Dishonored is quite an anomaly in the world of stealth games. It claims to offer the power of choice both over the story events and your style of play, a claim made by many games (mostly RPGs) that has been very hit-or-miss for the last decade. Deus Ex: Human revolution was one such game, and did not quite deliver on what it promised. Now, Deus Ex was not by any stretch a bad game, but it demonstrated the extremely delicate balance between polish and versatility every ambitious game must make. This required level of precision makes Arcane Studio’s latest title all the more shockingly impressive, as Dishonored not only truly offers a distinct choice in how you play the game, but it has an insane level of stylized polish that, when combined with its well-developed gloomy dystopian world, creates a unique experience that even veteran stealth gamers will drool at the chance to play. Dishonored isn’t just a fantastic stealth game, it’s one of the most creative and versatile experiences since the original Bioshock.
Dishonored tells a powerful tale of revenge that takes place in Dunwall, a dark and gloomy Victorian-style city that is filled with corruption, plague, violence, steampunk-inspired whale-oil powered technologies, and dark magic controlled by a powerful otherworldly entity. The backstory of Dunwall and its surrounding Isles is told through the various books and tomes you find throughout the game, and is highly detailed and truly disturbing at times. You play as Corvo Attano, The Royal Protector of the Empress of Dunwall, renowned for your combat ability and loyalty. I won’t spoil any major story elements, but suffice it to say you get seriously screwed within the first twenty minutes of the game. Political manipulation, betrayal, and conspiracy force Corvo to become an infamous masked assassin, and it is up to the player to use Corvo’s great skill to either sneak or slaughter your way through some seriously awesome levels, ranging from a brothel to a masquerade ball with each more varied and disturbing than the last. The writing is very good, and the characters are well-developed and stay true to the nature of their horrifyingly depressing city. Depending on your choice of tactics and the fates of a few huge political players in Dunwall, the ending fluxes between a city filled with reform and a city filled with corpses. There are a few big story twists, some more predictable that others, but regardless Dishonored is an experience you will not soon forget.
I can count the number of games that truly allow you to choose your play-style on one hand, and Dishonored is by far the most polished and fun. The levels are less of a pathway and more of a playground, with every large area having more and more options to traverse as the game progresses. If you are good enough, you can sneak through the world of Dunwall never alerting a soul and sparing everyone. You can also kick the front doors down and slice the throat of everyone that moves. Both options are not only possible, but also exhilarating as hell, making you feel like a true master of any situation. There are also all levels of play in between, giving you so many ways to play Dishonored that it borders on ridiculous. You are offered several ways to enjoy combat as well. Corvo is given not only close/long range weapons and rewiring tools, but also supernatural powers that let you do some seriously bad-ass stuff. Blink is a short range teleport that in and of itself makes traversing the levels fun as hell, and is quite interesting to use in combat. The powers tailor to both play styles as well, and all kinds of players will find them very easy to use and insanely useful. Traps set in the environment by the enemies can also become your weapons. All technological obstacles can either by removed, or turned against your enemies. Watching guards walk into a light shield and disintegrate never gets old. Bone charms, magical talismans hidden throughout each level, give you even more optional bonuses, and attune the game specifically to each player to an even greater degree. No matter whom you are, Dishonored is a blast and will be very hard to put down, and given the multiple ways to play not only the overall game but each individual area in every level with different toys and supernatural powers, the replayability of this title is ludicrously high.
Dunwall, grotesque and disturbingly depressing as it may be, is one beautiful city. Dishonored sports a highly stylized look and it benefits greatly from it. You feel like the game is not only a great experience on your screen, but would have been an awesome graphic novel. Bloom effects make the sunlight beautifully stream past the Victorian clock towers, and every being from the Hagfish to the masked Overseers look very cool and perfectly match the world’s feel and style. Animations are for the most part very smooth, especially during combat, and the facial animation is pretty good for a first-person stealth/action game. The style of the menus and interface however, is just top notch. Everything from the power selection wheel to the opening start menu reflects the chaotic nature and style of the game. Beautiful and well-polished, Dishonored is one pretty game. Its look and feel will not be easy to forget by all who experience it.
If you think that Dishonored couldn’t be creepier, wait until you hear its soundtrack and ambience. Creepy harpsichord tunes and old disturbing Whaler songs fill the world, and keep you feeling constantly unsettled, especially in some of the more horrifying later levels. Moaning plague victims and starving rat squeaks fill the streets of Dunwall, and you constantly feel like everything in the city wants you dead. Top notch sound design and voice work adds yet another level of immersion to an already fantastic experience.
Dishonored came out of nowhere, and is a surprisingly amazing title. Developer Arcane Studios had little going for it, and yet delivered one of the most polished and well-developed choice-fueled experiences of the past few years. Few games bring action and stealth players together, and even fewer do it as perfectly as Dishonored. This twisted and exhilarating experience filled with death and betrayal has taken a truly special place in the gaming world, and should be experienced by all. Dishonored snuck up behind us and slit our throats with polished gameplay and a wonderful story in a beautifully horrifying world, and earns itself 5 out of 5 albino plague rats along with a personal recommendation for editor’s choice. Bravo Arcane. Bravo.