Dishonored: Game of the year?

Perhaps naming a game of the year now, when so many excellent titles have yet to be released, is a little bold, but Dishonored ticks so many of the boxes that it seems hard to imagine anything surpassing it. Dishonored had its hand on the trophy even before release. In demonstrations and publicity, Dishonored has been nothing short of breath taking. While other games, such as Hitman: Absolution (another game of the year contender) have gone for a more traditional shock-to-create-awe approach, Dishonored simultaneously showed its strength in gameplay and in style, and although the gameplay is to be marvelled at, it is the wonderfully realised style of the game that grabbed attention before release.

Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, Dishonored is played in a steampunk style universe where whale oil is relied upon for power. The protagonist, Corvo Attano, was once the protector of the empress but at the opening of the game he is framed for her murder and the abduction of her daughter Emily, the heir to the throne. From there the story follows Corvo as he seeks revenge and Emily, to restore his reputation and rescue Dunwall from the oppressive rule of the Lord Regent who has taken over.

Dunwall is an oppressed and diseased city

Dunwall is beautiful and wonderfully quirky. It has aspects of Victorian Britain mixed in with unique pieces of technology from the fictional world. The game is not open-world but it does promote exploration and you’ll want to explore, as much can be learned about the world through books and conversations that you come across. There are collectibles too, whose locations are given to you from the off which encourages you to roam further afield. The characters are brilliantly realised, with fantastic voice acting from a stellar cast including Chloe Grace Moretz, Susan Sarandon, Brad Dourif, John Slatterly and a number of other stars. Given the talent used for the NPCs it is a little disappointing that Corvo is a silent protagonist, especially when there are conversation options presented to the player on a number of occasions. This sits in stark contrast to Corvo’s well realised surroundings but it never ruins the experience.

And what an excellent experience playing Dishonored is. Stealth and player choice are emphasised here and the game provides multiple ways to complete each level, immediately giving it replay value. While you are allowed to play as you like – being a stealthy assassin, a brutal murderer or more a benevolent hero – the game gently suggests that you kill as few people as possible, and on your first play through you’ll likely fluctuate in body count between levels, although it is possible to complete the game without killing anyone. Dishonored adds into the bargain supernatural powers that can be upgraded in a pseudo-RPG system, opening up new avenues of play and meaning that, although the goals are broadly similar across all levels (neutralise the target), the way in which each level plays is very different. These powers are granted to you by The Outsider, an interesting character who comes to you in dreams and visions when you visit shrines people have made to him. He is the object of the religion that exists in Dunwall but his morals remain ambiguous throughout the game. The powers available are fun and useful, however, Corvo does, at times, feel a little over powered, to the point where levels only become really challenging when you impose your own rules (such as don’t kill anyone or never be seen). Despite this, the game is hugely enjoyable and although comparisons with games like Thief and Deux Ex are inevitable, Dishonored does enough to be unique and still be enjoyable, making the player want more and replay levels to see different outcomes.

You can fight a number of ways, or not at all.

The storyline of dishonored is perhaps its weakest point. While the story is by no means terrible, there is so much potential for storytelling in this game that the way it is done and the extent to which there is a well developed story is disappointing. Much of the back story of Dunwall is told through books and documents that you discover along the way, meaning that you can choose whether or not you learn about the city, but if you are interested, the amount that you have to read really slows the pace of the game and feels lazy on the part of the developers. The characters are brilliantly voiced but are not really developed and the poorer citizens of Dunwall who are oppressed or diseased seem to be looking for our pity but more often than not they get in the way and, again, hinder the pace of the game. The religion and The Outsider are also under explored by the story which, again,  feels like a missed opportunity. Given the effort put in to the rest of the game and the success that has come from that effort, it is a shame that the same attention was not paid to the story.

You have to read a lot to get the whole story in Dishonored

The style, gameplay and brilliant vocal performances in Dishonored make it a fantastic game. The story is a little weak and there are some balancing issues between the difficulty of the game and the abilities of the playable character, but these do not take away from what is a wonderfully enjoyable experience. You will play Dishonored multiple times and enjoy each of them for different reasons. In a market often dominated by sequels, prequels and remakes, it is refreshing to play a new game and come away from it satisfied. For this reason I feel that Dishonored can confidently wait to be named game of the year, and it thoroughly deserves it.

