In more recent years we’ve seen the Bioshock games attempt to bring that back (from the folks that gave us System Shock) and then last year saw the return of the Deus Ex series in the form of the outstanding Human Revolution which I gave a glowing review to here.
What I’m especially excited about is that this genre is finally roaring back to life and in a big way. I can’t get enough of these kinds of games. I love games that give me the freedom of choice to handle things the way I want to, even nonviolently if I so choose, and then I’m forced to live with the intended and unintended consequences of my decisions. I’m excited that next year will bring us two more incredible games in this genre in the form of Bioshock Infinite and a new Thief game. So these games are back and I couldn’t be more thrilled. They can’t give me enough of these.
This year’s gem is Dishonored and for fans and veterans of Thief, Deus Ex, Half Life 2, and Bioshock games you’re going to feel at home fairly quickly and it shouldn’t be a surprise given the fact that the developers are all veterans from those various series.
Dishonored’s world is a refreshingly unique world in which 19th century concepts crossover with cyberpunk influences with a dash of high tech and even magic thrown in for good measure.
I’ll get it out of the way. PC gamers in particular will nitpick that there are some low rez textures in some spots and frankly the graphics are good but not shock and awe Witcher 2 drop dead great, but everything looks and feels real, sometimes dingy, but authentic. It looks and feels like a real place possibly could in some ways.
However we’re still talking about an awfully good looking game with absolutely stellar art direction. There is no trace of a hint of console portitis anywhere on this game. The eye candy and the menu options prove it although the menu options aren’t near as comprehensive as the new standard Borderlands 2. Every PC game should emulate Borderlands 2’s menus and features but I digress.
Like Bioshock the locale itself is THE star of the game. In this case the city of Dunwall which is essentially 19th Century London dipped in meth and steam cyberpunk. If that sentence alone doesn’t move some copies of this game nothing will.
The art style of the game is striking. The people are draw more towards a broad cartoon style and again, like Bioshock, the player learns more about their backstories through recording, diaries, and notes while playing. These are discovered while exploring and accomplishing task and it’s a very effective way of storytelling and fleshing out characters and personalizing the impact of what’s going on in the city and why.
I have to come back to the city again. Now I’m going to turn some heads here, although Rock Paper Shotgun beat me to it so I’ll have to echo what they said. This is where the Thief homage comes in and big. I’m going to copy and paste this from RPS because I can’t say it any better:
“I haven’t wanted to study and explore a place as much as this since Thief introduced its marvelous warren of secrets, and it’s not only in its superb creation of an urban space both fantastical and relatable that Arkane’s game brings Looking Glass’s work to mind. Dishonored is almost certainly the finest stealth game I’ve played since the dawn of The Metal Age.”
Jaw dropping high praise but I think I’m going to have sign off on that myself.
It may be true, folks. I’m a pretty harsh reviewer but I’ll tell you this: When Thief 4 comes out some time in 2013 it’s got a very tough act to follow on some of the things happening in this game from stealth to the locales. It’s certainly hard for me to imagine a better stealth game that I’ve personally played in quite some time. I may honestly have to go back to at least Thief Deadly Shadows to find something comparable on the stealth scene. In spirit, this is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Thief: The Next Generation. This is something special. No question about it.
Excellent sound design that demands high quality headphones or speakers.
They rolled out a huge A list cast for voice acting that gives this game some significant extra polish. Like some other games I’m forced to wonder if the money had been diverted from paying for big names like Susan Sarandon…you know she didn’t come cheap… Brad Dourif, John Slattery, Michael Madsen whom I’ve always been a huge fan of, Lena Headey and Chloë Grace Moretz. The bonus is no less than Carrie Fisher as the voice you hear over the loudspeakers throughout the game relaying the government propaganda.
The voice acting does raise things a level, though, I can’t really complain on grounds of “what if they’d not spent this much money on voice talent” but it still makes me wonder. The results are still excellent. Film and game composer Daniel Licht was brought on to score the game’s music and he does an excellent job setting atmosphere and tone for this unique world with a dark, atonal sound featuring the Stardivari Hammer violin. The music fits the game perfectly. NPCs have nice voice acting by and large.
The gameplay itself feels fantastic with either keyboard and mouse or controls. Smooth is the operative word. There’s a wide variety of weapons and other tools Corvo can use depending on your preferred approach.
For jaded gamers out there who have been sick and tired of Call of Duty type games and the rest of it…again, I’m going to simply copy and paste Rock, Paper, Shotgun here because I can’t say it any better and I’m not going to bother to try: “It feels like a game from another timeline, one where Thief and System Shock set the bar for what first-person games could be, leading to designs that were built around intelligent use of space and world-building.”
