The nature of gaming being what it is, a lot of the things you see at E3 are sequels to something or are adaptations of a movie or book property. Look at the list of games that we covered and this becomes very apparent. Given this, when you come across a new IP that looks good it is pretty exciting. This brings us to Bethesda’s Dishonored.
Dishonored is a first person stealth action game set in a pseudo-Victorian steampunk city (the city runs on whale oil, fyi) in which the player is in control of Corvo Atano, a bodyguard to the Empress who is framed for her murder and who uses his skills as a fighter/assassin to take revenge on the Lord Regent who set him up. Atano is not only a badass in the ways of physical combat and sneaking around but also possesses a variety of special powers that help him along the way.
Developed by Arkane Studios, Dishonored looks like what would happen if Bioshock and Thief had a steamy late night tryst which then gave birth to a new stealth/action game. A quick look at the development team reveals that this is not too far off from what happened as members of the team have worked on both Bioshock 2 and the Thief series. From the game play demo shown and the hands on I had with the game it looks like this pairing of concepts is a very good one.
For the game play demo, Arkane had the driver show two different approaches to assassinate a target in a particular area. For the purposes of the demonstration, Atano’s powers were unlocked so we could see just what the man can do but in the game itself the player will have to unlock those throughout the course of the game by collecting runes.
The first run through, the driver elected to go the stealth/no kill route, which sounds like it will be harder than an all out assault but this path didn’t look terribly difficult and kept the character from dying at any time (something that the combat run through could not claim). The play through started in a standard sort of way with Atano lurking around outside of a house that held his assassination target looking for paths in. He climbed up a building with relative ease, which is nice for a first person game, and used the roof tops to get to the building. One of the first surprises came when Atano needed to get from a rooftop across the street to the roof of the target building. Using Atano’s power wheel, the driver used a teleport move to effortlessly pop across the gap and gain access to the roof.
It became a matter of more typical stealth play as he avoided guard entanglements using the ‘Dark Vision’ which is the now universal radar mode that you get in stealth games. It is very helpful here as the stealth is occlusion based and operates through vision cones so knowing where your enemy is looking makes stealth much, much easier. Unable to bypass security without being seen, Atano used another power, possession which merges Atano with the target animal or human, to take over a fish in the river and swim through an open sewer grate. Once on the other side, Atano was able to reconstitute himself and go on his merry way.
Moving on with stealth it became apparent that the sound in the game is dynamic and moves through the space realistically. This is important because while it is helpful for you to know when people are approaching and from where, it also means you have to pay attention to the noise you are making relative to the people you are trying to sneak around. The stealth mode also allows for subtle kills including methods of luring characters into dangerous situations that you can then spring on them such as electrocuting them or filling a room with toxic gas. You can also pickpocket items from unaware characters to help you along your way.
The most impressive stealth kill that we saw, however, was on in which Atano possessed his assassination target and then made him go out to a balcony where he was alone and then popped out of the body to kill him and then dump him over the railing and into the water below. This sort of thing is only achieved at higher power levels but it makes me giddy just to think about how creative the player can get with kills with systems like this.
Switching over to the combat oriented run, the play through was a bit shorter as a full frontal assault brings down a lot of heat. Atano has a lot of options, however, and killing is something he is very good at. Utilizing firearms, a combat knife and his powers, the battles were pretty impressive. Atano was killed in this run through but it was pretty spectacular to watch.
Dishonored offers up a ton of options and control but despite this is not an open world game. The player moves through a linear progression that looks a lot like Bioshock where your story is pretty linear but you can move freely around the areas in which you are operating. The sense of morality is a bit more in tune with Dues Ex, another series that members of the team have worked on, where you can kill whom ever you want with out a huge penalty but which will have an impact on the ending you get. Thinking about it, if you are trying to redeem yourself for being wrongly accused of murder then murdering innocent people is probably not a great idea. The game lets you work that out on your own, however, and you can do as you like. This feeling of choice extends to how you play the game as well. Because of the way the game is set up, you can mix and match powers with attacks to produce new actions that maybe the developers weren’t even thinking about when they made the game. This allows for even more creativity in the game play which in turn allows the players to craft a game experience all their own.
After the demo I got some hands on time with the game and if you are familiar with Bioshock then the controls and movement should be pretty much second nature. The action flows a bit differently than a lot of first person games and allows for more running, jumping and sliding than you would normally see. Powers and weapons were easy to use and the controls generally made sense in the hand. I also realized just how bloody this game is as I managed to decapitate an enemy with my knife in a way that was pretty damn gory.
The only real problem that I saw with Dishonored was that I can’t play it right now. That is the great frustration of E3 is you encounter games you want right now. Thankfully we are only going to have to wait until October 9th to get our hands on Dishonored which is nice especially since this feels like a pretty decent substitute for Bioshock Infinite which has moved back to 2013. Dishonored is going to be available for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.