For years, Ubisoft has wanted to make you feel like the ultimate bad ass. You’re given a death-dealing hidden blade, super human strength and transformed into a monk-looking killing machine. Yet despite the franchise’s constant attempts to draw me in, I still don’t buy it. Assassinations are too directed, battles are often a breeze and it all controls like a grizzly bear on roller skates. Now it seems Ezio and his pals have finally been overthrown by the newest cool kid on the block – Dishonored.
Set in the London steam punk-inspired city of Dunwall, Dishonored follows Corvo Attano, a legendary bodyguard to the Empress who is quickly framed for her murder. Once he is freed by a group of loyalists, Corvo is forced to become an assassin, seeking revenge on those who conspired against him and rescue the empress’ abducted daughter. Soon after, Attano is then visited by the mysterious Outsider, a powerful being who imbues him with magical abilities. There’s a solid voice cast behind the scenes including the likes of Chloe Moretz and Susan Sarandon, but while their performances are exemplary, most of the cast feels under-ultilised in what could have been an even more involving narrative.
What it does leave you with, is a fairly linear nine act mission structure that skilfully creates a number of smaller, sandbox-styled environment for you to play with. Do you choose to quietly sneak into a room, poison your target’s drink and watch his demise from afar or waltz in guns blazing, until you finally get the chance to drive a blade into the poor man’s temple? What Arkane Studios have created is the greatest attempt at video game freedom in recent memory. Each playthrough feels unique and can change within a split second as your environment adapts around you.
An early mission, for example, had me attempting to protect an ally from a Loyalist target. After quietly dispatching of the mark and subduing the ally, I was trapped. Surrounding guards were becoming increasingly suspicious outside the room I was held up in, thus blocking all the doors. Running out of time and options, I chose to avoid a bloodbath, threw the unconscious friend on my shoulder and bolted for the nearby window, carefully traversing around the building’s exterior until I could blink to safety.
Another objective had me quickly slowing down time, in an attempt to fire off a couple of sleeping darts into a pair of female entertainers who had accidentally noticed my unwelcome presence.
It’s these unexpected, time-sensitive moments that elevate Dishonored past its competitors, especially with the incredibly fluid controls that rarely falter (even with a controller directing the action). The trial-and-error nature of saving and reloading game states to test out new strategies can sometimes take you out of the seamless experience, but it’s a sacrifice you will be happy to make in order to see how far you can push the boundaries.
That said, while the enemy AI for the most part will quickly put you down without too much effort, there are moments where they will be completely oblivious to your whereabouts, even if you walk past their direct line of sight. In a game that prides itself on such high production value, a slight misstep like this is easily forgiveable, but still instantly recognisable.
Each mission will also be altered depending on how you choose to upgrade your powers via the Runes you can track down and collect in each area. If stealth is your thing, you’ll want to upgrade your ability to see through walls or turn defeated enemies into ash, while combat focused players can boost a powerful wind blast, or the ability to stop time dead in its tracks. Some abilities will be more useful than others, but it paves the way for multiple playthroughs with varying tactics. Once you’re alerted to the fact that different play styles will not only impact the world around you, but your final ending, you’ll feel determined to experiment even more.
And that is what makes Dishonored so enjoyable – experimentation. Arkane allow you to do the unthinkable, and approach each new roadblock with creativity most games could only dream of. Being an assassin is not about using parkour to artfully stab your enemy in the face. It’s about using your surroundings and your skills to your advantage. It’s about being that Shadow in the night that soldiers should come to fear. Corvo encompasses these critical elements in a beautifully twisted world that demands action be taken. The question is, how will you choose to answer the call?
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360