It’s a rare video game that keeps me up nights before it’s released, but there’s something about Dishonored. Some of the best games capitalize on a masterfully crafted setting and atmosphere: Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Half Life 2, etc. Plus, I can’t resist a good dystopian future/dystopian alternate reality. And there’s no denying that I have a deeply morbid fascination with viral disease. Dishonored is everything that gives me the heebie jeebies, but God help me, I just can’t look away!
Bethesda seems to be basing most of their advertising on vaguely disturbing imagery. The debut trailer depicts a large rat tugging loose flesh from a corpse hand. That’ll get under your skin. Between the images of wrapped bodies being dumped from airships into a veritable sea of dead and the fact that the infected bleed from the eyes, I think this game can be correctly labeled a psychological horror. I’m going to love it.
It’s no surprise that Dishonored is expected to be story-centric, but Bethesda isn’t about to let us down in the gameplay. Before beginning the demo, Bethesda’s lackeys made sure that I knew about Corvo’s abilities and how they can be used. The better powers, they explained, can be combined into a vast number of creative kills. We’ve all seen the “slow down time right after an enemy fires a gun, possess the enemy, and move him in front of his own bullet” trick. I also enjoyed the “putting an exploding blade trap onto a rat, possessing it and detonating it in the middle of a crowd of guards” strategy.
The nearly limitless violent fun you can have with these powers does contradict a bit with the fact that the developers seem to be encouraging us to take the nonviolent route. The entire game can be played without actually killing anyone, and the game changes a bit depending on how many people you decide to kill. Bethesda insists that players will not be punished for playing the way they want to, whether that be the sneaky way or guns a-blazing. However, they did say that violent acts may cause certain characters to turn against you, and failed to mention any direct punishments for being nice. I’m hoping it will come out equal, because even though I always choose the sneaky route (being an actual ninja), I enjoy moral realism. Sometimes being a nice guy does get you screwed over, so I expect some punishment for not killing in Dishonored.
The gameplay itself was smooth and enjoyable. The stealth-focused first person aesthetic was, according to Bethesda, inspired by PC hits like Deus Ex and Thief. One of the developers also worked on Half Life 2, and there are former BioWare developers on the team. It’s a good combination. Anyway, I started off with a mission to sneak into a warehouse and kidnap a scientist. I began nearby a couple guards, and their conversation as I snuck around them nicely outlined my motivation. One guard started off asking why they shouldn’t maybe give some medicine to the poor people instead of just to the rich, and another guard explained how the poor were like pigs, so who cares if they die?
It was clear that there were at least two ways in. I snuck in the back by going down to the canal and performing some first person platforming up to a metal walkway. Determined to challenge myself with a no-kill policy, I spent most of my time using the Divine Eye ability, which allows you to see through walls to locate nearby guards. Mana regenerates for low-level abilities like this, so there was no reason not to use it. This might get some complaints from people who don’t want to see the world in weird yellow-orange colors all the time.
I was able to get upstairs without disturbing any guards and came upon some tools, which I grabbed for later. After a bit of poking around and strangling people, I discovered a way to rewire the insta-kill force field with my tools, making so it would disintegrate anyone but me. After doing so, a guard that had been pacing around came to an unfortunate end. So ended my no-kill policy. That being said, I decided to try out some aggressive powers. Watching a pack of evil rats bring a grown man with a gun down is disturbingly awesome. This is made even better when his friend just stands and watches in horror once it becomes apparent that the rats are not afraid of bullets, and you sneak up behind him and cut his throat. With possession, kidnapping the scientist was a simple matter.
All in all, a satisfying adventure. Taking the sneaky route is very doable, though not what I would call easy. It took some serious patience to hang out and watch the pacing patterns of the guards to ensure that I wasn’t caught. A true no-kill policy will most certainly require many reloads. But us ninjas know – nothing is more satisfying then when that patience pays off.
The best thing about the gameplay was that I did feel as though I had many options about how I could proceed through the mission. Based on other hands-on previews I’ve read, it sounds like this is the norm. I have high hopes for the story that goes along with the eerie atmosphere, and I’m hoping The Outsider proves to be as fascinating a character as G-Man. As ever, I am skeptical about the moral choice system. I have been disappointed many times and I haven’t heard anything about Dishonored to convince me that its system will be any better. Regardless, after being only mildly interested in this steampunky new title (and only then because of my love for Bethesda), this demo sealed the deal for me. I will be picking it up on launch day.