 'Dark Vision', he can see enemies through walls and their line of sight.
Those who aren't fussed about stealthiness will benefit from 'Time Bend' - which when levelled up will temporarily slow time down to a halt - and 'Windblast', an offensive attack that will knock down enemies with a gust of wind. Different weapons and powers are undoubtedly handy in different situations, and so having hotkeys assigned to the D-pad is a godsend.
Powers are earned through finding runes during missions, and though it's entirely possible to complete the story without seeking them out and upgrading your arsenal, they make the game more enjoyable.
It's not a lengthy campaign if you're going from objective to objective directly (naturally, a stealth playthrough will be longer), but going out of your way to find these runes or taking the time to explore the surroundings will reasonably extend the experience. In short, the more you put into the game, the more you will get out of it.
Dishonored's open-ended nature is well-executed and one of the standout parts of the game, but if there is a quibble, it's that it often feels like the developer is pushing you to go down the stealth route. How the world evolves as the story progresses is determined by the player's 'chaos' rating. Avoid bloodshed and it will be low. Getting constantly spotted or killing those in your way will contribute to a high chaos.
A high chaos - which an aggressive player will end up with - results in darker NPC dialogue and ultimately a darker ending. A character may chastise you for being "brutal", for example. More notably, though, some of the later missions are made trickier as there will be more enemies around, especially weepers - zombie-like victims of a worrying plague.
It almost feels like you're playing the game the 'wrong' way and being punished for it, despite Dishonored's insistence that it can be played however you want.
The missions themselves are mostly a treat, though. Much of them do boil down to eliminating a target, and while a couple end up being a little more drawn out than they need to be, they're all very distinct and have their own charms. The highlight is a masked dinner party, where Corvo must first determine who the correct target is through some involved investigation.
The game looks great, too. It boasts a very distinct visual style that helps really sell the terrific steampunk setting. The world is filled with interesting architecture and machinery and there are a host of individual characters you'll get to know and enjoy the company of. Chances are, you'll grow especially protective of the young Emily (voiced ably by Chloë Grace Moretz) as you fight on her behalf.
Dishonored's open-ended approach is a commendable one, but we felt the way it cheats the player out of the best ending if they choose the 'wrong' play style to be a bit frustrating. However, while it's a little short, Dishonored is ultimately a very enjoyable experience, with a vivid, unique world that will surprise whoever steps into it.