Do you like “Bioshock” and the “Assassin’s Creed” series? If you answered no, you probably don’t play a lot of video games or you aren’t a very sensible person. But if you answered yes, then I’m sure you’ll love “Dishonored.”
“Dishonored” is a first-person stealth action-adventure game for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in which you play as bodyguard-turned-assassin, Corvo Attano. Corvo starts the game as the royal protector of the Empress of Dunwall, a Victorian London-inspired metropolis currently afflicted by a plague of disease-carrying rats. But when the empress is killed by a group of assassins, Corvo is framed for the crime (thus dishonored) and imprisoned. He is broken out and given a variety of weapons by the Loyalists, a conspiracy group that is set on putting the empress’s daughter Emily on the throne. Corvo is then visited by a mystical being known only as “The Outsider,” who brands him with his mark, allowing him to use a set of powerful spells. Given a badass skull mask and an incredibly large amount of ways to incapacitate opponents, Corvo is sent on missions to take out key targets and bring down the corrupt regime of Dunwall that has taken hold.
Admittedly, the plot isn’t exactly all that well thought out. Even after finishing the game, I’m still not sure why the Empress was assassinated in the first place or how “The Outsider” works in the fictional world. It seems like the drawing board for this was just “magic ninja running around a steampunk city” and the writers just conceived some way to make it hold together. But this is a video game; such things can be forgiven if it is fun to play, and let me tell you, being a magic ninja running around a steampunk city is pretty damn awesome. Through acrobatics and spells, you can explore Dunwall to discover records on the city’s rich history and its colorful inhabitants. Through stealth, you can get past areas teeming with bad guys without ever having to lift a finger, even in neutralizing your primary targets. And if you mess up that stealth, or if you just have an itchy trigger finger, you can fight off almost anything with style if you know what you are doing.
“Dishonored” really shines in its simple, yet elegant and flexible mechanics. In Corvo’s right hand is essentially a switchblade katana with which you can slash, block and parry or stab, slit or choke with if you are sneaking around. In his left you hold whatever side arm or spell you like, the first of which being a flintlock pistol, for those of you who admire a Jack Sparrow, swashbuckling fighting style. You also have a crossbow for silent and long-range attacks, grenades for explosions and razor wire booby traps. And then there are the spells, which include seeing through walls, teleportation, time stopping, summoning rats and even possessing animals or other people. You power up these spells with runes of “The Outsider” and you upgrade your weapons with money and trinkets, all of which are found throughout the game world. But there is only so much you can find, and so you will have to choose which categories you want to invest in. I put a heavy emphasis on my teleportation and crossbow as well as an ability that turns killed enemies into ash. This allowed me to poof up to rooftops and end the existence of baddies from afar like a magnifying glass to ants without anyone noticing. You can also have a slew of hilarious and satisfying moments the more creative and experimental you get. One of my favorite things to do was to stop time, walk behind a group of enemies, fire the crossbow at the back of their heads, walk back in front of them and then resume time to admire both their surprise at my sudden appearance and the exit wounds. It is the capability to have so many of these great moments that makes “Dishonored” a game you can play over and over again, and that is a clear sign of this game’s quality.
It is also worth mentioning the great names behind this game. Harvey Smith, a developer for the classic PC masterpiece “Deus Ex,” is one of the game’s creative directors. Ricardo Bare, also of “Deus Ex,” serves as lead designer and Viktor Antonov, known for his extensive work on the equally applauded “Half-Life 2,” serves as the visual design director. The voice-acting cast has quite a few gems, including Chloe Moretz from “Kick Ass,” John Slattery of “Mad Men,” and Lena Headey of “Game of Thrones.” Just some delightful frosting on the already delicious time-stopping assassin cake.
The one thing that I found interesting, but very bothersome was the game’s preference for pacifism. For a game that seems to pride itself on multiple solutions, the non-violent one clearly has more benefits. See, with a higher kill count, there are more dangerous rat hordes and disease-ridden people scattered throughout the city. The final level goes up in difficulty, and the ending of the game is darker. This just seems a little cruel considering that they made the combat so much fun. It would be like if you took a starved orphan, mega glued a fork to his hand, dropped him off at a buffet, and then told him that the more he eats, the worse his adoptive parents will be. It’s supposed to be another incentive for multiple playthroughs, but it almost comes off as a punishment for those who can’t resist using the cool sword that never leaves Corvo’s hand and it definitely soured my otherwise outstanding experience.
Aside from its slightly weak plot and annoying insistence on nonviolence, “Dishonored” is a great game. It is one of the best I’ve played this year and one I can see myself going back to frequently. It’s original, it’s inventive, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and you should just go play it right now.