Friday, 12 October 2012

Dishonored (PS3 Video Game Review)

To lay some concerns to rest – This isn’t an Assassin’s Creed clone. It doesn’t feature the same mechanics, doesn’t completely focus upon your abilities to hurtle across rooftops and survive falls which should shatter your limbs. Perhaps the only thing it has in common is the fact you occasionally stab people with knives and are motivated by revenge. And to be completely honest with you; the fact Dishonored does this and tries to put its strengths into other areas is what actually makes it the better political assassination game.

Now before you get into a rage this is by no means some statement denouncing the AC series. It’s fun, it handles its subject matter well; but Arkane Studios were clearly taking notes as Ezio was ripping out throats as in the few areas they do cross over Dishonored leaves it in the dust. The big way it does this is by taking the optional approach to killing. In just about every situation you have the chance to go through with stealthy non-fatal takedowns or go on a murder spree. Both have their own advantages and their own morality to them which allows you some roleplaying opportunities when it comes to everything from your targets to the unfortunate mooks given the job of keeping them breathing.

Now a few of you are likely thinking “hey, isn’t this what Deus Ex: Human Revolution did?” and yes you’d be right, but it also manages to correct the mistakes in that game’s design. Deus Ex: HR had the big problem where there was practically no advantage in not going with the stealthy pacifist run. The ludicrous difference in the level of exp. you would gain removed any real advantage to just up and murdering people. By the end you’d be so highly skilled you’d likely only need bullets to deal with the odd robot. Here though the differences between avoiding any kills and quietly committing mass slaughter has more or less the same number of benefits. The big difference is simply the approach you take along with a potentially increasing level of chaos. While unfortunately having nothing to do with your character falling under the influence of Khorne it’s actually quite an intelligent system which takes into account how high profile or flashy your antics are. It helps discourage players going Rambo on guards and ignoring the stealthy approaches and encourages more of a Hitman approach to things if you do take the killing route – targeting only those you need dead.

This is the key area Dishonored completely outstrips Assassin’s Creed as it takes into account how you approach things and your actions overall. In the Holy Land Altair can kill several prestigious Saracen generals, their close relatives, their distant relatives, their household guests, pets, retainers, armies, people they just met in the street; then go up to Saladin and moon him yelling “I knifed them all!” only to have everyone shrug and it to have no basic impact besides the generals’ deaths. If you try to pull that sort of stunt in Dishonored people are going to remember and it’s going to incite paranoia. Well, even more paranoia than you’d get by kidnapping/stealthily disposing of them.

Engage in mass murder and open combat and you’ll find later targets suddenly have a lot more guards with specific orders to kill on sight. It also changes the ending depending upon how much attention you’ve drawn to yourself and the number of throats you’ve slit, giving you more incentive to try both approaches. While having a low chaos rating is required to get the good ending some of the non-lethal methods of disposing of high profile targets are far crueller fates than simple deaths. Notably handing an unconscious Lady Boyle over to the obsessive Lord Brisby suggests one particularly disturbing future for the character. These choices allow, along with a fair number of sidequests, for you to have some freedom in what is a fairly rail-roaded plot but what allows you to truly experience freedom in missions are your abilities.

As much fun as your items and weapons might be, these are the real highlight of the game and if you’ve seen any trailer you’ll know the variety available. Many allow for you to more quietly dispose of enemies and hide your tracks as you move around the city, frequently doubling as a major edge in combat if you have to go in guns blazing. A foremost example of this is Time Bend; which allows for you to down slow and even halt the flow of time at its second tier. This can allow for you to move past a crowded room without being seen or stop a heated battle and throw explosive crossbow bolts back at guards. A similar set of skills are the enhancements which are more passive, allowing you to pull of anything from double jumps to having enemies you execute disintegrate into dust to prevent bodies from being found. As you would expect a very large amount of the game has been made to give you every opportunity to use them a-la Bioshock; with openings to areas for effectively every skill. If you’ve gained teleportations there will be ledges and low walls for you to target and get inside. If you have the Possession ability you’ll find a fish/rat/guard to take over and walk through defences and so on and so forth.
Now, the last nine hundred words have been nothing but praise so if you’ve not guessed Dishonored is incredibly well made. But is it perfect? No. While it never does anything cataclysmically wrong there is definitely one big aspect which feels simply uninspired – The story.

