Tuesday 29 January 2013

Dishonored: PC Review

Dishonored wallpaper
Borrowing from Dishonored’s tagline, “revenge solves everything”, my first impression was of hatred, uncompromising violence, and the satisfaction from blood spilled. But once I ventured into the dark, steam punk settings of Dunwall city, my initial ideas became doubtful. Dishonored is a game primarily based on you on a path of revenge, but revenge itself can be achieved in many ways. It’s not always about the spilling of blood, the evil laughs, or the cunning taste of victory. There’s another side to revenge as well, the good side, the more socially-justified side, and that’s who you will be playing as. A good guy.

You are Corvo Attano, Lord Protector to the Empress but in the opening sequences has helplessly failed to prevent her assassination. If guilt and self-blame wasn’t enough, the brains behind the dethroning has framed you for her murder, throwing you into the cells fated for execution.

Like all stories, movies and games, the protagonist in such situations always somehow, somewhat gets a “mysterious friend” to help him out. You get a key for your only opportunity to escape and it is during that first sequence that you are introduced to a glimpse into the city of Dunwall, the uniquely-artsy texture of its graphics, the general gameplay you will be facing, and how its all about the freedom, the kills, and the rats.

Oh yes rats, lots of them, everywhere, anywhere, from the start, till the end. They’re not merely for background decoration though, these rats are arguably one of the central themes in the story, and yes, they’re dangerous, not to mention extremely annoying.

You see, the City of Dunwall was heavily plagued during the Empress’ reign where groups of dark, menacing rats now spawn around the darkest corners of the city while in some cases, citizens are infected, turning into a kind of zombie roaming the lower parts of the seemingly-deserted city. Throughout the game, you will find yourself coming face to face with both the rats and the zombies, distracting and dragging you away from your targets as you avenge the empress’ murderers while regaining justice for yourself.

dishonored framed
Dishonored’s story is a simple and slightly predictable one, plotted by your act of revenge and follows a fairly linear path in which you repeatedly go through a similar process in each of the game’s nine missions, to eliminate your assigned target or targets guarded by obstacles (guards, turrets, enemies, etc).

But don’t get me wrong. Yes, the storyline in terms of what you need to do is pretty much repetitive with not much variation, but the process of doing them are the very wonders of Dishonored.

Dishonored has achieved what many games these days has tried, but ultimately failed to convey. Delivering the true sense of liberality. It follows the footsteps of some exceptional games Dues Ex and Bioshock, but I dare say takes freedom-in-game up another notch. Though you are given the “what” to do, it is the “how” you execute that makes all the difference in Dishonored.

As you progress in the game, you will discover that there are literally so many different ways to reach your target. After escaping, you come across a supernatural world chancing upon some highly-skilled powers. But no they’re not your usual set of abilities you get in a game, but these are the very skills you never knew you would want so badly.

Power of possession of your very enemies, check. Spawning of a swarm of plague-infected rats to devour the guards, check. A blast of wind sending enemies to their fall of death, check. Slowing of time to eliminate your target before his very bullet reaches you, check. And of course, there’s the more commonly-seen skill to blink (extremely useful, we’re come back to this later).

dishonored powers
Five skills, an unusual but interesting combination of skills, but also ultimately the most strategically set of abilities when combined together, and that is where Dishonored shines.

Track your target down while staying in the shadows with blink, spawn your rats to distract the guards and blink in to come face to face with your target. After the usual clash of stabs, slashes and thrusts of swords, health gets low, time for you to get naughty. Let’s play hide and seek. Blink away, hide in the shadows again, regen health, wait till the alarm settles, and carefully, patiently, wait for the right moment. Catch that opportunity, blink behind the target, him completely oblivious, you take a stab from behind into him. Blood spills, but not any sound made, no one notices, you’re a free man. Phew.

Or wait, if you aren’t really satisfied about that kill, let’s just quick load and start the elimination again in an entirely-different, cooler fashion. Say while another guard is about to shoot you, it’s time to use your toys. Slow the time, possess your target, control him to move right in front of the guard’s bullet, stay still, breathe in, take the bullet with open arms, and die with delight. Oops, friendly fire! Without needing to personally, physically eliminate your target, but instead using a combination of skills to “borrow” your enemies, you bring them down (in style). That’s the beauty of Dishonored, the “how” to kill. Creative, with endless possibilities.

But, there’s more to it.

You really, actually, didn’t even need to kill your target. Yeap, you read that right, killing is unnecessary to accomplish a mission. The thing about Dishonored is that it gives you much more freedom any other games have ever given before (arguably in my honest opinion). There are multiple ways to achieve your missions and killing is only one of them. In fact, you can actually go through the entire game without needing to kill a single person.

Anyway, instead of eliminating your enemies, you can “neutralise” them and this can be done in various ways, sometimes more lengthy but much more satisfying. There is a simple act where you basically strangle your opponents leaving them unconscious, or maybe you might choose to send a sleep dart into them, or alternatively, you can go through a side quest (some missions only) where you will then finally be led to an opportunity where other people will do the dirty work, completing the mission for you, sweet.

You might have noticed that I’ve gone through the kills (or no kills) in depth, but that’s because they were my favourite part. Killing was addicting, seriously, especially when the more I played, the more varied combination of skill kills I discover.

You can obviously go through the whole game without doing all the fancy stuff, you might just want to rush in, slash and thrusts, fire the alert up and rambo to your target. The game will then be just yet another title of fights and guns and guards and targets, boring and disappointing.

Creativity and variety is key in Dishonored, and it’s always the crafty, indirect way that makes it great. To make my experience a little more interesting, I decided that my primary aim was to kill as little possible. For every mission in Dishonored, there is a ‘chaos level’ basically showing how often you tend to kill and how often you get detected. I try to keep it ‘low’. This also, is due to a certain inner conscience (or at least that was what I felt) as the higher your kill count is, the darker your progress to the conclusion would result in. Interestingly as well, is that every time you kill, the more rats it spawns and the more disturbing the sound effects get. It might only be me, but never before has a game affected me in such a way.

Keeping it low during the first few missions were alright but progressing deeper into the game, it became difficult, but exciting, then satisfying. And here is where your blink comes in (upgrade it as soon as possible!) To keep your kill count low, you stay in stealth and avoid your enemies as much as you can. Always look around your surroundings, especially up and down, you’ll usually almost definitely find a route bypassing the guards to your target.

However, there will also almost always be more than one stealth route, and it is often only after you finish the mission and rethink what you did, that you realise that you have missed many other opportunities, to explore and to discover. That’s where the replay level of Dishonored signifies. The hunger to discover more.

dishonored dunwall
Dunwall may not be a large city, and neither does it seem attractive to stay at, but the more you play the more you realise you want to get in it and explore the city all over again.

Dishonored was named 2012’s Best Action/Adventure Game from VGA. For us, it was more than that - it was our Game of the Year for 2012. The extent of freedom it gives is rare in today’s big titles, the variety in both the kills and routes it provide is addicting, and the creativity and extent of possibilities it generate, is one of a kind.

It's well-worth your money if you ask me, and a definite must-get if you’re looking for a game to last you long and satisfied. Well unless, you’re a rambo type of gamer.

Review score: 9.8/10 (minor bugs here and there)

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