Saturday, 9 March 2013

Dishonored Review

Depending on your perspective Dishonored either seems to have come out of nowhere or has been one of the most anticipated games of the year. I’ve seen reviews calling it the surprise/sleeper hit of the year and others commenting on whether or not it lived up to all the hype and expectations.
The game had drawn comparisons to Thief, Deus Ex and Bioshock so it had set itself some very high standards and it mostly lives up to them. The look of the game shares similarities to the painted look of Bioshock and combines City 17 in Half Life 2, with a Victorian, cyberpunk feel. The world itself feels very unique as it’s able to draw on different historical elements but allows itself more artistic license with technology and magic than real history allows.

The first level of the game (a prologue aside) see’s you escaping from prison. You’re given a key with a note offering you a way to escape. The game doesn’t give you too many clues on how to escape there are hints and directional markers; though you can turn these off if you prefer to figure these things out for yourself. The difficulty in stealth games especially in an FPS is always not being sure what the enemies field of vision will be like. I spent quite a while in the opening room before I realized that for one, my character would be able to jump and climb a lot higher than I thought and secondly that your enemies have really terrible peripheral vision. It’s always seemed to be a bit of a failing in these games to me that enemies can see about 10 meters in front of them at best, but I won’t hold this against Dishonored. Once you get the hang of moving around and sneaking up on enemies you’re aware of the possibility of getting through the game with no kills. Possibly without even being discovered once, although that is truly difficult.

It puts you in a bind - do you go for the mostly stealthy no-kills game and get the happier ending? Or do you actually use some of the fun weapons and powers to take people down in creative ways, even if it does lead to a darker ending. It’s definitely a game where at least 2 playthroughs are needed to truly appreciate it. You’ll want to see all the alternate ways of tackling missions. If you go for a more violent approach, you'll still need a certain degree of tactical thinking. If you just run in trying to slash your way past everyone, you’ll struggle to get through unscathed. But certainly the difficulty in sneaking up on everyone and the limited amount of sleep darts you can carry makes killing the easier option. There certainly are creative ways to cause destruction in the game as this video demonstrates trailer so it’s a shame that the mechanics of the game aren’t able to reward you for creativity in other than a few trophies/achievements.

The first of the powers the game gives you is “Blink.” It allows you to throw yourself across along platforms, up to high ledges and you can also use it to break your fall.  It can also be a quicker way of sneaking up on enemies. There are limitations to it though. You can’t use it pass through traps, as you’re still physically flinging yourself through space rather than teleporting. It has that quality to it where even when you stop playing the game, you look outside and think “Hmm I could blink onto that window ledge, climb up onto that house, jump across the rooftops and into that house with the open window over there” I’m playing Assassins Creed 3 at the moment and it took a period of adjustment to get used to the fact that I wouldn’t have the ability to 'blink' myself to my targets.

Another inspired idea in the game was to randomize some of the mission variables. So some safe codes aren’t the same each time you play through and in the case of the Lady Boyle mission your target changes. Your mission is to assassinate one of the Boyle sisters at a masquerade party and each of them is wearing a different colour dress and each time the name of your target and the colour dress they wear changes so your investigation has to be slightly different each time.
It has to be said though, not every mission has this much creativity behind it. Some missions are across some fairly linear and narrow locations. Though there’s still slightly different ways to tackle them it doesn’t always challenge you to think so laterally.

As for the story, the world is very well crafted, it’s detailed, they thought about how the society operates, its energy sources, its history. The books scattered throughout the world offers insight into the history of the land and the mythology. If they wanted to write a sequel set in the same universe, perhaps in a different city entirely, or a different point in history. They’d probably be able to do it, and make it work very well. The trouble is the dialogue in the game is too basic its aim seems to be to get across all the necessary plot and character information without leaving much room for personality.
 Despite some high profile cast members, nobody delivers a particularly impassioned performance. It feels more like the cast are having their first read-through at times. The writer talked about trying to make the dialogue as brief as possible and the result is the characters feel flat. There are no real interesting human qualities to them. And the fact that your character has no voice and says nothing aside from a few things in multiple choice responses, means characters have to talk to you in that strange way all characters have to talk to a silent protagonist. It’s a real shame because the foundations for a great story are there, but some bad decisions were made in the execution. In the end you don’t feel as invested in Dunwall and Corvo as you should and so the ending just feels a bit underwhelming.

But this shouldn’t subtract from the fact that this is a smart and exciting game. Well worth a look for anyone interested in this multiple choice FPS/RPG hybrid genre.

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