9

Superhuman Vs Supernatural

After six long years, fans of the Hitman franchise have a new title to salivate over. Hitman Absolution is set for release in November and (despite a questionable marketing campaign) things are looking very good indeed. Assuming Hitman survives some bad PR, there is still, however, one more obstacle to overcome, a new challenger to the assassin throne. Dishonored will arrive in stores a month before the new instalment of Hitman, sporting many of the latter’s elements but with freshness in abundance. Which of these two is worthy of your pennies? The superhuman abilities of Agent 47 or the supernatural powers of Corvo Attano?

Hitman is one of my desert island games. It is a franchise that has consistently provided entertainment, but more than that it has struck a balance between linearity and open play that few other games have achieved. Hitman games are organised into levels, each level set in a relatively small and restricted environment with clear objectives that must be completed (one or more people have to die, bar one or two levels that advance the story where escape or survival are the aims); yet the player doesn’t feel restricted. From the moment you begin a level you are left to your own devices. The game offers you ways to complete your objectives and help along the way, but all of it is optional, you’re free to choose how to go about the task at hand. As a result, Hitman feels like a series of sandboxes, each new level supplying new toys and ways to play: you can be the ghost assassin or you can be the gun wielding maniac and still have multiple ways to complete the level. And unlike so many other franchises, Hitman has not overloaded us with unnecessary tie-in games or sub-par, rushed sequels. Six years have passed since the last game and this is only the 5th of 12 year old franchise; Hitman provides greatness in moderation, preventing the experience from becoming old.

All he ever wanted was a desk job

However, despite the delay between games, Hitman still has an uphill struggle against its own confines; all Hitman games after the original have had to try and maintain their identity while at the same time bringing something new to the party. Hitman games are restricted by having to include the things that made their predecessors successful, a burden that brand new games do not have to bear. Enter Dishonored. In this we once again take the role of an assassin, Corvo Atano, a man framed for the murder of the empress. After being given some magic powers by the Outsider, Corvo goes on a rampage of revenge, learning what really happened along the way. Much like Hitman, Dishonored is not set in an open world environment but it still encourages exploration by the player. Dishonored also promotes player creativity allowing you to complete missions in a variety of ways.

 

So far, so familiar both from Hitman and the likes of Deus Ex, but Dishonored also provides a completely new environment and a whole new style of gameplay with the inclusion of supernatural powers. Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, Dishonored has a distinctive steam punk style with clear influences from Victorian Britain and an arsenal of weaponry to match; no high-powered sniper rifles here. You do, however, have the ability to teleport short distances, to possess animals and people, to slow time and you can see through walls. Corvo’s abilities are upgradable and you can mould him into the kind of assassin you want to play. Like Hitman, missions have clear objectives but you don’t always have all the information you need to complete them to begin with, often having to eavesdrop or maybe just plain ask for it. Dishonored has taken many of Hitman’s aspects and added new layers with powers and more espionage all wrapped in a complete fantasy world rather than the individual locations of Hitman missions.

Does Dishonored surpass Hitman Absolution? That remains to be seen. In reality both games are likely to be worth a look. From Hitman we know mostly what to expect. Certain things have been tweaked such as being able to use 47’s instinct mode rather than the map of previous games. My main worry about these things is that the game may be a little easier than before. Agent 47 can now predict the movement paths of enemies where before it was a case of observation or guessing and in a play through of one of the levels we see little warnings pop up like “Visibly Armed”.

These are only little things but if too numerous, the challenge may be lost. Dishonored looks very good but maybe the array of powers and abilities will prove too complicated and like so many other games the player may discover that it’s easier to stab or shoot than to implement a more elaborate technique. Hitman might also have the edge on longevity, with the introduction of Contracts Mode, where players can create contracts by selecting up to three hits in any level and then challenge the community to complete them. In the end your decision will probably be based on scores from critics or whether they spell dishonoured correctly in the UK or how badly Himan’s marketing gets. Whatever you decide you will be getting a game with an emphasis on the player’s decisions and both titles look like game of the year contenders. All that is certain is Q4 2012 is looking good for games.