These days, for an entirely new videogame series to gain the attention of the masses it has to be pretty darn special. Much safer for developers and publishers to stick with an endless sequel, and tack on a multiplayer mode while they’re there and say that’s original.
But despite this huge barrier, Dishonored has done just that; it’s arguably the first fresh series to grab the consciousness of the gaming public in what seems like an eternity. But does the quality of the end product match the savvy marketing from publisher Bethesda? We stick to the shadows and investigate.
Set in a gloriously-realised world of steampunk technology that is packed with shadowy forces hell-bent on removing any that stand in their way, Dishonored has a backdrop that is so amazing it instantly calls to mind Bioshock’s similarly impressive environments and atmosphere. Playing as former Imperial bodyguard Corvo – the dishonored party the title alludes to – you must skulk through the depths of Dunwall, hunting down the people who framed you for the murder of your beloved Empress and hopefully saving her daughter as part of the bargain.
Taking cues from the popular PC-based Thief series, Dishonored places a strong emphasis on stealth; as well as being able to silently dispose of enemies, it’s possible to move through the game without being detected or killing anyone at all – a feat which gains you a ‘Ghost’ rank on each mission. Just as important as staying in the shadows is the game’s tantalising offer of player freedom; you can effectively spurn the ability to remain concealed and wade in all guns blazing, tackling your opponents with one of the most appealing combat engines yet seen in a first person shooter. The choice really is yours.
To aid Corvo’s quest, a mysterious figure known as The Outsider imbues him with special magical abilities which add an additional layer of depth to the already robust gameplay. The drip-feed of powers is incredibly satisfying, and the game affords ample opportunities to use them in inventive ways.
Dishonored is such a polished product it’s quite hard to actually pick fault with it. If you’re a fan of Call of Duty and Halo then the absence of a multiplayer mode is going to annoy, but even the most hardened online addict will be able to admit that Dishonored’s stealth-based gameplay simply wouldn’t translate very well to a player-on-player experience, so the point is a moot one.
It’s also fair to say that despite the incredible quality of the overall package, Dishonored feels very much like a game that borrows elements from previous titles rather than presenting its own unique ideas. The aforementioned parallels with titles like Bioshock and Thief are valid here, as Dishonored often seems almost like a tribute to both – but a tribute that can quite easily stand on its own.
Dishonored’s length is also a potential issue – according to some reports, it’s possible to finish the game in under five hours, but we experienced an average play of about seven to eight hours. Of course, this figure is related to just one approach to playing the game; if you choose to attempt each mission without being seen – and thereby earn the coveted Ghost rank throughout – you’re going to have to invest many more hours. The ability to replay the game with an entirely different tactical mindset adds impressive longevity.
The bottom line
It takes an awful lot of confidence to launch a brand-new series at this late stage in a console cycle, especially when the development team behind it is relatively unproven. However, Bethesda clearly saw potential in Arkane Studios and its faith has paid off handsomely; Dishonored is easily a contender for game of the year, and could well be one of the finest releases of this entire generation. A pitch-perfect mixture of action and stealth, it presents striking moral choices to the player whilst maintaining a gripping and engaging storyline.
5 out of 5