Dishonored Review

Platform: PS3/PS4/360/XB1/PC
Originally Reviewed: 2012

Look down this year’s list of upcoming triple-A releases and see how many established franchises you can count. Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, Call of Duty, Far Cry, Hitman – the list is lengthy and the games are disappointingly familiar. Of course, these were all new and budding IPs at some point, but it seems that their successes haven’t bred fresh new ideas from their talented developers and we are subsequently force-fed more of the same tired concepts. As this console generation comes to a close and we begin prepare the life support machines for our ageing consoles we are being met with a feeling of familiarity and contempt.

So along comes Arkane Studios’ Dishonored to mend our sequel woes and provide us with proof that new ideas can still succeed at the end of a generation’s lifespan. Dishonored reminds us that we should be able to remember this generation as one that produced intelligent and unique titles as well as macho “ooh-rah” popcorn gaming. And what a remarkable and exciting title it is.

You need only glance at Dishonored to understand that the art style is one of gaming’s best ever. It is a breathtakingly gorgeous game and the level of detail put into this wonderfully realised adaptation of Victorian London and Edinburgh spliced with steampunk technology is just ridiculous. The beautiful and delicate painting-like textures and the sumptuous use of a huge range of colours combine with an incredible variance in level design to create a truly engaging world of murky streets and factories, palaces, prisons and sewers.

Dishonored is not about super sharp Battlefield 3-style graphics; it’s about creating an atmosphere and mood with a distinct and beautiful hand-drawn look. There are a few texture issues when up close to things, but it never stops the game looking amazing. The fantastic use of lighting, too, is a real high point. Creep through a dimly lit back alley, or stand on a balcony and cast your gaze past the Victorian city at the sun setting over the water and you’ll understand.

The game is set in the fictional city of Dunwall and sees players take control of Corvo Altano, legendary bodyguard to Dunwall’s Empress. The game begins with Corvo returning from an unsuccessful mission to find aid for the deadly plague that infests the city. As he meets with the Empress to discuss the bad news, she is brutally murdered by a mysterious group of assassins who also kidnap her daughter Emily. Corvo is promptly blamed and thrown in jail by the Empress’ Spymaster who seizes control of Dunwall and becomes Lord Regent during Corvo’s imprisonment. After his inevitable escape, Corvo joins with a group called the Loyalist to enact revenge, rescue Emily and return her to her rightful place on the throne.

Dishonored really does have a great and engaging story full of political deception, murder, treason and plenty of plotting, scheming and devilish twists and turns. Corvo, despite being a silent protagonist, has that Gordon Freeman trait of being an immensely engaging central character. Perhaps the biggest part of the story, though, is the city of Dunwall itself – a ruined dystopia under tyrannical rule, ridden with a brutal plague that decimates the poor and further elevates the rich. It’s an incredibly fascinating and unique gaming world to be in, and its fate is entirely down to you.

Dishonored can almost be played as two different games. You can be a silent and stealthy assassin, an all powerful murdering machine or a deadly mixture of both. In fact, you can even play the whole game without killing anyone. Neither method feels worse than the other and both are an absolute joy to play. If you wanted a rough and clichéd description; think Bioshock meets Deus Ex. Dishonored offers variety in both stealth and action rarely seen before and sets benchmarks in each category.

The gameplay is enhanced by the huge amount of upgrades and powers available to the player. Corvo is granted magical abilities by collecting runes made from whalebone that are scattered throughout the game. These are wielded alongside his sword and can aid stealth abilities through being able to teleport from cover to cover, see through walls and possess people and animals. His powers can also aid fighting abilities with Corvo able to blast enemies with powerful whirlwinds, summon rats to attack his foes or slow down time to wade through a raft of guards, slicing up each one as he passes. You can practically change the game from a 12 rating to an 18 at the press of a button – it can be as brutal or passive as you want.

There are tons more powers, enhancements and upgrades in the game and they all add a brilliant, yet enjoyably simplistic, RPG element to proceedings that further helps players tailor the game to however they wish to play it. Simply put, it’s bloomin’ brilliant.

Missions typically play out in a simple structure of you heading back to your safe haven, being given a target and then getting escorted to a miniature sandbox area where you are left to your own devices in how you take down said target. It sounds simplistic, but the variety in the areas you will visit is both aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing. You will go from sewers and back alleys to huge mansions, bridges and fortresses. Each one designed with intricate detail and layered with so many routes and areas of interest that you will be like a kid in a sweet shop. Just a sweet shop filled with rats and corrupt politicians. You are also always given various ways of dealing with your target that don’t include simply slicing their throat. Player choice has rarely been so brilliantly realised.

