Back in 2012 it was widely believed amongst video game publishers that triple-A stealth games were dead. Yeah, you got Ubisoft putting out Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell as well as Assassin’s Creed (though they didn’t really start making those games with true stealth mechanics until Black Flag in my opinion) and there was Hideo Kojima making the Metal Gear games, which still make my snake solid despite all of their flaws, but there wasn’t really anything beyond that‡. Triple-A publishers just weren’t willing to make a new stealth game because it required them to step outside their comfort zone and make something that requires more thought than your average spunkgargleweewee shooter. A stealth game requires an audience that doesn’t consist of moronic dim-wits that can’t handle gameplay more complicated than holding down the right trigger until all the enemies die and most triple-A publishers didn’t believe that such a gaming demographic existed at the time. Now, two years after Dishonored’s success you got more stealth mechanics in Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry 3 (which actually may have been too far in it’s development during the release of Dishonored for it to have mattered, but whatever), Naughty Dog having more stealth mechanics in the Last of Us, The Thief reboot, as well as Warner Brother’s and Monolith making Shadow of Mordor. I’m not saying that everyone was trying to copy Dishonored, I just think that it being a critical and commercial success helped steer the dim-witted machine that is the triple-A industry towards making more stealth based games, and as someone who can extract joy out of tranquilizing half a platoon of burly guards and storing all their limp bodies in the same coat closet - I see that as a wonderful thing.
Dishonored is a stealth game released 2012 for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. It was developed by the previously obscure french developer Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, who took time out of their busy schedule of not releasing Fallout 4 (or a game that doesn’t need to be rebooted half a dozen times in one sitting for that matter)† to help make this game see the light of day. It’s currently selling for $19.99 at the Steam store. This review covers the PC edition.
Dishonored features a world so detailed that when information about the game was leaked during it’s development, people thought that Arkane was developing an open world game <fact check, just in case>. It’s set in a steampunk/victorian shithole of a city named Dunwall that took notes from the classic Thief games. You play as a Corvo, a bodyguard for the empress of Dunwall, who ends up getting framed for the murder of said empress and falsely imprisoned (or should I say dishonored?)**. Being a silent protagonist, Corvo is unable to claim innocence and getstossed into a jail cell. While he is imprisoned, the city outside slowly turns to shit as a plague that slowly turns people into zombies spreads through Dunwall and their fractured government starts taking all of the wrong notes from Orwellian literature. After escaping with the help of a resistance movement who want to dethrone the former spymaster-turned-dictator-for-life who got the empress killed in the first place, Corvo is given magic powers by some sort of immortal being called the Outsider and a new mission when he wakes up: Be the resistance’s assassin and open a can of steaming hot karma on the collective asses of those who betrayed him. At this point, the game truly becomes alive, giving the player access to some some of the best stealth and action of the 7th generation with sword fighting, magic powers, and a lot of hiding people in coat closets.
As I said before, Dishonored has some of the greatest stealth and action of the 7th generation. That is no exaggeration. The game has intense first-person-perspective sword-fighting, an awesome stealth system with multiple ways to gain an upper hand over the enemy (such as items, the environment, and Corvo’s magic powers), open-ended levels with multiple ways of getting a particular job done, and ...ugh… you can possess motherf**kers. Basically; I’m saying the gameplay is awesome. The stealth hit’s the spot, the combat is visceral, and you can freeze time before picking people up and putting them in front of the bullets they just shot (it’s one of the aforementioned magic powers). I have played this game 3 times over mostly for the gameplay and every time - Dishonored delivers.
One of Dishonored’s weaker points is it’s story. While it does try to entertain us, it just falls flat. There isn’t too much characterization, drama, or intrigue. All the characters seem to be little more than blank slates (though they do try to give them some personality, which is better than some games). Overall the story just sort of went through the motions, which is unfortunate, considering Arkane studios made such an artfully designed world, but made the events within so boring; it forms an experience that is like eating a bowl of tasteless, homogeneous, grey slurry in a very pretty bowl.
Speaking of the artfully designed world, I need to bring up how much effort Arkane put into the small details. Everything in Dishonored was created with the setting in mind. Every little detail is justly made to reinforce the game’s aesthetic and I adore that. Guards have 18th century trenchcoats and second reich style helmets with little spikes on the top, the environments shifts between industrial revolution other half grime and wealthy victorian class, and all the little things are show evidence of alot of polish. I really found the game aesthetically pleasing.
One topic that should be brought up while discussing Dishonored is it’s moral choice system. I personally think that the entire thing is a sack of shit. Basically the game refers to moral choice as chaos. You increase chaos when you do things that cause panic, like killing assassination targets instead of taking the non-lethal alternatives, not helping random civilians in trouble, and leaving behind piles of squishy red goo in areas that once contained guards. This is all tied into how Dunwall is already at the brink of anarchy and people need to feel safe and how dead bodies only make more food for plague rats, but I just think it’s stupid. Yes, they did try and adapt the game world to fit your play style, though I don’t feel like it adds much to the game other than forcing you to watch one of two equally depressing ‘bad’ end cutscenes instead of one unsatisfying ‘good’ one. I just feel that the mechanic was poorly implemented and didn't add much to the game.
So I guess that’s Dishonored: excellent stealth gameplay, wonderfully-crafted world, and so-so story (which while it’s no great shakes, still beats a lot of things out there). I strongly recommend buying it, mostly for the gameplay, but partly for it’s uniqueness. It’s a great way to kill time (or at least knock it out and drag it into a coat closet).
†: Seriously though I like Bethesda; they can take as much time as they want with Fallout 4.
‡: Okay, yeah there was Batman Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution in development at the time, but my point still stands.
**: AWWWWW SHIT, HE WENT THERE!