FutureFive New Zealand - Consumer technology news & reviews from the future
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Tue, 23rd Oct 2012
FYI, this story is more than a year old

It is a brave thing to offer a new IP in the season of big franchises, Dishonored is a unique beast and a wonderful big melting pot of ideas.

Set in the fantasy city of Dunwall, the game offers an unusual environment, the setting is somewhere between Jules Verne Steampunk and some obscure Orson Scott Card novel.

The look of the people around you vary from Victorian to Crimean and while the world has electricity it is powered by mysterious use of Whale Oil.

On the surface I loved the premise, but after spending some time poking around and appreciating the depth that has been lavished on the ambience I find some of those influences jar against each other.

It is a hard feeling to place, but as far as design goes, it often feels a little confused or perhaps forced. The art style suffers a similar fate, initially it looks great and again unique, but after a modest time the feeling of a washed out watercolor becomes repetitive.

That said, ignoring those doubts and enjoying a new character in a game that offers a wealth of choice is more important.

Dishonored has become a game of many genres, watching over your shoulder a passer by would assume first person shooter, but this is not a steampunk Rambo game, this game wants you to be stealthy and will make you pay for ignoring that.

Taking the mantle of Corvo the heroic protector of the Queen of the city you are soon pushed into an alternate life, having been betrayed and you quickly make a promise to your dying employer that you will seek her vengeance and rescue her daughter.

You dutifully escape from prison, learn the ropes and meet up with the resistance in order to start the adventure properly.

As the narrative progresses you will be driven between locations and some of them really are quite stunning, the game does offer some pseudo freedom as maps are fairly open and while they are relevant to the chapter in hand, they offer multiple paths to achieve your goals.

Make your way from area to area, doing your level best to avoid being detected and eventually find your target.

One thing the game does not shy away from is by offering you choices, multiple routes open up, each with their own NPCs or mini fetch quests to deal with and often giving you alternate approaches to the end of level assassination.

The game ranks and rates your performance on the amount of Chaos that you cause as you go about your mission. Be a master assassin and slip by the whole level unnoticed will deliver the best rating, but lose your concentration and end up in an FPS battle then you’ll know about it.

Alarms will ring and the guards of the watch will pile in, for once they are not shy of attacking you at the same time unlike some other assassiney games we know, this is refreshing and certainly ramps up the difficulty, it is all too easy to lose your concentration after sneaking a whole level and find yourself in an unnecessary fight.

The penalty for wading in guns blazing is a result of the bodycount, Dunwall is a city gripped by plague, more bodies equals more plague and that in turn creates more of the walking sick.

Known as Weepers, there shambling zombie like appearance can be chilling when they start to appear in numbers a result of your actions.

Corvo’s weapon of choice is a short blade, followed by a sprinkling of conventional weaponry, a pistol, a crossbow that can switch out between sleep darts and lethal types, grenades and traps.

A potent collection, made even more dangerous when extended by Corvo’s powers, bestowed upon you as part of the story and deveolped through the game by collecting runes this opens the RPG nature of the game.

The powers are varied and none more used than Blink, a short distance teleport that assists Corvo to navigate the landscape it is also useful in combat to close up to an enemy before their next attack. The other skills are a mixed bag and all offer opportunity to play Dishonored differently.

Possession allows you to take control of a rat for a short time, allowing Corvo to traverse a map through drain tunnels, handy to shortcut areas of the map or access locked areas.

Dark Sight is effectively Detective Mode from the recent Batman games, there are powers that can slow or stop time around you and another that can devour a target by a swarm of rats.

Playing Dishonored well takes patience and while these skills offer wonderful offensive abilities the best plan is often made from a rooftop eavesdropping the NPCs as they go about their business.

There is always an option to take a different approach or circumvent possible confrontation, there is also a wealth of background detail and loot to be gathered.

The levels are scattered with collectible trinkets, all of which equate to coin and can thus be spent to replenish health, mana or ammunition.

It is also an area that questions your own character, I wonder why I spent half an hour ignoring the quest in hand to render a man unconscious and then ransack his house to get the combination to his safe.

Because I could.

As far as the gameplay goes, it handles nicely, Blinking around the environment never gets old and experimenting is fun. Taking a leap of faith off a rooftop and trying to blink to another building while falling can be exhilarating.

Combat can get messy if you get swamped by the guards and it is often better to run and hide. While light and dark take an effect when sneaking around it seems more relevant to be crouching, even in plain sight.

It may be that the guards have different levels of awareness, but sometimes they seem a little hit and miss. There are also some moments of absolute joy, the water physics for example are so well implemented.

Taking a dive under water is very convincing and dropping a corpse into it is a revelation if you take a look at how the limbs bob and float, especially from underneath.

Overall Dishonored is a new and exciting game, lets hope another outing will see some refinements and deliver more opportunities to explore this brave new setting in Dunwall.

Graphics: 9.0Sound: 9.0Gameplay: 8.5Lasting Appeal: 8.5

Overall: 9.0