So let’s get the similarities out the way first – Yes Dishonored looks and plays like BioShock. However, if you did a bit of digging, you’ll also find out that the team behind it – Arkane Studios – also had their hands in developing BioShock 2. So it goes without saying that there may have been some influence rubbing off in this game’s development, and let’s be honest, BioShock is a decent title that you’d wouldn’t mind rubbing up against. So does Dishonored stand alone by itself, or is it another BioShock in disguise? With mask on, let’s go and kill some rats…
Set in a fictional world riddled with the plague, Dishonored has you playing as Corvo Attano, a well respected bodyguard to the Empress of Dunwall. After returning home from a long journey, searching for a solution to cure the plague, you soon find yourself with blood on your hands, framed for the murder of the Empress. After escaping from prison you become a secret assassin, seeking revenge on the people who conspired against you, clearing your name, and of course, killing lots of people and rats along the way with your assassin-killing skills.
There are a few ways that you can carry out each assassination mission in the game. There is the slow, careful and stealthy approach, which can see you scaling buildings to reach your target, who isn’t expecting you, and then take them out silently. Alternatively you can go through the front door, swords and guns blazing, creating chaos and bloodshed in your wake, in a brute-force attempt in getting to your target. Both methods handle surprisingly well, with AI soldiers and thugs going about their business, totally unaware of your antics around them, or alternatively matching the same show of force as yourself – sword for sword, gun shot to explosive whisky bottle.
Thankfully you don’t have to follow a either path of action here and you can try a mix of both, which is what stands out the most in Dishonored. The game allows you to experiment, and more often than most you can recover from any errors you may have caused. Find yourself setting off an alarm by mistake? Then rip out its power supply of Whale Oil, perhaps cut the throats of any alerted soldiers, or simply flee to the rooftops and wait until everything has calmed down. The accessibility and openness of the game’s small sandbox-based levels is just brilliant, and it really gives you a sense of full control as well as making you feel that you are not forced down a fixed path in order to achieve each mission.
Even though you do have a sense of freedom in each mission you are in, you are still fixed to a new location in Dunwall and a task to complete, all of which follows the game’s main story. With a little help of some newly found allies, who are also actively seeking to dethrone the corrupt government, you take neutral salvation on a small plot of land. It is here where you are able to catch up on some sleep, replenish your ammo or upgrade your weapons and skill upgrades and then proceed to the next mission with a drink – thanks to each mission given to you from the nearby pub.
Before each mission you are given the opportunity to equip new weapons and upgrades as well as use this quite time to reorder and upgrade your powers and abilities. Even though you have a pistol to hand, I usually found myself using my crossbow and trusty sword the most throughout the game. The seventeenth century-like firepower isn’t the most quietest of weapons, so unless you want to attract an army of soldiers to your location it is best you keep that pistol holstered and have it ready as a last resort.
Corvo is also able to exchange Runes (found located around the game’s world) for supernatural powers. Similar to Plasmids in BioShock, these powers give your character enhanced abilities and powers, such as: Agility (that allows you to jump higher), Possession (control animals or humans to access small areas or to cause commotion), Devouring Swarm (summon a swarm of very hungry rats), Dark Vision (see living beings through walls), and my most commonly used power – Blink (rapid movement, or line-of-sight teleportation over a short distance).
All these powers have their primary uses, but I never felt the need to buy or upgrade a few of them, and if I did, it was purely out of curiosity than a real necessity for the game. Some powers make for a great cause of distraction, such as Possession, Windblast and Swarm, with them all being more suited towards a more stealthy style in the game. You can however do this just as cheaply by throwing one of the many nearby glass bottles to cause much of the same distraction. If you choose to mix it up with some more cut-throat action, then you’ll only feel the need to use your precious runes to purchase just a few powers to aid you with that style of play, namely Dark Vision, Blink, Vitality (for added health) and Agility to get you out of trouble fast.
Blink and Dark Vision is probably the most common powers I used throughout the game. Each power or enhancement can be leveled up, and doing so can increase distance, lifespan and overall strength of the power or enhancement. With Blink enhanced, your distance is increased, and once this is done you’re equipped to really fool your foe as well as increase your enjoyment in exploring the game’s world. Jumping down to take out a solider and then jumping back up to the rooftops to witness the commotion that follows has you feeling a bit like the Predator in a jungle. Team these powers up with speed, dark vision, silence and the ability to turn your kills into ash (instead of leaving lingering bodies) and you have a very powerful assassin killing machine to do your bidding with.
Bones charms are the game’s other power-up mechanic, along with runes these act as this game’s collectables around the world. Because each rune or charm enhances your abilities, they become collectables with more of a purpose. By equipping The Heart (a strange artifact in your inventory) you are shown the location and distance to each of these items around the world. This may sound like it would kill off any exploration in finding these items in the game, however knowing where they are is one thing, finding out how to reach them becomes the real challenge and where exploration is required from you. This is a great way of enticing you into collect them too, especially when you find and also hear that a rune or charm is very near to you, and that by collecting them, you will enhance yourself with new abilities or enable you to level-up existing ones.
Graphically and audibly, Dishonored never fails to impress throughout its nine extensive levels. Characters that you interact with ooze detail, presence and emotion, that are not only enhanced by their visual appeal, but also by the incredible voice acting from the talented actors and actresses behind them. The fictional world around you also feels solid, plausible and due to its consistent aesthetics, when exploring torn down buildings and damp alleyways of Dunwall, it gave me a feeling that I have not felt since playing Half-Life 2, with its Combine-like patrolled streets, laser barrier fences, and patrolling men on stilts that gave me the same feeling of confronting a Combine Strider.
There is no multiplayer to be found in Dishonored, but it really doesn’t need it. Arkane Studios have remained focused in bringing a fantastic single player experience, with gameplay that, although is liner and restricted, it couldn’t feel any more open thanks to the control you have over your character, the interaction with the non-player characters, and the way the game makes you feel that you can do anything you want to achieve your goals.
So does Dishonored stand up on its own two feet? It most certainly does! On the surface it is easy to compare previous games we have loved, and it is easy to see similarities in style and gameplay, but these are elements that have clearly been learned, honed and enhanced to make Dishonored a title that lives high up in the rooftops of being one of my favorite games of 2012 so far.