Combat is surprisingly simple and in some cases flirt with button mashing especially if you’re someone that wants to kill everyone. I’ve already seen some people who like to play this way complain that the game is too easy. Max the difficulty out and get back to me on that. You’re missing out on the best part of the game if you’re going to try and play it “run and gun” style but that’s completely up to you. That’s the beauty of the game. Do it the way you want. I will tell you that the game offers more of a rewarding experience if you don’t go around killing everyone in sight. PC gamers can map keys and buttons otherwise plug in a controller. The combat feels good and the operative word is smooth. And yes, PC Gamers, you can peer around corners, too. You can counter attacks, block, and stealth attack lethal or nonlethal. It’s meat and potatoes gameplay that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and it doesn’t have to.
Dishonored is all about improvisation and innovating approaches. This is a salute to the Hitman series where you could handle target eliminations any number of ways you felt like and even in non violent capacities. Your play style IS the right choice always. You can’t beat that. Corvo makes many friends, alliances, and enemies and will be forced to make difficult choices that lead to conflicts of interest. Everything isn’t black and white just like real life.
The game gives players abilities to build up ranging from traditional weapons to supernatural like abilities like teleportation, possession of other living creatures, or temporarily stopping time. A number of people including myself were concerned that the player would be considerably overpowered based on demos and media that Arkane had put out over the months leading to the game’s release but they assured people that they deliberately turned up all the powers for the sake of demoing and showing it all off to people. I’m happy and even somewhat amazed to report that some of the supernatural skills actually enhance stealth situations and have no fear: You will not be an overpowered god. For fans of Mirror’s Edge? Wait until you use Blink combined with Extended Jump. If you see a place that looks like you can go there, you can. It’s that simple. EXPLORE!
19th century cyberpunk hybrid where you play Corvo, the one trusted bodyguard of the Empress. Corvo returns from a desperate last ditch mission abroad to find out anything he can on behalf of the Empress about the plague hitting Dunwall. Very quickly after a brief introduction the narrative takes off.
Corvo is framed for her murder and begins a quest for revenge by becoming an infamous assassin. The game’s story in a vengeance tale soaked in intrigue, politics, double dealing, betrayals, and tough decisions. As you progress, the player learns there is a lot more than meets the eye going on in and out of Dunwall and the stakes are even larger than first thought at the beginning of the game.
Think of a game like Deus Ex or the Thief games combined with first person shooter and RPG elements in a free world where every decision you make matters and you have an idea what Dishonored is about and why so many people have been eagerly awaiting this title. There have been times in this game where I could basically feel like I’m playing a Thief 4. You can play this game like you would a Thief game and are encouraged to do so.
The other difference fundamentally from the excellent Deus Ex HR is encouragement for precision vs taking the shotgun to a situation and you will be rewarded for it. Now certainly, if you want to kill everyone and everything in sight you most certainly can and will still be successful but you might miss out on other kinds of rewards and satisfying game experiences. I have no doubt there’s at least one special achievement and accomplishment for anyone that does 100 percent non violent/non lethal playthrough which is possible but incredibly difficult. There are no lame bosses like Deus Ex HR had, either. The bosses were really the only jarring blemish on that otherwise fantastic game.
None of significance just some minor quibbles. For example, you come across a character in a supposedly untouchable safe room but if you waltz next door there’s a nifty little switch that shuts all the protection down. Too simple and too easy and this game is better than this. Thankfully that’s an anomaly. It’s forgiven in about two seconds, tops.
As previously mentioned, for more aggressive players the combat can flirt with button mashing tedium if you want to be a mass serial killer but it’s effective enough.
Like any great game, I wish it were longer but the emphasis is clearly on quality over quantity so that’s just me making an observation. Of course I want more! That’s the best compliment you can pay something. I hope there’s some top flight expansion pack caliber material being planned for this.
I want to emphasize that while this game salutes well known games like Bioshock, Thief, Half Life, Deus Ex and the like this is a unique work from top to bottom. It isn’t just a mishmash rip off shaken and not stirred although that still would have been a heck of a good game.
Finally, I’m going to repeat a refrain that I’ve said before like for Deus Ex HR: Max the difficulty out and hit the menus and turn off any and all hand holding options to get the most out of this game.
The game is at its best if you play geared more towards stealth. It’s sublime and the stealth aspects are among the best I’ve seen in a number of years. I’ve had “Hitman” moments, I’ve had some “Deus Ex” moments and, yes, I’ve had some “Thief” moments so if you’re someone playing this more towards run and gun aggressive style and you’re getting bored? Consider restarting the game at some point and max the difficulty out and favor stealth and I guarantee you a far more rewarding experience.
This is on my shortlist for 2012 Game of the Year. It’s not perfect but where it shines it really shines. It’s an impressive feat for one game to come along that scratches some Thief, Deus Ex, System Shock itches all at once.