The act of revenge should be an extremely satisfying one. Conventional wisdom clearly recommends it being both sweet and served cold, which makes it sound like the artic roll of redemption endeavours.
Simple run-of-the-mill reprisals, however, aren’t enough to satisfy French developers Arkane Studios. They believe that revenge should also be delivered with an elegant intellectual flourish, that deeds of retribution should be wrought with a certain flair and panache that draws “oohs”, “aahs” and even a smattering of applause from awe-struck onlookers. To overstretch a metaphor, Arkane want to make them the Wall’s Viennetta of vengeance.
Corvo Atano, Dishonored’s main character, is the perfect poster boy for this more sophisticated approach to score-settling. Framed for the murder of the Empress he was supposed to be protecting, Corvo is a man staring grave injustice, and at least a verbal warning from his employer, square in the face. That is until a mysterious entity called the Outsider steps in, granting Corvo a variety of magical abilities that give him a shot at something much more appealing than a reprieve: retribution.
What makes Dishonored so eye-catching, already earning it a string of dizzying plaudits including a number of pre-emptive nods for game of the year, is the way Arkane have manipulated the concept of freedom to cleverly produce contradictions it can exploit for maximum gameplay benefits.
The city of Dunwall is a theatrical mix of Victorian austerity and steampunk innovation. An aristocratic upper class cosseted away from the plague-ridden proletariat maintain their rule from behind electrified walls and ranks of armed guards, including the elite, stilt-legged Tall Boy units. Rich or poor, diseased or decadent, everyone is trapped in one way or another. Apart, that is, from Corvo who, despite being Dunwall’s most hunted felon, is the only man in the city able to move freely across the harsh social divide.
Thanks to his unique circumstances, Corvo has the ability to usurp the draconian laws of the land and physics to pursue his vendetta, but even he is kept on a lead by Arkane to allow his powers to run free. Rather than being a sprawling open world, the development team have broken Dunwall down into a series of smaller sandbox areas, limiting geographical freedom in an attempt to focus on indulging freedom of approach, so that the player has maximum control to determine their own path.
The powers the Outsider has invested in you play directly to this design thesis of many varied routes to the same goal. Your ability to teleport short distances, see through walls, turn enemies to ashes to prevent discovery of their bodies, summon gusts of wind or swarms of rats, freeze time and possess the bodies of various animals and humans opens up a multitude of different possibilities for tackling a particular scenario. Of course, if you decide to go the direct route, then Dishonored also places the necessary swords, guns and bows at you disposal, but doing so may be the most difficult way to advance your agenda due to the heavy resistance you’ll meet.
Instead, the game places great stock in ingenuity. Most missions will require you to use multiple different abilities, teleporting from a high ledge into a nearby river, for example, before possessing a fish to swim to safety, but combining the powers can produce even more inventive and enjoyable ways to play. How about pausing time just as a guard starts shooting at you, then possessing his body and walking him to stand in front of his own bullets for the ultimate case of friendly fire.
The supply of mana that fuels all your spite-driven fun is a finite resource, adding yet another tactical consideration, and, of course, stealth is also an important skill to master, although here it’s not set to be as brittle a system as in some other games. With Disnhonored being a first-person experience, you need to rely on your senses. If you can see or hear someone clearly, chances are they’re much more likely to spot you.
As a high water mark for Arkane’s ambitions, it’s even quite possible to make it through the entire game without killing a single person. Not only that, but side quests you many or many not encounter on your chosen route will give you the opportunity for extra moments of vindictiveness or clemency, all of which will play into the way your story ends. While the look and feel of Dishonored invite easy comparisons with titles such as Bioshock, Thief and System Shock for varying reasons, it’s much harder to name a game that’s tries to capture freedom so sweetly. Here’s hoping that both Arkane and Dishonored get their just desserts.
Dishonored is due for release on the PS3, PC and Xbox 360 in the UK on the 12th of October and in the US on the 9th of October. For more information on the game, visit its official site, here: http://www.dishonored.com/
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