Dishonoured - PREVIEW
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC | Developer: Arkane Studios | Genre: Stealth, Action
Why can my telepathy grant momentum to granite boulders and dead people, but not living ones? Why can my fireballs ignite moist fleshy alien-scum, but not the wooden floorboards beneath them? Why, video games?
Dishonoured, shown at this year’s E3, is compelling because everything — every bizarre magical ichor and ratcheting death device at your disposal — works as you would expect it to. You play as a master assassin in a steam-punk world, his natural skills and clever gadgets lightly dusted with fairly typical demonic powers. Everything, from the “phut” of wrist-mounted crossbow bolts to the clockwork strutting of long legged guard-bots to magical wind-blasts that send enemies off balconies, screams “cool”. The degree to which Dishonoured taps into my idea of graceful badassery is very nearly creepy.
One ability lets you poltergeist your way into the consciousness of any living being and control their actions. Skittering rats let you sneak through little tunnels, as do fish. You can control any guard no matter how burly or well armed, any of your contracts and any world leader — the only issue is proximity. Play-testers even worked out how to survive falls from any height by jacking into the mind of a bystander at ground level. Developer Arkane Studios could have removed this unintended byproduct, but they chose not to. Why would you? Player experimentation is to be rewarded.
The level shown at E3 was deliciously stylish: a brothel meshing wushu ornaments and curved blades with Victorian steam-baths and military swashbuckling. It’s vibrant and littered with flowers and elegant costumes. The characters, too, have the merest hint of the cartoony about them — think Bioshock, which reduces the steepness of the uncanny valley without sacrificing your immersion in a gritty locale. It is certainly gritty; besides being creatively violent you can skip between the richly decked-out interior locations and the dank, depressingly featureless street level in an instant.
Sure, it’s what they all say, but Dishonoured promises to allow you multiple paths to the completion of a level. The brothel level lets you “encourage” a horrifying sauna-related accident to claim one target in such a way that it never appears anyone was after them. Or, of course, you can murder every person in the building. You can even pay off the right people and force the targets to slave for their lives in the mines that they own. Dishonoured is a “stealth-assassin” game that allows you to be a pacifist. That’s impressive.