How much is too much of a good thing? This was a question I asked myself all throughout playing Dishonored, wondering where an homage to a great game becomes irritatingly similar. Thankfully, I think Dishonored managed to toe the line, which is probably what cemented it as one of the best action adventure games released last year.
Dishonored puts you in the shoes of Corvo Attano, bodyguard of an assassinated queen and then framed for the crime (What? You’re worried about spoilers? Well this is all told in a lukewarm cinematic within the first 10 minutes of the game. You’re fine.). After being dishonored in this way (eh? Get it?) he is approached to become a political assassin, a masked predator stalking down the people who betrayed the monarch he loved. If sounds similar to Batman, that’s because it’s similarly awesome.
The whole game takes place in a plague ridden steam-punk city called Dunwall, which inherits more than a little from the way London was during the Black Plague. There are infected people everywhere, and the city has become segregated into infected and uninfected quarters by the military arm of the government and their Overseers – anti magic enforcers, much like high priests with swords. Oh did I forget to mention you can use magic? Thanks to approach of a mysterious deity at the start of your assassin career, as you progress through the game (and collect runes) you gain magical powers to enhance your capabilities. The Overseers aren’t a fan of this.
The result is a city at war with itself; where guards try and maintain order against the zombie-like infected citizens and the Overseers hunt for magic use wherever they go. You are thrown in the middle, ally to neither party, and transitioning through guarded zones and infected areas makes up a lot of the joy of getting around Dishonored.
The game is mission based, with assassination targets in each mission you overtake. The path to these assassinations is suitably complex and, thankfully, fraught with multiple paths to take them out. You can decide between a brute force approach, stealthily taking them out from the shadows, arranging for an unfortunate accident and anything in between. In fact it’s this freedom of choice which solidifies Dishonored as a top tier game – really it’s something I’d prefer Assassin’s Creed to do, instead of watering down the quest pool with meaningless real estate management and fetch quests. The result is a game which is short and sweet with high replayability – and this is a good thing.
There is also a great synergy between the multiple approaches to each of the hour (or so) long levels, a short teleport forward is a staple, but powers which summon rats to kill your foes or powers which turn their bodies into ash can quickly become handy when you need to clean up after a brief fight in order to keep the rest of the guards unalerted. One of the most signature powers is one which allows you to control animals, and later humans, letting you get through underwater grates as a fish or holes in walls as a mouse (or sprint across a guarded bridge as a dog, as I found out). It’s ‘flavour’ abilities like this which help Dishonored stay ahead of the crowd – and the way they work with the weapons in the game, usually guns but with a staple knife in your right hand for assassinations, is inspired.
So why did I preface a glowing review with an out of place comment about “homages” and “similarlity”? Well it’s because a lot of the gameplay in Dishonored is frighteningly similar to 2007’s Bioshock. The interface is set up in a near identical way; you have both hands visible in the first person aspect of the screen with a power in one and the gun in the other, the health and mana potion bar is very similar and they even have a weapon and ability wheel which is virtually identical. Thematically, it’s also similar: you play an outsider who never speaks, in a post-apocalyptic setting where there are only those driven mad (Infected people/Splicers) and those trying to keep the previous law of the city (Guards and Overseers/Big Daddys and Little Sisters). Even the plot, which is fairly predictable in Dishonored I have to say, mimics the three-quarter twist which made Bioshock so famous – but unfortunately not in the same spectacular style as its predecessor.
However, there are fundamental differences. Dishonored is a stealth game (albeit level based much like Bioshock) which takes place in an open city and is far more open world than the cramped corridors of Rapture. The way the character is treated is marginally different between the two, with more development on Dishonored’s end (although obviously Bioshock was steering clear of this for a reason) and ultimately the way characters are designed in Dishonored, an overemphasised almost cartoon-like at times aesthetic, is different enough to instantly tell the games apart.
So what we are left with is a truly unique stealth adventure game which has inherited a lot of aspects from one of the most popular games of all time. And even more surprisingly, it lives up to this legacy, reminding us all of that age old adage:
“Sometimes more of a good thing can be a great thing.”