In recent years, there’s been a sea change in the stealth genre. From the finicky early Splinter Cell entries, where one wrong step could result in a Game Over screen, to Batman: Arkham Asylum, where hiding in the shadows allowed you be more of a predator, and a detection only ramped up your prey’s panic — stealth has transitioned from staying out of sight to strategically alerting people to your presence. And Dishonored is the latest, darkest and most empowering version of this type of game.
You play Corvo, the Empress’ bodyguard. But within the first few minutes of the game, you’re ambushed, and she’s killed. When you wake up, her daughter Emily is gone — kidnapped, and all the blame is pinned on you. Dishonored (get it?), you’ll spend the rest of the game getting her back, clearing your name, and killing those responsible, along with finding out their true motives.
1. LOOK AROUND
Dishonored rewards exploration. Much like Fallout 3 or Skyrim, if you decide to take the road (or in this case, rooftop) less traveled by, you’ll usually find something at the end of it. At one point, I thought I was done one level, but found a whole other area to explore when I walked down this one alley.
2. PRETTY AS A PAINTING
The art design, which owes a lot to oil paintings, actually attempts to make the whole world look like you’re creeping around a painting, which is marvelous, and a great way to set the tone — a world where oil painting and inky posters are the common imaging techniques.
3. BLINK AND YOU’LL GET IT
The first special ability you’ll acquire is the power to teleport short distances and it is splendid. It’s the closest you’ll come to being X-Men’s Nightcrawler, and while it won’t replace running, it’ll become your primary stealth option. Fully upgraded, you’ll be on the rooftops in seconds, a parkour-inspired steampunk Batman assassin.
4. COLLECT THEM ALL
While the collectibles are not as charmingly empowering as say, those in Crackdown — they all benefit you. From kingsparrow feathers on rooftops, to ore by the water, to random coins found on tables, they all stream into the game’s upgrade economy and allow you to cash them in for gadgets upgrades or greater carrying capacity. Perhaps the ultimate collectible, however, are the game’s runes, which allow for an upgrade in various powers, such as slowing time, casting a wind blast, or the ability to possess living things for a short time. But even minor collectibles, such as the reading of notes and books, can sometimes give you clues as to things you may have missed previously. All of it serves to generate the feeling of a lived-in, shifting, cluttered world.
5. BE GENTLE
For such a complex game, the tutorial and gradual introduction to your powers is appropriately gentle. Even later on, the ramp-up of your powers and your enemies makes sense. And as you get stronger, so do your options for how you want to tackle various levels. You can upgrade your health regeneration if you want to just throw yourself at the enemies, or you can upgrade your agility and blink if you prefer to tackle challenges less confrontationally
6. THE MEDIUM IS MASSAGED
It’s refreshing when your actions have an obvious effect on the world you’re inhabiting and it’s no different here. At the end of every level, you get a stats reading on how you did. The more people you kill, and the more bodies are found after your mission, the greater the “chaos” in the world, and thus, the greater the opposition you might face later on. But your actions are reflected in more cosmetic ways as well — for instance, a poster might be put up, alerting you to what happened to someone you helped, or hurt. Finally, the degree of alterness of various guards and enemies escalates and de-escalates in a very organic way and forgiving way, so you are given a bit of leeway to experiment.
7. OPEN WORLD
As linear as some of the missions are, the world of Dishonored is quite open. Much like the Batman games, you will be re-treading areas you’ve gone through previously, but the developers have done a great job of throwing in some new twist, a new enemy, or new people populating the area. And usually you can avoid most of them if you like. Ultimately, the feeling of freedom is quite exhilarating.
This is a great game whether you want to go in guns firing or stealthing like a ninja. Like the Batman games, I was initially skeptical, but have come 180 degrees. Dishonored has its clockwork claws deep in me and I am pushing them in deeper.
Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.
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