True stealth in gaming is pretty much non-existent lately. You only need to look at the upcoming incarnation of Splinter Cell to find a once stealth based franchise being sexed up with action, and thereby losing its original lure- well, it seems that way anyway. Dishonored is a game for the gamer who misses the classic stealth games of yesteryear, and while it is criminally easy at certain points, it delivers a rare experience- that of a modern day true stealth game.
Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks, Dishonored is undoubtedly one of the best gaming experiences of 2012. The game is set in the industrial, plague-ridden city of Dunwall, a place in which technology and paranormal occurrences are a part of everyday life. You play as Corvo Attano, a bodyguard for the Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. After the Empress is killed right in front of Corvo, he is promptly blamed for her assassination. After escaping from captivity, Corvo finds a home with The Loyalists, a collection of defectors and sympathizers who defy the new leadership that has put its grip around Dunwall, following the Emperess’ assassination. Working alongside The Loyalists, Corvo must use his mastery of stealth and combat to bring down the people who framed him.
The first thing noticeable when playing Dishonored is the freedom of movement Corvo has. He’s a master of stealth, and it shows. Whether is stalking prey around the dingy city streets of Dunwall, overlooking your targets by rooftop, or making your way to and from these locations, Corvo does it with ease. He’s fast, silent when crouched, and his quick and smooth movements make navigating in Dishonored an absolute joy. But beyond enjoying the freedom of movement just for the sake of it, it’s paramount that the player utilizes Corvo correctly to remain unseen during missions. Missions are given to you by members of The Loyalists at The Hound Pits pub, Corvo’s new safe haven. This beautifully designed location serves as the main hub for missions, upgrading/buying items and weapons, alongside interacting with the various members of the The Loyalists. It’s a wonderfully constructed and open play area to get involved with, and starts to genuinely feel like home quite quickly.
Missions often contain various types of objectives, but mostly always centre of assassination. For instance, in one mission Corvo- beyond his main objective- must also deactivate security pylons that are dotted in the surrounding waterways around the level. So in that regard the game does give the player a good deal of diversity during missions, and that on top of the vastly unique level design keeps Dishonored feeling fresh throughout. However, while Corvo is an assassin first and foremost, the player can often- but not always- choose to take out their targets non-lethally. This usually comes into the play when an outside party to The Loyalists makes Corvo an offer for sparing a targets life. Taking someone out non-lethally is doubly difficult though, as once they’re knocked out you must then deal with transporting the body to a safe location. Not the easiest thing to achieve when you’re in a level teeming with guards! Whether it’s assassinating someone or taking them out non-lethally, the game offers up various ways to approach the target. This open, varied and unique approach to stealth doesn’t just come in the excellent level design and the players utilization of the cities architecture, but also through using Corvos various items and powers that he can obtain.
Though Corvo always arms himself with his blade, other weapons and items can be used during your missions. If stuck in a jam- or avoiding the intended stealth aspect of the game- the player can choose to break out the fire-power, and use an array of powerful, gratifying weapons such as the crossbow, pistol and shotgun. However, some of the more interesting weapons come in the form of the Spring Razors; devices that are activated by nearby foes that produce whipping blades that shred up flesh, to Arc Mine’s; weapons that when placed on the ground will vapourize anyone that comes into contact with them. The vast majority of weapons in Dishonored are expertly executed, and make for setting up traps or going toe-to-toe with the guards of Dunwall slick, innovative and utterly exciting.
That said it could be argued that the true centrepiece to Corvo’s arsenal are his powers granted to him by The Outsider, an otherworldly force that has an interest in Corvo. These powers- that can be unlocked and upgraded through picking up Hearts and Whale Bones- give Corvo various abilities such as slowing down time, teleportation to nearby locations, control over rats and humans, and many more. The abilities are a superb addition to the game, yet I did find that some (slowing down time for instance) did make Corvo overpowered, and made the game feel incredible easy at times. The powers go too far, grant Corvo too much, and I felt a stripped down version of these abilities would have made for a much more constrained and enjoyable experience. Regardless, these powers, on top of the already large physical weaponry at Corvo’s disposal make for an incredible varied playthrough.
A lot could be said for the games visual presentation. Dishonored looks beautiful, and easily contains some of the most impressive and compelling locations and set pieces I have ever experienced in a game. From the old city streets that feel down trodden by the oppressive Orwellian regime that overlook its population, to the otherworldly and dream-like realm that Corvo explores when meeting The Outsider, Dishonored is an absolutely stunning looking game. Furthermore, characters are wonderfully realised by visually and narratively, which makes for an impressive overall cast, voiced well by their actors. Thankfully though, it’s not all in the visuals, as level and game design is equally as impressive, and really do raise Dishonored far above what it could have been- a typical, linear “stealth” affair. It all comes together so well. Arkane Studios have crafted a truly atmospheric world, a world with a detailed, layered sense of history and culture (or lack of, you might say). Brilliant.
Overall Dishonored should not be missed. While it can be far too easy if the player chooses certain abilities over others and if they go for a run-and-gun approach, played in the right way Dishonored is unforgettable, and a testament that true stealth is still a genre that gamers are craving.