While certainly individual aspects of the tale stand out well such as conversations and subplots, the overall basis of the storyline felt flawed and considerably generic for such a visually distinct title. You (Lord Corvo, elite bodyguard) are framed for a crime you didn’t commit, a benevolent ruler is murdered, you’re helped to escape from prison and begin your war to return the empire’s rightful ruler to the throne. This takes place so early on that Dishonored initially has very little to spice up a plot which has been done to death. Or for that matter flesh out the importance of the crime which has been committed as you quite literally turn up, are framed, betrayed and (dare I say it) dishonoured. Even when you’ve gone halfway through the game and the usual shocking reveal is given; it doesn’t feel quite so much a surprise as something which was ticked off on a list of plot points.

What helps to somewhat lessen the damage by the story is aspects of its presentation. With Half-Life 2’s design team of Viktor Antonov and Sebastien Mitton; and Deus Ex’s creative director Harvey Smith and designer Ricardo Bare having spent years in pre-production designing the gaslamp style of the world. So while the tale itself might feel humdrum it can at least fall back on a unique atmosphere and, on occasion, fairly interesting characters. The problems with the story are still there and will still bug you from time to time but there’s enough shiny things to keep you distracted until the credits roll.

To make this clear while Dishonored suffers from the problem of not being as deep or complex as people had hoped it’s still a very solid title and the standard to which any future FPS stealth titles should be held to. Assuming you’ve somehow not managed to rush out to grab XCOM: Enemy Unknown and are looking for a game to buy Dishonored is strongly recommended. It won’t please everyone, especially those who enjoy playing bullet sponged talking tanks who can shrug off grenades to the face. But if you’re after an intelligent, well designed game which tries to at least cover its biggest flaws and have consequences for stabbing people then definitely get this one while you can.


Dishonored and all related characters and media are owned by Bethesda and it was developed by Arkane Studios.


  1. As gorgeous and interesting as Dishonored looks, and as much as I want to end up loving it, I’m skeptical, especially after reading reviews like yours that don’t simply fawn over the game. Maybe I’m cynical, but I’ve been disappointed too many times. For instance, I was beyond psyched for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I even pre-ordered it. And although Deus Ex was by no means a bad game, it wasn’t nearly what I was hoping for and the ending left me with a bad taste in my mouth—ditto for Mass Effect 3. And it sounds like the main plot for Dishonored is underwhelming. So I’ve been following the advice of one of my coworkers at DISH and I’ve sworn off buying any games until I’ve rented them first, which has of course, saved me from buying a number of games, and saved me a good deal of money. Dishonored is already in my Blockbuster @Home queue so I’ll get to play it soon; it won’t be on the 9th, but that’s okay, I’m still pretty busy with Borderlands 2 anyway. I'm truly hoping though, that Dishonored will live up to the considerable hype and after renting it, I’ll still want to buy it for additionally play-throughs.

    1. Honestly I can see where you're coming from and while writing I was trying to pick out flaws in the game to criticise. However, aside from a few problems with the storytelling and how you acquire some abilities I really couldn't find that there was much it was doing wrong. Perhaps nowhere near to the quality it should have been in a few places but never to the extent where I could call it terrible. Each time I tried to pick out an error it was so minor I ended up feeling like I was emphasising upon some petty mistake rather than a real shortcoming.

      The only real advice I can give you would be to keep your expectations grounded when you rent it and let it surprise you. That and try to enjoy the atmosphere and characters rather than the plot itself when you're playing through it for the first time.