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

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Point and click: A love story

I know where I have to go, just down the ladder, but there’s a goat in the way and it’s mean. I surely have to find a distraction but I have scoured, and I mean scoured, the available locations and nothing have I found. I’ll check the online walkthrough, NO, be strong, you can do this. The bar, I only gave that a cursory scour, I’ll check there again. A towel; the game has let me pick up a towel; and I can use the towel to whip the goat, of course!

Point and click adventures make you stupid through desperation. They make you think that a toilet brush and a bouncy ball will go together to make something useful, they make you think that talking to the man a fifth time will make all the difference and they make you think that a towel can distract a goat. They are difficult, they are infuriating and I love them.

My love began with Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, a game that I believe to be underrated. It is beautiful, it is well written and above all it completely engrossed me from start to finish. To this day it is one of the few games I have completed multiple times, not because the second or third play through was any different but just to experience the story again.

People, people! How do I beat the goat?

Nowadays games have moved on from the 2D majesty of Broken Swords 1 and 2 but something that still draws me to a game is a good storyline.

Heavy Rain is a fantastic game with some true innovation and an interesting and often complex story. If there is one criticism of the game, however, it’s that it trades gameplay for storytelling. Quick-time events are used a fair bit and often it feels like you’re reading one of those books with decision points, prompting you to “turn to page 39 to enter the cave”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Heavy Rain still stands as one of the finest games ever made (a list that Broken Sword should be on), but it highlights that games seem to have a choice between story and gameplay, a choice that is likely to see story lose out. Games can be hugely successful with rubbish, little or no story as long as they are fun to play, this will always be true. On the other hand, a cracking storyline doth not a good game make; so if a choice has to be made, story will fall to gameplay. But maybe it’s time to buck this trend.

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a modern point and click adventure and it’s success suggests that gamers are becoming more interested in story. You control the character of Lee as he tries to survive and protect his companions thorough the zombie apocalypse. Choice making and conversation dominate the gameplay and good scripting and voice acting play out the plot based on the popular comics. Suffice to say I think it’s excellent, a well made immersing experience; but in my play through of the first episode I never did anything stupid. This may be a modern point and click, but it’s not a modern Broken Sword. Like so many other game types it seems that the challenge has been lost, to a degree, in this generation. Good games with good story lines are, however, being made and this is wonderful. Telltale games and Quantic Dream are at the forefront of this and I’m very excited to see what they do next.

Today the best games often get by on good gameplay and good writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I hope that story can start to become a bigger part of gaming and who knows, maybe soon I will once again be trying to move ill-tempered animals with hand drying equipment.