Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mashbuttons Reviews Dishonored | Review

When you think Bethesda Softworks, the developer - you think grand RPG's that blur the line between MMO's and stand-alone single player experiences that put the player in wonderful worlds set with full backstory, lore and characters.  A few years ago, Bethesda, the publisher, started buying up a lot of smaller developers and have put out a few more titles than usual, but none have really made much of a splash...that is, until today's Arkane Studios' Dishonored.

Dishonored has been in my eyes, a slow-burn.  Originally showing up on our radar earlier this year with some in-depth demonstrations from trade shows like E3, and the like.  Dishonored was developed by a lesser known team, and I had my share of skepticism, however, it was the concept of the game, and the art style that harkened back to the days of first seeing Half-Life 2's dystopian City 17 that kept my interest.  And there's a reason for that shared art style; Viktor Antonov, is Dishonored's Art Director, who happened to be the lead on Half-Life 2.  Upon further research, Arkane Studios, didn't have much of a history...they were one of the many developers brought on to help Bioshock 2 when it was going through development hell, and even a cancelled project with Valve for a Half-Life spin-off based on the town of Ravenholm.  However, they do have a pretty key industry vet when it comes to stealthy titles, in Harvey Smith, who was a lead on Deus Ex (another, now classic, title that incorporates stealth, and is heavy on player choice).

Outside of this semi-boring preamble about the history of the guys behind the game, what is it about?  And is it any good?

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Dishonored takes place in Dunwall, a dystopian steam-punk "alternative" universe that is supposed to model historic London in setting, with magic and advanced technology fused with an 1800's feel.  You play Corvo, a royal bodyguard to the Empress, who upon returning home early, bears witness to an attack on the Empress's life, and kidnapping of her daughter.  What is quickly realized to be a setup, Corvo is imprisoned and setup to take the fall for the murder.  You're then thrust into escaping by a "friend" who slips you a key.  Branded an outcast and fugitive, you must escape to meet up with the mystery friend who helped you and uncover a larger story of magic, void-like forces and treason to find the Empress' daughter, clear your name and exact revenge upon the hands that betrayed you.

The city of Dunwall is impressive in and of itself.  Plagued by rats (literally), who will tear at a body like Piranhas, and disease spreading and keeping everyone poor.  There is a full ecosystem (and back story if you read the many books, memos and notes strewn about the levels) and the fuel of choice is whale oil.  I know, sorta weird, but you'll find yourself using Whale Oil tanks to your advantage to re route power away from security systems, etc.

Dishonored is a stealth game by design, but in reality, it's whatever type of game you want it to be.  Pure stealth, bad ass first person shooter, or something in-between.  It's greatest strength is it's ability to mold to your play style.  You can choose to focus on the main story, ignoring the side quests, turning a blind eye to exploring the detailed environment for back story, and instead go right for the main kill.  You can, in effect, complete each "mission" with a sheer focus for nothing but the necessary and moving on.  This will complete the game rather quickly.

Instead, I spend about 2 hours on the first mission alone (well, what I consider the first mission after breaking out of prison and hooking up with others to help drive the story).  In a normal first person shooter, you're more interested in been aggressive, maybe so much you don't even appreciate the level of craft the designers put into the environments.  And while this could be an interesting approach, I found exploring rooftops, looking for paths less obvious, and finding power ups to of much more fun.  I met a few characters along the way that de-railed my main mission a bit, but taking my time, I was able to find a few Runes and Bone Charms I could've normally missed.

Speaking of power-ups and collectibles, Dishonored has some RPG elements in this regard.  I found many weapons (pistols, crossbows, etc) and of course my blade, but collecting the Runes allows you to unlock your powers bestowed upon you by the Outsider in sequences not unlike the Scarecrow sequences in Batman Arkham Asylum.  After you collect enough, you can unlock powers that allow you to teleport a short distance instantaneously (Blink), see through walls (Dark Vision) and slow down or even stop time (Bend Time) and many more.  You'll also find Bone Charms, which you can have up to 3 active giving you bonus attributes like longer possession times, etc

Dishonored is a great game.  One that gradually keeps unlocking more features and tools to experiment with interesting approaches to each mission.  I really think Bethesda has a fantastic new IP on their hands, and I'm sure we can expect a sequel, perhaps on next generation consoles.  I for one would welcome that, as though the game looks fantastic, lets be honest, an Xbox is now 7 years old, and a PlayStation 3 is six.  The PS3 and Xbox 360's were out 5 and 4 years after their predecessor's.  Not to get side tracked by a console tangent, I just can't imagine what the developers would be able to do with some more processing and graphics bandwidth to tap into.

Mashbuttons.com gives Dishonored a 9 out of 10 and is available now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Games for Windows PC

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