Monday, 15 October 2012

Review: Dishonored (360)


No doubt about it. Dishonored is a game along the lines of an alternate universe techno-Steampunk super hero game using a story framework demonstrated by the likes of BioShock and Half-Life 2 where a lot of the story and history of the game world is recounted without a word of dialogue.

Having played the part of a patsy for the assassination of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and the disappearance of the daughter heir to the throne, the protagonist, Corvo Attano, is imprisoned and scheduled for execution. A mysterious group helps Corvo escape to the Los Angeles underground... well, to a city called Dunwall and from there must exact some kind of revenge. One might guess because Corvo's angry about the situation but because he's mute in the tradition of Gordon Freeman that's never made entirely clear. At any rate, Corvo is quickly put to work as an assassin, carrying out the wishes of a group of Empire Loyalists, who are mounting an attack on the Lord Regent.

Much of that information is conveyed through "conversations" -- as I wrote, Corvo never says a word -- but most of the other important elements are conveyed through the environment or letters, books, quick "missions" that pop up during the course of a story mission, and audio recordings left behind.

The city is suffering a rat plague on a Biblical level. The plague itself leaves its infected victims in a zombie-like state, but the plague infected rats are so thick on the ground that bodies can disappear in a heartbeat and the traps are actually large dumpsters rather than a bunch of snap traps or poison. It's not made clear how these traps actually work and I have yet to "possess" a rat to investigate further (if possible) but the fact the developers let me fill in this blank is awesome.

The same goes for the architecture and layout of each section of the city. There are some really interesting things to see and places to explore.

Exploration along the path to an objective is, if not encouraged, left open to the player because each scenario can be addressed in multiple ways. It's not just a stealth / no stealth decision. A combination of the two can really be mixed owed to the fact Corvo is a super hero with upgradeable Nightcrawler-esque abilities, granted by an otherworldly character, The Outsider.

Corvo can "blink" to locations, slow down time (or stop it altogether), see through walls and observe the vision cone of patrolling enemies, telekinesis, possess animals, and run and jump longer and higher than a normal person. On top of that, Corvo holds a sword in his right hand and a gun or crossbow (with varying types of ammo) in his left, and has access to proximity mines, grenades, and rewiring tools. It all means that stealth, straight up run-and-gun, or a mixture of the two are equal options.

For example: dive in, silently kill a couple of guys, blast a third, blink away to a safe spot on a roof while the rest of the troops come running, flank them, grab a container of explosive whale oil then drop it on them. Or sneak off and rewire a turret to fire on them rather than Corvo. It allows players to creatively sneak through or attack a level.

What's not made very clear is the so-called Chaos System, which essentially keeps track of how stealthy Corvo is throughout the game. Taking a non-lethal approach and being as sneaky as possible causes less chaos than simply killing everyone -- enemy and civilian alike. The "good" ending is apparently only available if Corvo takes the quiet path. The "bad" ending -- and I suspect many players will wind up here -- is much more attainable and a helluva lot quicker. But the system isn't explained very well from the start. It wasn't until I read the press material that came with the game, that this aspect was made clear!

Another positive aspect of the multiple paths is that the game offers a high level of replay. The real-world economy being what it is, this is definitely a perk. It can be an action game, but it can also be a stealth game.

And the world is set-up in such a way, that it's possible that undiscovered nooks and crannies could be found on a second or third play through, along with story elements that might have been overlooked on the first time through.

Dishonored is put together so well and executes its ideas in such an expert way that it would be difficult to not recommend the game to the highest degree possible.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- It's a techno-Steampunk super hero game!
- Action and stealth are both viable options
- Storytelling through the environment and some dialogue
- Story has some good turns, even if BioShock has conditioned gamers to expect some kind of "twist"

The Bad:
- Background chaos system isn't explained very well
- At least one level drags on far too long

Score: 10 / 10