Let's sneak up on Dishonored

/ Updated: October 8, 2012 11:12 AM PDT

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It's a rare thing these days when a unique potential video game franchise is birthed to the world, free from having to live up to its predecessors and from naysayers who "didn't like the first game."

It's also a sink-or-swim test, a sort of trial run that will most likely determine whether or not a new intellectual property gets the sequel treatment.

Is Dishonored's debut one worth embracing?

Jeff:
I can't play Dishonored and not immediately think of the BioShock series. What with its steampunk decor and red health and blue magic vials, there are a handful of similarities. It's no surprise a bit of Rapture shows its face in Dishonored, though -- Arkane Studios was tasked with a lot of the art and animation for BioShock 2. There's no denying it's clearly made a lasting impression on the studio.

But while the visuals and a game mechanic or two will make you think of BioShock, Dishonored is a mostly different game that's heavily focused on stealth. It's a bit of a tug-of-war, though, since Dishonored gives the player so many awesome attack abilities. You'll find yourself wanting to eliminate your enemies using these powers more than sneaking past them, but it's the latter that will really wind up rewarding you.

Arkane Studios

You can bind only four weapons or magic types to a quick-access menu. Powers and abilities can be upgraded in the home area the game's hero, Corvo, visits in between missions. You can use runes that are hidden in each mission to unlock new powers via the pause screen.

Finding these runes is puzzling enough all on its own, so there's a fair amount to do aside from following missions. Side quests aren't plentiful, but they do exist, sometimes offering shortcuts to a main mission objective. There's also an awful amount of literature to sift through, as Corvo finds tons of books, journal entries, and voice recordings scattered throughout the world.

Dishonored's story is strong, but I wish it were a bit more engaging. I found myself wanting to press on not for the outcome of the narrative, but for the genuinely challenging gameplay. There are different ways you can approach each objective, so make sure you're scoping out everything there is to see in every environment. Again, keeping kills to a minimum will keep your "Chaos" meter low, which will generate better story outcomes.

Arkane Studios

Unfortunately, I do think players expecting a nonstop action game will be disappointed with Dishonored. I enjoyed the game because it encourages creativity and forces players not to shoot first and ask questions later, contrary to what so many contemporary titles thrive on. You will die a lot in Dishonored -- especially in the beginning -- but the game teaches you how to become a creature of the shadows. Patience is the most valuable advice I can give someone who is just starting out.

Dishonored needs to be praised simply because it's a strong first effort at creating a brand-new franchise that combines various gameplay elements. Throw away any preconceived notions you may have about the game, and instead let it show you everything it has to offer.

Dan:
I cannot think of a game more highly hyped, at least among the gaming literati, in 2012 than Dishonored. From the reaction I saw to its behind-closed-doors demo session at the E3 video game trade show earlier this year, one would have thought this the most inventive, mind-blowing game people had seen in years.

Arkane Studios

In fact, it's a well-timed update to classic game series such as Thief and Deus Ex (the latter itself a recipient of a recent modern update). A series of sandbox-style puzzles disguised as action-game set pieces, the game certainly plays to the "serious" gamer crowd, with its gleeful violence, nonsensical revenge plot, and vaguely steampunk aesthetic.

Here's the catch: despite the fact that these are overused tropes that often drive me mad, there isn't a game this year that has had me sitting on the edge of my seat with the same level of nail-biting tension as Dishonored.

Yes, it's cliche-filled -- the background story is painted with a very broad British-military/political-axis-meets-Big-Brother brush that owes much to Alan Moore's "V for Vendetta" (although points for emphasizing the idea of city-states built around the less popular idea of naval power, which adds to the anglophile feel). But the game design itself walks just the right line between directed action and open-world exploration.

Arkane Studios

From a central hub, one goes on missions, each of which is set up as a long-form exercise in stealth, problem-solving, and split-second decision making. And these levels are long; many would make good $5 serialized game segments on their own. (With the exception of the tedious introductory tutorial mission, which is a linear slog that really doesn't sell the game well.)

The nail-biting tension comes from the unpredictable nature of the threats you face while trying to get from point A to point B, where you will kill, kidnap, rescue, or interrogate person C. There's a lot of trial and error involved, so I was thankful for the save-anywhere function, something every game really needs for modern audiences.

The sometimes-psychic guards and villains don't always play fair, and the stealth system can be touch and go. But your special abilities, unlocked by collecting runes (yes, runes again...) even the odds. Some are frankly overpowered, such as the ability to see through walls, "beam" short distances, and even stop time. But the game eventually becomes a huge exercise in creative puzzle-solving, using these powers (granted by a mysterious phantasmagorical figure who looks like a Twilight refugee) to craft the most elegant way around your current impediment.

My lasting impression is that the game is best described as ambitious. It's truly packed with content, with long, long missions, cityscape levels that go up and down just as much as they spread out horizontally, and more ways to succeed (or fail) than any game guide could possibly cover. It's not a true open-ended universe on the model of Skyrim (now that would be a game I'd like to see...), but instead an intricately designed puzzle box that gets its hooks in you early on.

Arkane Studios

CNET recommendation: Highly recommended

Dishonored is a great new game that offers players a combination of gameplay that they've most likely never experienced before. This ambitious title is perfect for gamers who are sick of the same old action game, and those who really enjoy stealth.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • ESRB Mature
  • Genre role playing game (RPG) - action RPG
  • Subcategory Action
  • Developer Arkane Studios