In amongst the FIFA 12s, Assassin's Creed 3s, Halo 4s, and various other sequels coming out this season, it might be easy to overlook an original title. But Dishonored got a good deal of attention at E3, and now it's out for the masses to feast upon.
In Dishonored you play the role of Corvo, the chief bodyguard of the Empress of Dunwall, a fictional city going through an industrial revolution after discovering the many technological uses of whale oil. Returning from a trip to neighbouring cities, seeking help with the dreaded plague that is crippling Dunwall, Corvo is betrayed and imprisoned, and starts out on a journey of revenge.
There are many weapons at your disposal as you work your way through the ranks of the conspiracy, such as knives, crossbows and grenades. But Corvo is also bestowed with a mysterious power by an equally mysterious entity, which gives you the ability to teleport short distances, possess animals and humans, and even summon hordes of plague rats to deal with enemies. Although, even with all that firepower, it is often wise to avoid direct conflict. Once outnumbered by guards you can easily be killed, and the various vantage points and secret tunnels you can teleport to will often give you the opportunity to pick off guards silently, one by one.
Of course, there's always the very clean approach of not killing anyone at all. Several of the missions offer alternative methods to take down your targets without bloodshed, and sneaking around enough can ensure that you never have to fight anyone throughout the whole game, simply knocking a few guards unconscious. This is where Dishonored shines. Whether you want to get through the game with clean hands, or kill everyone in sight, there are various methods to do so. The achievements are also steadily balanced between these two extremes, and I was certainly compelled to do another playthrough straight after the credits rolled.
While finding the easiest route through the missions may be tempting, Dishonored rewards your exploration, giving you more money to spend on weapon upgrades, or hidden runes you can use to upgrade your supernatural powers. There are also countless books, notes and sound files to stumble upon that flesh out the story. That being said, I didn't actually feel all that drawn in by the extra information these files give. The game is quite short and methodical, just having you skip from target to target, and it didn't do much to make me care about the state of the city, just where my next mark was going to be.
While many will compare Dishonored to Assassin's Creed, I found it to be a cross between Hitman and Bioshock. The branching paths and multiple methods of taking out targets are very Hitman-esque, although a bit simpler in execution. The first person view, the use of the left trigger to use various mystical powers, and even the music and "crumbling society" feel of the whole game, conjured up memories of Bioshock at many points throughout. Perhaps that's why I wasn't so drawn into the story. I was longing for the atmosphere and depth that Bioshock's Rapture exuded, but instead Dunwall just feels a little empty and robotic. Guards are pretty much all the same, wandering in the same patterns, and while there is some variety towards the end, it all seems over a bit too soon.
Still, Dishonored is well worth a play. The variety of methods for completing your missions is very well employed, giving changing environments and different endings depending on your actions. If you're getting impatient while waiting for the new Assassin's Creed or Hitman, this will probably sate your appetite for stealthy stabbing.
My rating: 4/5