- Format: PS3 (version reviewed), 360, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Bethesda
- Developer: Arkane Studios
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.dishonored.com/
Imagine a game, ladies and gentlemen, where choice is king. You can be an unstoppable mass-murderer, or a clinical assassin known by many and seen by none. A game where there are always a dozen ways to kill, incapacitate, or simply avoid every enemy you come across. A game where you hide in plain sight or sneak through the shadows. A game where every step causes ripples to flow throughout your future, making later missions easier or harder depending on your actions. Imagine it! Unfortunately, you’re not quite imagining Dishonored.
There are problems here, but the popular criticism that the game is too short is not one of them. Yes, if you play on an easy difficulty and determine to kill everybody you come across, you probably can fly through it all in four hours or so. Despite the emphasis on choice, however, it’s easy to argue that maximum difficulty and the stealthy approach is how the developers would prefer you to play – and that could result in four hours taking you no further than the end of the second mission (of nine). You see, your character is basically an assassin with supernatural powers. This is explained by the plot, which runs thus:
Mumblemumble framed for murder, mumblemumble conspiracy, mumblemumble chosen one, mumblemumble betrayal, mumblemumble revenge.
For the first few stages, the whole thing is a breath of fresh air and hugely enjoyable. It’s a game that constantly asks you to think carefully about your next move, especially if you choose to avoid detection. Do you have time to dash between guards while they’re both looking the other way? Do you leave a pile of corpses behind you, or… hey, can you avoid everybody altogether by swimming under there? Have you unlocked the possession ability? If so, you could jump into that rat over there and scuttle through the hole in the wall. Okay, great, you’ve rendered that guard unconscious, now to hide the body behind – oh darn, you’ve gently dropped the body at an angle the game doesn’t like, and now he’s dead.
Should you find yourself in a fight, it will quickly become apparent that combat has been handled very well. Though melee doesn’t work much better than it usually does in first person games, a perfectly timed block will stun an enemy long enough for you to deal an instakill blow. It’s a great feature that grants a sense of achievement when you nail it, and can give you some much-needed breathing space when tackling a group (suicide on Very Hard). The gun is a powerful but slow weapon, and ammo is scarce – meaning you cannot lean on it throughout the game. Similarly, the crossbow is great for killing (or incapacitating) from the shadows, but a lack of ammo means you can’t lazily knock down everybody in your way from start to finish.
There are a handful of sidequests, many of which tie into a subplot about warring underworld factions vying for control of what’s left of the disease-ridden streets. As the game progresses you can pick a side, turn on both, or ignore this completely; but sadly, the issue is never explored in any depth. It’s all still well worth investigating though, as minor characters might provide Runes (the currency used to unlock and upgrade your powers) or even an otherwise unavailable route/resolution for one of the main missions.
Oddly Dishonored is its own most vocal critic, often giving you a glimpse of the game it really should have been. You can poison a target rather than get your hands dirty – once, when the script says you can. You can walk boldly up to a target, concealing your true identity – once, when the script says you can. You can send a message by pointedly leaving a target alive rather than killing them – once, when the script says you can. You get the idea. Add to this the fact that you for some reason can’t teleport through gaps in the scenery (even ones you could squeeze your body through) and everything starts to feel more tightly controlled than before.
This feeling of linearity threatens to become overbearing after the fifth mission. The path open to you is thinned out more and more until, more often than not, you’re essentially deciding how best to get through a long corridor full of enemies. The ‘freeze time’ ability, which almost felt like cheating when we unlocked it earlier in the game, more than once offered itself as the best way to avoid confrontation in lieu of an expansive, imaginative environment.
Through logic that is never amply explained, the more enemies you kill the more ‘Weepers’ (plague victims) inhabit the city. Even if you spare everybody possible however, you’ll come across more Weepers as the game goes on. Disappointingly, these aren’t like other non-military NPCS, that you can talk to. They all go through their sickly walking animations, occasionally throwing up, unless they see you – in which case they instantly run toward you to attack, triggering a QTE if they get too close. Weepers as a whole jar horribly with the rest of Dishonored’s world (despite their being integral to the plot), lazily designed zombies in all but name.
At its best Dishonored is a unique, tense, utterly gripping game where hours fly by like minutes. The problem is that the vast majority of this best is packed into the first half or so and, appropriately enough, Dishonored is at best half the game it could – should – have been. Many will gladly start a second playthrough, to kill more/less than the first time, and to see how much of a difference that makes to the final mission and the ending. Enthusiasm will undoubtedly take a hit once the plot passes a certain point, as they’ll know it signifies the game’s slow but inevitable descent from ‘excellent’ into ‘okay’.