Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Dishonored (Xbox 360)

A mix of Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed and a little bit of Batman, Bethesda’s latest offering, Dishonored, feels instantly familiar, and yet beneath its surface lurks a surprising depth and versatility which makes its experience both personal and unique. 

Set in a plague-ridden, steampunk, dystopian England laced with strange machines and dark magic, you play the role of the Empress’ personal bodyguard, Corvo, who is “dishonored” when he is wrongfully accused of her assassination. Armed with a slew of high-tech gadgetry mixed with hand-picked supernatural abilities and a fancy mechanical mask, it’s your job to quash the conspiracy and restore child heir Emily to her rightful place on the throne. It’s up to you whether you want to do this in a noisy torrent of blood, or sweep in like a ghost, completely undetected. Plus it’s a hell of a lot of fun!

If any of that sounds good to you then join me after the jump for some jugular puncturing action!

It’s somewhat unfortunate that your first mission is the weakest and definitely the most linear of what’s on offer. You must make your escape from prison and, while it manages to train you in the basics of stealth and combat, this initial mission may provide a false impression as to what the core game-play of Dishonored is really like. Arming you with both a sword and a very overt and noisy pistol, the temptation is to play your breakout like a first-person-shooter, mowing down your enemies quickly and loudly, and this level isn't too difficult to pass through if that’s your approach. But once you are finally freed and become enlisted as an assassin, the importance of patient strategy and stealth becomes increasingly clear. And it’s here that the game really engages, as the tension ramps alongside the fun.

Most assassination missions follow a similar formula. Your target will be deeply embedded in some kind of building or compound, surrounded by guards and alarms and obstacles. The compound itself will be surrounded by a larger city environment which will also be teeming with enemies and defence systems. You have to find a way to get through all of that and take out your target, but the way in which you choose to do that is completely in your hands. The best levels have numerous approaches: you could sneak in through disused underground tunnels, or scale the outside of a building, sneak in on a rail-car  or simply charge through the front door. The most direct method is rarely the most effective and Dishonored tends to reward you for careful exploration, experimentation and bursts of ingenuity.

The tools at your disposal are crucial to your success or failure and choosing the right weapon for the right job will keep you from being detected. Aside from your ever present assassin’s blade you can salvage/purchase a pistol, a lethal crossbow, non-lethal sleep darts, gadgets for disabling security systems, and spring-loaded shrapnel traps that can dismember unsuspecting foes.

Your magic powers are just as varied and you will have to choose carefully which ones to wield and which ones to upgrade. These include a vision mode similar to Batman’s detective mode which will allow you to see enemies and objects behind walls and obstacles; the ability to possess animals and later people; slowing down time; a super-fast teleport-like rush; an instant rat plague; and a shadow kill that will instantly turn dead bodies to ash. However, resources are rare and expensive and you will need to quickly assess whether a situation is worth using up one of your precious sleeping darts, or draining your mana, in order to progress.

I’m not usually a big fan of stealth games, lazily lacking the patience to watch patterns and find shadows, although Dishonored is not your typical darkness-shrouded game. There’s actually room for a lot of brightness and whimsy in the painterly city designs and it’s more about finding appropriate cover than immersing yourself in the black. But most importantly, Dishonored gives you a reason to want to succeed with a minimal number of kills. Every action has a consequence and wholesale slaughter will result in a darker, more chaotic city, governed by fear and plagued with additional rats. But far more affecting is the way that other characters will perceive your grisly actions, particularly Emily, the young child at the heart of the story. Not wishing to become a monster, the game emotionally manipulates you into striving for the righteous path.

Beyond that there are the achievements. You’ll see a breakdown of your stats after every mission and I found myself wanting to hit that target of zero kills. Which is certainly not easy to do - at least for me on a first run. Almost every time I would accidentally set off an alarm or rouse a guard resulting in an unexpected bloodbath in order to survive. And for a greater challenge you can acquire the “ghost” achievement by completing one of the (relatively lengthy) missions without being detected by anyone at all. This is my ultimate goal although I can’t imagine that I’ll have the skill to do it without exploiting constant save files.

As such, Dishonored’s replay value is actually very high and I’m genuinely excited to jump back in and challenge myself not to suck. There are just so many ways that things can go, combined with so many courses of action you can take. For example I’m very keen to replay the final encounter to see how different decisions and powers will affect the outcome, and I’m also curious to learn how other players handled the situation. I’ve heard multiple complaints that the game is too short (there are nine missions in total), but while rushing through it might be quick, to do it perfectly will take time.

My only frustration with the game is that I occasionally found it a little too unforgiving. Your “teleportation” rush is indispensable but I often found it difficult to judge just how far it was going to take me. The most minor of missteps can lead to carefully laid plans going horribly awry and what was once a smooth stealth run can become a pile of corpses very quickly. Also, early on in the game, a lot of supporting characters want to talk talk talk while I just want to play. I wondered why the crazy old Granny Rags was allowed to indulgently ramble for so long and it was only when I realised that she is actually voiced by Susan Sarandon that I began to realise why she takes up so much time. Carrie Fisher is in there too somewhere, along with Lena Heady and Chloe “Hitgirl” Moretz as the constantly endangered child.

Overall I really loved Dishonored. These days the mere fact that a game compels me to finish it at all is worthy praise, let alone be eager to play through again. This is an easy contender for my annual top ten list and I really hope that we see a sequel at some point in the not too distant future. If you've got the patience to wring the most out of it then I highly recommend it!

No comments:

Post a Comment