Imagine what would happen if a train full of copies of Deus Ex 3 collided with a train full of copies of Fable III. Oh, they would have to be steam trains too. You would probably end up with a bunch of copies of Dishonored, buried amongst the debris.
There hasn’t been much hype or fanfare regarding this game, which is a shame as it is one of the year’s best titles. I came to it pretty fresh – I’d briefly played a level from the middle of the game for a few minutes at the Eurogamer Expo. That taught me about the art style of the game and that there were quite a few powers and skills to learn.
But let’s go back – the game is set in the Steampunk / Albion-esque province of Dunwall - one of the many faux-Dickensian / Martin Chuzzlewit-esque olde names you encounter. You play as a character called Corvo – who is Lord Protector to the Empress of this place. It starts nicely enough – you sail into a harbour at Dunwall and enter the palace there, looking around and taking in the art style – it has a hand-painted, brushy, smudgey look. It’s pretty effective until you get up close and some of the textures can just be a bit gritty. But it looks pretty darn good.
So the first couple of minutes play lead one to think that the game has a Steampunk-meets-Fable III type vibe. A charming olde Terry Pratchett style yarn, the kind of thing Peter Molyneux would create. But soon your Empress is murdered, you are framed for it and you spend six months in a dank jail cell – waiting execution as the Empress’ murderers usurp the throne and seize their corrupt grip on power.
The game takes a darker turn here – the Steampunk vibe gets ever stronger and you have to use stealth and assassination techniques to escape. This is where you get a clue why the game has an 18 certificate. Straight away the game provides multiple choices and moral routes – do you want to sneak among the shadows and not be seen? Do you want to take down your enemies non-lethally? Or do you want to take on all comers and butcher them all?
And then the story opens up. Pretty soon you are recruited by a faction of loyalists, determined to restore the daughter of the Empress. They equip you with weapons, powers and the signature assassin’s mask from the front cover of the game box. And so you start working for them as an assassin.
Here the game takes an even darker turn – the cute, Fable vibe soon disappears when you see your first crowd of rats stripping the flesh from a dead body. Sometimes you have to pick up a dead body and throw it towards a group of rats as a diversion for them to eat – enabling you to sneak past. They are deadly, both in terms of their bite and the plague they carry… The whole province is also revealed as a whaling town – all the electrical machinery runs off of whale oil and books can be found describing the whaling process in detail. Scrappy posters attached to walls advertise forthcoming dog fights too…
So Dunwall is as dark as it is charming. It’s also sprawling and expansive – there are so many places to explore, side quests to uncover and loot to find. The usual coins and ammo abound, but there are also powers to find and level up for your character. Not too many – there are only six supernatural powers (runes) to aquire and 40 other bone charms (bone-us attributes, eh readers?). They still have to be found and it brings out the explorer/completionist in you to find them. These are found by, er, holding up a mechanical heart in your left hand that lights and beats quicker as you near them? Well, okay then!
It’s a weird and wonderful game, all in all. Beautiful yet grim, stealthy yet bloodthirsty and there is so much to explore. Once completed, the game encourages you to play through again and unlock its achievements – such as a playthrough without killing anyone, or being seen by anyone. Or without using any powers at all – these are seriously tough challenges.
I do hope this game doesn’t get too overlooked as silly season approaches – amongst Black Ops 2, Halo 4, Forza Horizon and the obvious sellers. This game has a big, semi-dark, mechanical heart and it is well worth a look. It’s a fresh, stylish, stealthy action challenge.
Dishonored is out now for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC (Xbox 360 version tested)