Dishonored’s real beauty is that, as well as the missions being varied enough on their own, Corvo’s abilities in both stealth and power allow you to align each mission with your own tastes. You can use the immense amount of freedom the game offers to give yourself a completely different experience from mission to mission without the game telling or forcing you to do anything. It’s such a liberating and exhilarating experience knowing that a game has been developed without handholding or signposting the player in mind. You just pick how you want to play and off you go, knowing that if your ‘plan A’ goes awry you are more than capable of adapting and succeeding.

To this extent, Dishonored’s gameplay can actually drive the story. It’s almost like the developers gave you the silent protagonist to allow you artistic licence to use your imagination. Without pre-rendered cut-scenes or even any dialogue from Corvo, you decide how he is feeling. You genuinely can feel your own hatred build up throughout the game and it’s totally up to you if you decide to be merciful or not. I tried to play with stealth for a good long while – knocking out guards and taking out targets in a non-lethal way – but when I felt like Corvo’s world was falling down I became an enraged and uncaged merchant of chaos who destroyed everything in his path. Dishonored never tells you what to do and never punishes or judges you either, although the game does get harder with more a lethal approach.

There are hardly any issues with Dishonored at all and any and all do not harm the game as a whole. There is some rather annoying repetitive dialogue between generic NPCs and some incredibly weird line delivery as characters sound so apathetic it’s laughable. Be prepared to hate the question of ‘could this city get any worse?’ as you prepare for the quite ludicrous answer of ‘chances are very good.’ And no, that answer doesn’t come from a robot, but it genuinely is the entirety of the conversation – it’s bizarre.

The game’s biggest problem is undoubtedly the rather weak ending, which is a real misfire. It seems so abrupt and rushed that you cannot feel anything other than let down. It’s a real shame, but when you look back, the sense of wonder and excitement you felt whilst playing the game, and your instant urge to play it again, will speak volumes for how much you’ve enjoyed the ride. Hey, the ending of The Sopranos totally sucked, but it sure as hell is still the best TV show I’ve ever seen.

Dishonored’s length is also quite short, especially if you go the brutal way and mow everyone down. My advice is to take your time and just drink in the magic of this incredible game – see all the sites, listen to all the conversation, drool over the beautiful art and mix up your playing experience to see everything it has to offer. It actually could never be long enough – the game is just too compelling. You just want to see more of Dunwall and take in as much as possible of this wonderfully fascinating dystopia. How many big budget games keep their world interesting right until the end?

Dishonored is a brilliantly affecting game. Filled with a joyous and liberating freedom that lets you play it however you want, never dropping in quality no matter what you chose to do. You will want to talk to your mates about how they took out their targets, what their favourite kill method was and whom they decided to spare and who tasted Corvo’s cold steel. Nobody will have the same experience with the game and this is a fantastic testament to the power that investing yourself in a virtual world has. Not only is Dishonored undoubtedly a game that is work of art; it also understands the art of games and, as such, is one of the most essential titles of this, or any, generation.

Alex Aldridge

 

Breakdown Score

GRAPHICS

Absolutely gorgeous and totally unique. One of the most aesthetically interesting games ever seen. Might not be the sharpest looking game ever made but its use of soft textures and incredible lighting are staggering.

9/10

GAMEPLAY

Visceral, exciting, varied and thoroughly enjoyable. The sheer amount of choice available is unparalleled. Choose your own routes, methods, morals and powers to create your own experience. The pacing is great and the powers and upgrades are so much fun to play around with.

10/10

STORY

Really engaging with a great protagonist and lots of great characters, all brilliantly voice acted. Then the end happens and leaves you crying out “is that IT?!” Such a shame, but the enjoyment in the journey far outweighs the disappointing payoff.

8/10

REPLAYABILITY

Not only will you have to play it several times to see the different endings and different methods you can choose, you’ll want to play it again and again. Almost immediately.

9/10

VALUE FOR MONEY AT

It’s not the longest game, but you can easily take your time over it and extend your stay in the wonderful world Arkane Studios have created. There’s plenty of reasons to play it more than once and it’s such a brilliant experience that paying full price should never be an issue.

£40

OVERALL

Fresh, unique, gorgeous and utterly enjoyable throughout. Dishonored piles on the pressure for that whole “games as works of art” discussion to be brought up again and could easily be a forerunner for the argument that they very much are. A really refreshing title to see at near the end of this generation. In a world of sequels, shooters and funnelled, signposted gameplay, Dishonored proves that the medium is anything but stale. Easily the best game of 2012 so far.

9.5/10

AMAZING

 

 

 

 

 

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