Friday, December 21, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Dishonored

Dishonored sounds like the fantasy mash-up of one too many genres; a steampunk stealth assassin first-person game set in a Victorian London-esque city. While it doesn’t hit all those notes, Dishonored does give players enough agency to make them feel like the outcome they received is the one they chose. Like last year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored gives players the option to complete objectives either through stealth and non-lethal tactics, or with pure malicious intent leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

Instead of technology-induced augments though, Dishonored uses black magic as its tools of the trade, given to you by someone named the Outsider. You never learn who or what the Outsider is, but the narrative is intriguing enough to see it to the end, and warrant a sequel. Dishonored is a tale of revenge, and though some plot points are obvious, it lets players choose how best to serve it.

Human Revolution isn’t the only game to share elements with Dishonored. Its city, Dunwall, is steep in bodies from the plague rats and feels like a real lived-in place, despite its detachment from any place found on Earth. It shares a similar visual architecture to City 17 of Half-Life 2 thanks to visual design director Viktor Anonov. Characters impress with a stylized art direction including stretched, elongated facial features harkening back to the look of splicers from BioShock. Actors like Susan Sarandon, Michael Madson, and Carrie Fisher provide dialogue, but none are accentuated enough to tell who voices who without looking at a credits list.

However, Dishonored suffers from the same problems most stealth games do. Too many of the cool items, weapons, or abilities are off-limits in a stealth playthrough. Instead of acquiring the windblast ability, or the one that summons a swarm of rats to chew through enemies, I had to stick with blink and being able to see through walls. Even the sword held in Corvo’s right hand during the entire game might as well have not been there, as I never used it.

I initially felt put-off by the ambitiousness of Dishonored; trying to be everything for everyone, whether you’re looking for an action or a stealth game. It hits and misses on both sides of the fence, but the mix of a rich world, refined controls, and interesting mechanics makes it one of the great games this year. I’m anxious to see where Arkane takes the series, now Bethesda has cleared it for more releases.

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