2012 looks to be the year of the assassin. Pretty soon we’ll all get the chance to strap ourselves into the Animus and experience the life and times of Ubisoft’s Connor Kenway. Then we’ll get our hands back on gaming’s `original’ assassin for a bit of pro tier espionage. You know, the barcoded one with the bald head who has the surprising ability to blend into a crowd. Finally we’ll get the chance to delve into a steampunk world full of political intrigue and rampant pestilence.
That last one is the topic of conversation today, as we talk Dishonored: the brand new IP from Arkane Studios. As it just so happens, Executive Producer Julien Roby visited our shores and gave a few lucky gaming journalists the chance to test drive the first-person stealth actioner ahead of the crowd.
On display for the first time in Oz was a small section of the game set around a lavish banquet. Mr Roby tells me that it’s roughly halfway through the main story and the player’s motivation is, as it is in the very beginning, to eliminate a group of corrupt bureaucrats.
“The setup is basically that the city the game takes place in, Dunwall, is being ruled over by some very corrupt people and they’re running it into the ground. These are also the people behind your framed murder, so you’re trying to eliminate them to restore balance and get revenge.
In this particular mission, an influential woman named Lady Boyle is hosting a masquerade ball. Because you’re in a mask you’ll be able to gain entry into the ball, with some clever talking or sneaking. And from there, you have to figure out which one she is, because she’s playing a little game and has two other women dressed like her. Once you’ve discovered her true identity, you can carry out the assassination. It’s also possible to do the mission in a non-lethal way. In fact the entire game can be played non-lethal. You just have to find ways to do it.”
Because each mission in Dishonored is a miniature sandbox, you’re free to approach any given situation as you see fit; not too dissimilar from the Hitman series. I played through the same section three times during my short session, attempting to employ a variety of different tactics and put the game’s `choose your own path’ tagline to the test.
Short version: you’re pretty much free to do whatever the hell you like, and that sense of freedom is incredibly satisfying. But the long version goes a little something like this.
Starting out on the edge of town, my first attempt is the traditional suave combination of sneaking and talking my way through the front door, James Bond style. Employing some acrobatics, I am able to jump the fence, enter the manor grounds and sneak into the grand hall to mingle with the dinner guests. They all comment on my devilish attitude for dressing up like a wanted criminal for the masquerade – I’m chuffed. The next task is to find Lady Boyle.
It’s a task easier said than done though as I spot three nearly identical versions of the same woman. They’re all strutting their stuff, and doing so with different coloured frocks to boot. The most direct solution to my problem would be to simply kill all three. It’s a viable option, but after a brief conversation with a partygoer dressed like a giant fly, I am able to determine my target is the woman in white. Lady gossip betrayed her.
Confronting the pale woman, I am able to lure her into a secluded music room with my silver tongue. One quick stab to the face later and I’m home free. Target eliminated. No guards alerted. Playthrough one completed.
During the next round I try a little old supernatural power to get into the venue, promptly possessing a fish and sneaking in via the sewer system running underneath the manor. Emerging in the kitchen, I am then able to posses a lonesome rat and use it to sneak upstairs to the restricted section of the building. Once there, I dispatch of the guards by using the `stop time’ power to get the jump on them and begin rifling through Lady Boyle’s belongings. Because her identity and colour changes with every playthrough, I look for a clue to see what costume she is wearing this time. After stumbling across a dressmaker’s note, I am able to ascertain that this time she’s pimped out in red.
Silently dropping from an upstairs balcony back to the party floor, I trail the woman in red, wait until she goes for a quick powder break. With no time to spare, I promptly introduce the back of her head to my crossbow bolt, book it back to the kitchen and jump into a fish for a speedy escape. Target eliminated. Several guards dead. One fish and a rat severely confused. Playthrough two completed.
The third time around is a little less… graceful.
If the first playthrough was all about fast talking and the second about zoophilia, then the third is to be a classic Idi Amin bath of blood. To be a spy is very bad, after all.
Instead of bothering with diplomacy or fruity stealth, I straight up assault the manor walls with a mix of teleporting directly into the grounds and slashing my way to victory. Admittedly this is the least effective method of my playthroughs, but it is also the most telling. The entire feel of the game shifts from one of intrigue and mystery to straight up brutality. It is entirely possible to succeed with the direct approach, but the game reacts to the chaos caused in dynamic ways, such as altered dialogue, the addition of new scenes and effects to both current and future missions.
With the party guards on high alert and the revellers running franticly for their lives, I bulldoze my way across the dance floor and `assassinate’ everything that moves. Target(s) eliminated. Everything within a five mile radius dead. Playthrough three completed.
“What we’ve tried to do is give the player all the tools they need to play the game in their own style,’’ Roby explains.
“You’ve got your standard weapons like guns, crossbows, traps, and your cool dagger/sword combo weapon. Then on top of that you you’ve got some magical abilities like teleporting, stopping time and blasting opponents with wind. How you combine all these elements is completely up to you and from the player tests we’ve seen, people do some really interesting things that we never thought possible.
Leaping off a building then possessing someone on the way down to avoid fall damage for example. Teleporting above a guard to perform an areal stealth kill. Or blasting projectiles back at the person who threw them. All of these are mechanics that were not built into the game by design, but ones players just figured out. It’s going to be very interesting to see how fans react to the game and its freedom once it launches.’’
From what I experienced, Dishonored is looking well on track to deliver a rock solid gaming experience.
Dishonored is currently scheduled for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and Pc on October 9 in North America, October 11 in Australia and October 12 in Europe.