What happens when you forget to call pest control.
Some publishers will tell you that the single player game is a dying breed, and some have tried to kill them off altogether already, but we really only have to look at Bethesda’s back catalog to see that this clearly isn’t the case. With series like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls in their library we weren’t surprised to see that Dishonored was aiming for not only a strong single player experience, but to do it under an entirely new intellectual property. This is a move that some would call a gamble, but it seems the deck was always stacked in Arkane Studio’s favor because Dishonored is simply fantastic.
The city-state of Dunwall, where Dishonored is set, immediately jumps off of the screen with its striking scenery and unique style. The mix of 1800′s architecture and dress, with stark steel machinery that wouldn’t be out of place in Half Life 2 creates a world that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The contrasts that the citizens see as normal will make you feel like this is a world where traditional engineers were replaced with mad scientist types and asked to start mass producing everyday goods. You’ll still be carrying a sword and single-shot pistol, but there are also machines that create walls of electricity that will fry anyone who walks through them.
You’ll play Dishonored as Corvo, the Empress’ bodyguard who has been framed for her murder and accused of kidnapping her daughter and heir to the throne. To make matters worse, Dunwall is currently playing host to an infestation of rats who are carrying a strange plague for which there is no cure. With the help of a group of crown loyalists Corvo must rescue the Princess, stop the plague from spreading and clear his name; or at least accomplish some of those things.
The action will take place from a first-person perspective and even though you’ll have an extensive arsenal at your disposal, stealth is the real objective here. You’ll always have a choice as to how you take care of each enemy, but you get the sense that the game wants you to complete it while leaving as little trace of your passing as possible. For instance, your crossbow can fire standard bolts or bolts filled with a poison that will put enemies to sleep. When sneaking up behind an enemy you’ll have the option to either choke them out, or assassinate them.
Each mission will focus on having you deal with one of the main conspirators, or someone who is important to the current Regent’s regime. Often you can simply assassinate the target but Dishonored always gives you a non-lethal option. This usually involves discrediting or otherwise removing the person from power usually by placing them in a compromising position or stealing something valuable from them.
The non-lethal option isn’t always easy to come by either, you’ll often have to perform some sort of side quest to get access to this option, but diligence and exploration are always rewarded. The mission areas are quite large with many branching paths, and many options are available to you, depending upon how you want to proceed. Many games have boasted of this setup before, but their claims usually boil down to having you go in the front door or the back. Dishonored truly gives you the freedom to complete each mission in exactly the way you want to.
The special, supernatural abilities you’ll have access to can really mix things up as well. Has a game ever let you possess a fish and swim up a sewer pipe into a building before? Dishonored does. While some of these powers feel like they’re going to make the game too easy, like Blink which lets you teleport for short distances, the superb level and scenario design keeps things in check. Even if you decide to go in the front door, sword and pistol drawn, you’ll find that fighting more than one guard at a time can be quite challenging. Leaving a higher body count will increase the number of rats, as well as the military presence around the city, in later levels so you’ll have to weigh your options carefully.
Dishonored is a masterpiece of design and gameplay, but it isn’t perfect. There are some strange issues that send the camera view snapping around at times and the non-player characters have a weird habit of cutting each other off when speaking. In fact they sometimes cut themselves off so I have to recommend that you enable sub-titles so you can get the full effect of the story which is both brutal and touching, in equal measure. Corvo loves the Princess like the father she doesn’t have, but he isn’t afraid to make some heads roll to get her back on the throne.
There are no multiplayer modes in Dishonored.
Dishonored is one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played and it accomplishes this by giving you clear objectives, then letting you resolve them however you would like to. Where other games tricked you into a sense of freedom, Dishonored delivers an amazing amount of freedom within tight environments. With a setting that is as brave and creative as games like Bioshock, gameplay that makes you feel like you’ve conquered each scenario rather than being led through them, and a story draws you in, Dishonored is one of the best games you’ll play this year. It may even be one of the best you’ve played, ever.