Let's start with the punchline: Dishonored is a great game. Despite the occasional misstep, Arkane Studio's latest is an atmospheric, entertaining and well-crafted assassination sim that does something that's becoming increasingly rare in video games: it's original.
Although there are some influences here, with the character models being reminiscent of the Bioshock franchise and the city of Dunwall having shades of Half Life's City 17, the world that Dishonored creates is fresh, interesting and full of character. The juxtaposition between the Victorian English architectural style and the ubiquitous whale-oil-powered steampunk technology creates a unique world that's a pleasure to explore.
Dishonored is all about choice, but a different kind of choice. It's not so much about what you're going to do next, but how you're going to do it. You won't get the same level of freedom that you would in an open-world title like Skyrim, but neither will you be ridgedly funneled down a corridor like you would in a Call of Duty title. Each of Dishonored's eight missions places you in a moderately large section of the city and gives you a target. From there, it's entirely your choice how you reach that objective and how you take out the target.
That choice generally comes down to two options: stealth or strength. You can either sneak your way around, rendering guards unconscious or even avoiding them entirely, or you can break down the front door and cut a bloody swathe across the turbulent city. If you decide to go with the former option, you can actually find non-lethal methods of taking out all of the major targets and even make it through the entire game without killing a single person.
One of the most compelling aspects of the title is the fact that how you play actually has a significant impact on the way the game pans out. The more soldiers and citizens that you kill, the more the rat plague spreads and the darker the game becomes.
The game's first-person perspective helps to make it an immersive experience and the gameplay is finely tuned and enjoyable. Climbing buildings is intuitive and fun while the hand-to-hand first-person combat is far superior to that seen in other titles (we're looking at you Elder Scrolls). Players also get to choose a set of powers which, in a number of cases, significantly change the gameplay mechanics.
Blink lets you teleport forwards across short distances, Dark Vision allows you to see through walls and Possession gives the player the option to inhabit the bodies of fish or rats in order to navigate particularly tricky sections. These powers combine with the game's pistol, sword, crossbow and grenades to give players a lot of choice when it comes to dispatching guards and traversing rooftops.
Not everything is perfect in Dishonoured, though the list of faults is short. Depending on the way that you play it, the title may feel a little on the short side (replay value discounted) and it could do a little more to encourage you to explore the world. Secondly, while the world itself is well-crafted and absorbing, the story and characters are a little less well formed. If you're not paying close attention then you could easily find yourself making your way towards an assassination target whose identity is a mystery to you. The main characters are given minimal back-stories and its difficult to care that much about what happens to them.
Graphically speaking, Dishonored is a beautiful game. The entire world is given a painterly flair that while not particularly heavy on detail, is a stunning, characterful and refreshing aesthetic that helps bring the world to life. Environments are varied, ranging from the sun-soaked palace of the game's opening, to the dark and brooding streets of the Flooded District. I played through the title on a PC running on an Intel Core i7 2600k CPU with 8 GB RAM and a AMD Radeon HD5780 GPU. Everything ran perfectly smooth maxed out and looked stunning throughout. The game controls well with a mouse and keyboard and if you've got the hardware to run it, then the PC option is the way to go.
In a world of Call of Duty clones, remakes and sequels, Dishonored manages to create an experience that's fresh, original and exciting. Its stellar gameplay and visuals more than compensate for the minor failings in story and character development, making the city of Dunwall a joy to explore. Dishonored is one of the most entertaining titles of the year and it's definitely worth your time.
Images courtesy of Bethesda Softworks
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