In this year’s sea of sequels, it’s refreshing to see a new name on the shelves. But the name is not the only refreshing thing about Dishonored, a thrilling, visually unique take on the stealth-action genre.
You play as Corvo, a famed royal bodyguard, now framed and left to rot in jail. You’re rescued by the loyalist resistance to restore the rightful heiress to the throne. Pretty straightforward … on the surface. The only problem is, once you’ve done that, and the scales of justice seem poised once more, betrayal rears its ugly head again. You’re left to bring the traitors of truth to justice.
Dishonored blends a captivating story with shades of Bioshock’s visual tone – fitting considering Arkane Studios is the developer – to create a refreshing style. First example is the empire of Dunwall, a steam-punked, plague-ridden, dystopia rendition of Victorian London. And while the human characters don’t have the realism of most modern games (somewhat understandable since this is only Arkane’s second game this generation) all characters stay true to the creepy, seedy undertones. You’re left wondering whom to trust in this tale of deception, one teeming with important choices.
Each quest not only has optional elements, but choice is embedded fluidly and flawlessly into the style of game. Will you embody the stealthy assassin, stealing across rooftops and periodically possessing rats to creep through ducts? Or will you use the combination of your blade and blaster to unleash roaring retribution, slowing time to slash target after target?
Most will take the stealthy path. Similar to the Metal Gear Solid series, the game’s subtlety has you feeling a pang of regret and even the urge to reload when you’re seen and enemies descend upon you.
Sure, the game has those overt plot choices that are prolific throughout this genre – live and let live or live and let die – but the real thrill comes in exploring the streets and your own path of revenge.
Dishonored’s square footage and duration – a seemingly slim nine levels – is far from impressive, but where it’s lacking in quantity it makes up for in quality. Virtually every element is streamlined to keep you in the game, instead of navigating menus and maps. Players need to discover and manoeuvre the world unassisted, so there’s no in-game map, an unfathomable reality in this modern age of gaming.
Not only are the weapons straightforward and effective, but trinkets and valuables you collect along your path are instantly converted to gold. This means that, unlike most Bethesda games, you won’t accumulate hours of delving through your inventory or finding shops to offload your collected wares.
Powers too are fashioned for simplistic efficiency. Often when a game incorporates supernatural powers, players will pour over skill trees, locked in the time-consuming throes of contemplation as they struggle to decide which skills and powers to develop.
Not so with Dishonored. You can unlock a measly six powers. On its surface this seems like small potatoes compared to other RPGs like Dragon Age. But with fewer choices, a clearer path is forged for the player, and an immediate strategy forms early in the game.
The biggest hole in the tasty donut of Dishonored is replayability. It would have been nice to have the option of replaying the game with all your powers intact. Sadly, this feature is gone and with it, so too goes the hope that most players will play the game again.
While the lack of true replayability prevents Dishonored from rising to the ranks of the classics, its fun-infused flexibility, artful execution and captivating story forge the best iteration of the stealth-action genre 2012 has seen. Whether it will win out against Assassin’s Creed III remains to be seen.
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Genre: First-person stealth action
Online Play: none
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)