Dishonored – The PS3 Attitude Review
The Lyon-based Arkane Studios has previously worked on BioShock 2, and its new game, Dishonored, has more than a little in common with that series. From the first-person view to the supernatural powers and stylised visuals, many aspects of Dishonored feel familiar, so have we seen it all before, or does it have enough fresh ideas to stand on its own?
You play as Corvo Attano, who at the start of the game serves as Lord Protector to the Empress of the fictional city of Dunwall. After a brief game of hide-and-seek with her daughter Emily (which, cleverly, also teaches you the basics of stealth gameplay), you are framed for the murder of the Empress and Emily’s abduction, and imprisoned to await your execution.
That would make for a pretty short game though, so with the help of a rebel group known as the Loyalists, you escape to the Hound Pits Pub and are presented with a mask to hide your identity. However, it’s not until after the prologue when Dishonored really gets interesting; after a quick sleep, you somehow find yourself in a dream-like place known as the Void.
A mysterious man introduces himself as the Outsider, and gives Corvo the teleportation skill of Blink, and an item called the Heart, which has the power to reveal information about locations and characters. It can also lead you to Bone Charms and Runes; strange objects that can be spent on new supernatural powers, or used to upgrade your existing powers.
These enhancements give Corvo the strength he needs to help exact revenge on those who framed him, and hopefully restore the late Empress’s daughter to the throne. However, to complicate matters further, Dunwall is presently suffering a rat plague; an epidemic that sees the streets overrun by carnivorous rodents and infected humans transformed into mindless killers. Fun times!
Although Dishonored is a stealth game at its heart, you are usually free to approach missions from any direction, both geographically and in terms of gameplay. Do you sneak onto the roof and tackle the objective in a non-lethal manner, or charge in through the front door and strike down anyone who gets in your way? The choice is left entirely up to you.
While there’s no correct or incorrect way to complete missions, loud and violent actions will increase your Chaos rating, which in turn affects other characters’ opinions of you and how certain scenarios pan out (including the game’s ending). Whatever play-style you choose, various gameplay mechanics are at your disposal; some you’ll expect, and others you might not.
For example, Corvo can throw small objects to attract the attention of enemies, look through keyholes, lean around corners, climb up ledges, slide under obstacles, drop assassinate, decapitate enemies, carry and move bodies, and more; and that’s without touching upon any of the game’s aforementioned supernatural powers.
Corvo’s sword is permanently equipped in his right hand, leaving his left hand free for any other weapon or power you need for a particular situation; swapping one out for another is as easy as holding down L2 and selecting what you want. We’ve already mentioned teleportation, but other powers include the ability to slow time or possess NPCs to get through security barriers.
When combined, these powers present the player with dozens of possibilities for mayhem, and make you feel like a real badass. That said, the enemy A.I. is smart and perceptive, particularly on higher difficulties, so it’s not uncommon to be spotted by a guard you had no clue was there; this is where the Dark Vision skill (which lets you see enemies through walls) really comes in handy.
The plague means that rats are almost as dangerous as human enemies. They’re nothing to worry about in small groups, but can be overwhelming in large numbers. Interestingly, the more people you kill, the more rats you’ll find in Dunwall. They’re even troublesome during non-lethal playthroughs, because if an unconscious enemy is discovered and eaten by rats, it still counts as a kill.
Unlike similar titles such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored is not set in a completely open world. Instead, each mission takes place in a specific area of Dunwall, which means you can never stray particularly far from the main story. Having said that, Arkane Studios has done a fantastic job in letting you control the way you play, and how much the game holds your hand.
For example, you are free to read or ignore all tutorials, never upgrade any powers or equipment if you wish, and even hide objective markers for a much more challenging (and realistic) experience. Optional objectives and secrets to find also add a huge amount of variety and longevity to the game, and mean that your own experience will likely differ greatly to other players’.
The steampunk spirit of Dishonored has been well documented, as has the game’s faintly cartoonish visuals. Characters somehow seem larger than life, almost like caricatures, and not too dissimilar to the classes from Team Fortress 2. This style fits brilliantly with the supernatural elements of the game, as well as the purposefully over-the-top violence.
As expected, there is some pop-in, although it’s not as widespread or frequent as in many similar titles, which PS3 users can most likely thank the mandatory 4.6 gigabyte install for. It has to be said that certain textures look horribly low-res close up, but the overall effect of the game’s visuals and presentation is still overwhelmingly impressive.
Part of the reason for this is the small details that are easily missed but add a lot of life to the world; for example, at the beginning of the game a character can be seen posing for a portrait. You can also eavesdrop on conversations, read letters and books, and find mysterious graffiti all over Dunwall, which really makes the city feel alive. Water and lighting effects also look great.
The sound design is just as amazing. The orchestral music is rather minimalist but still adds a lot to the atmosphere, particularly during pure stealth playthroughs. There are few things more chilling than sneaking around a supposedly abandoned house, without knowing what may be lurking around the corner, listening to only the sounds of your own footsteps and the ever-present scurry of rats.
While the Hollywood cast list generally does a great job (Susan Sarandon as Granny Rags and Chloë Grace Moretz as Lady Emily both put in particularly strong performances), the delivery of certain characters’ dialogue is questionable, and occasionally the intonation is just plain wrong. It’s nothing major, but does detract slightly from the immersion.
There can be no denying that both the gameplay and visuals of Dishonored owe a huge debt to BioShock, as Arkane Studios’ latest release almost certainly would not exist without that series. However, writing the game off as only a BioShock clone would be doing it a major disservice. Each mission is full of surprises, and the city of Dunwall is a richly imagined world.
Gameplay is so finely balanced that you can genuinely tackle objectives however you want; whether you choose weapons or powers, combat or stealth, lethal or non-lethal, you will always receive a fair challenge, which is a real testament to the talent at Arkane Studios. If you have any interest at all in stealth/action games, you absolutely owe it to yourself to play Dishonored.