(This review was originally written for and posted at http://www.whatson.uk.com/blog by myself)
“Dishonored” seemed all set to be the game of the year. A steampunk stealth ’em up that appeared to contain the best elements of games like “Deus Ex”, “Hitman Blood Money” and “Bioshock” all combined in a sprawling, horrific world created by the man who designed Half-Life 2’s “City 17”. After gathering an incredible amount of critical acclaim and a having a whole lot of pleasant adjectives attributed to it the popular opinion seems to be that this is truly something special; a game to remember for a long time to come. However, after playing through it I can say that although a fun, reasonably satisfying stealth game, “Dishonored” does not deliver on its promises, and many of the much touted choices in the game are needless window dressing.
The story is a very simple one, and never really deviates from convention: you are Corvo- the bodyguard of the empress of Dunwall and her daughter. After she is assassinated by teleporting ninjas, you are accused of her murder and thrown in prison. After escaping with the help of a group of loyalists, you set out on a series of missions to assassinate or otherwise neutralise various key targets in an effort to remove the man who took the empress’ place and clear your name. Aiding you is a magical being known only as “The Outsider”, who burns a mark into Corvo’s hand that allows him access to magical abilities. There’s a very weak twist near the end of the game, and the plot never really goes beyond “Hey Corvo, good job killing (Target). Go have a lie down, then go kill (Another Target).” Basically it’s hard to care about events when the only exposition is that it’s a good job I killed that last target. The city of Dunwall is a mixture of steampunk and futuristic technology, and for the most part is reasonably well fleshed out. Everything is powered by whale oil, the obtaining of which is rapidly wiping out the great mammal- as documented in the game’s genuinely interesting readable books. Look deeper though, and there isn’t a great deal to find. The missions feel decidedly linear, despite its assurances that you have a multitude of choices available during a a hit.
Speaking of choices, they’re one of the game’s biggest problems. During certain missions (During your approach to where the target is) the game will pause and you will be told that you have a large number of options on how to proceed. That’s fine in theory, but the first problem is that the options only really extend to getting in and out of a building. As for the process of neutralising guards and finding your target, anything other than a stealthy playthrough will sap you of health, magic and ammo and then most likely get you killed. The game seems to be biased towards stealth, with the controls, powers and aforementioned difficulty when attacking enemies head on seeming tailor made to a stealth game. The second problem is that most of the game’s inventive elements are completely needless. During the run up to the game’s release date a “Creative kills” trailer was released- showing such things as waiting for an enemy to fire his gun, then stopping time, possessing him and positioning him in front of the bullet. This and most of the other “Inventive” kills require the guards to be alerted to Corvo’s presence, which they won’t be because it’s best to play it stealthily. Finally, despite there being multiple ways to traverse the environments and dispose of enemies, a combination of the “Blink” (Teleport) power and cutting throats from behind is so effective that everything else just seems like a waste of time that you’ll use once to see what it does and then go back to just sneaking up on people. They all have uses, but it never once felt like I NEEDED to use them. Yes, that’s most likely predominantly due to my play style, but if you make it through a game without feeling the need to use the majority of powers at your disposal it says something about the powers themselves and the way the game incorporates them.
On the positive side, the stealth gameplay is fun, and does feel rewarding when you do it right. Blinking around an area stabbing guards in the neck without anyone knowing you’re there is great, particularly as I’m a big stealth fan. The game makes good use of height, both for recon purposes and as a place to attack from, and Corvo for the most part feels nicely nimble. Sometimes aiming the blink power can be a tad fiddly, especially if you’re moving, but it doesn’t happen too often. The non-lethal methods of removing targets are quite inventive, too; a stand-out example being doing a job for a local gangster in exchange for him taking two rich, cretinous brothers and shaving their heads, cutting their tongues out and putting them to work in their own horrific mines. It does remove killing the targets yourself, but the non-lethal options do add something to proceedings, for the most part.
How much you enjoy Dishonored will partly depend on how you look at it. If viewed as an open, non-linear, choice-filled stealth-action game, it’s a disappointment. If viewed as a linear stealth game with large environments with room for exploration and primary choice of lethal or non-lethal, then it’s an enjoyable game with good stealth elements. However, even in that regard it falls short of something like “Hitman Blood Money”.
“Dishonored” is by no means a bad game, but given what was promised it’s disappointing.
By James Lambert