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Preview: Dishonored (PS3, Xbox 360)

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

‘Dishonored is a first-person Neo-Victorian stealth action video game being developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks,’ the evergreen Wikipedia helpfully informs me on the way to seeing the game for the first time. Great, so we’re talking a Victorian Steampunk Assassins Creed type thing – I can go with that.

The preview event is held in a suitably dilapidated building complete with a harp and very rickety old chair which practically collapsed when I tried to sit on it. Portraits of what appear to be characters from the game are hung on the walls and, eventually, the presentation begins with the trailer.

Lead character Corvo breaks free from jail thanks to some sort of magical gift and begins to kill as steampunky vehicles stomp past – so far nothing out of the ordinary.

On to the gameplay demo which will show one mission completed in two ways, the first using stealth and the second time using a lot of violence. So: stealthy stealthy, ledge climbing, hiding behind things, eavesdropping, yadda yadda, all exactly what I was expecting until lead designer Raf Colantonio casually adds ‘Or, you could possess the fish.’

I’m sorry, did you just say ‘possess the fish?’

Raf helpfully demonstrates not by possessing a fish but jumping in to the body of a passing rat (fans of coincidences, this is what I was referring to here and here). A couple of swirly special effects and a rather sexual sound effect later and Rat-Corvo is scampering past the enemy guards. After that the revelations flow thick and fast and it turns out Dishonored is rather like The Spanish Inquisition – this is not the game you were expecting.

The setting for the game is not, as I had assumed, an ‘alternate timeline’ set on a version of Earth where we never quite managed to surpass the steam age. Instead, Disohonored takes place on another planet (which was not named) but takes influences from Victorian London and early days of America. Whilst the setting may look familiar there are little graphical touches that give it an otherworldly feel, for example the proportions of the dogs are different to those on Earth.

Atmospheric locations set the tone.
One of the big surprises is how the game looks, the team have used an almost ‘painted’ style which makes the game look rather like a graphic novel. Think Borderlands mixed with Bulletstorm and you would be close, indeed some of the interiors are very reminiscent of Bulletstorm with large open plan hotels and plenty of bright colours.

Contrary to popular rumour the game is a series of linear missions rather than being open world. How you tackle the missions is up to you and there will be side quests but do not expect Assassin’s Creed sized levels. To counter this there are many different ways to tackle a mission, so the replay factor should be high.

Back to the game. As Rat-Corvo is scampering through the dressing room of some particularly fancy ladies (read: whores) he hears them discussing the two characters he must eliminate, the Pendleton brothers. The ladies divulge the location of the gentlemen, one is upstairs and the other is in the steam room and the game automatically updates the missions objectives as information is discovered.

Corvo regains his human form and uses what seems to be a teleportation skill to avoid the guards and find his first mark, a gentleman who appears to be rather fond of the aforementioned ladies. As this is a stealth demonstration Raf makes Corvo climb on to a ledge outside the building before possessing his mark.

‘Are you feeling alright? as the lady as the Pendleton brother, now fully under Raf’s control, wanders out to the balcony closing the door behind him. Corvo then exits his body and as the mark stands in front of the railing, uses another magical power to to create a gust of wind and blast him over the railings and to his death, creating the appearance that the mark committed suicide.

More teleportation, possession and stealth kills occur before Corvo is outside the steam room containing the second brother and a quick scout around reveals the valve and before you can say ’Hey, I could have done some broccoli at the same time’ the final Pendleton is steamed to death. What an unfortunate accident.

The developers say it is possible to complete the game without killing a single person, something that will please the pacifists amongst you. What won’t please the pacifists is playing the game as a hack and slash murder spree. Raf fires up the mission he has just completed using stealth techniques and begins to lay waste to everyone he can see.

The game is particularly violent, perhaps because of the first person view which means you get up close and personal when slitting necks and removing heads. There is a lot of blood and soon the bathhouse resembles an abattoir: my audio recording of this part of the presentation sounds like a SAW movie with blades clashing, guns exploding and endless screaming and shouting.

It's not all sneaking.
During the prolonged bloodshed Raf demonstrates another one of Corvos’ powers and freezes time for a few seconds. Whilst the enemies are motionless he fires off a couple of pistol shots, time unfreezes and two guards crumple to the ground as the bullets end their short existence. Although there is no ‘moral’ system within the game it will keep track of how you are playing and adjust the parameters accordingly. For example if you are frequently using the possession skill then the number of in game pests will be reduced making it harder for you to find one to invade.

Corvo’s powers can be upgraded by collecting runes which have been carved from whale bone and enchanted by the sorcerers of the world. These can be used in a skill tree to make Corvo specialise in a type of power or spread evenly to make him an all rounder. Alongside the active power ups there are a number of passive types including one that will make anyone you kill turn to dust so their body can never be discovered.

Health pickups come in two flavours, each one created by a different inventor and their remedies for the plague restore Corvo’s strength and the manna energy he used when activating special powers. The tale of the two inventors will make up part of the plot and you will visit their home, the Academy of Natural Philosophy.

The presentation finishes with a quick look at the Flooded District, an area inspired by London ‘if the Thames Barrier had failed.’ Formerly a financial district this is where the plague victims are kept and they are policed by ‘Tallboys’, giant walker type machines. To me this resembled a scene from the original version of War of The Worlds, spindly legged creatures stalk the landscape, headlights sweeping the rubble for victims.

Rather than being the steampunk Assassin’s Creed I was expecting, Dishonored is more akin to a steampunk Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That is a very good thing in my book and I am really looking forward to getting my paws on the full game. Oh, and by the way, keep an eye on TSA in the very near future. Let’s just say the world is full of strange coincidences.

Only kidding, if another animal possession game turns up this week then I’ll start thinking I’m living in the Matrix.

  1. Nate
    Since: Apr 2010

    This is sounding pretty awesome!

    Comment posted on 26/04/2012 at 18:22.
    Since: May 2009

    Looks like a Bioshock styled Assassin’s Creed, and I love that.

    Comment posted on 26/04/2012 at 18:49.
  3. StevenHibs
    Since: Oct 2009

    That trailer looks fantastic

    Comment posted on 26/04/2012 at 19:41.
  4. maneorix
    Since: Oct 2008

    Awesome trailer, and a great write-up. I’d only heard about this, due to you were constantly going on about it on twitter. I’m not surprised, this looks very good, and I thought the was a touch of Mirror’s Edge over the trailer aswell. Looking forward to it!

    Comment posted on 26/04/2012 at 20:10.
  5. SH Number 7/Mini-Lipscombe
    Since: May 2011

    I’ve been so excited about this for a while now. I can’t wait for it to come out, but in the original article I read, it sounded open world, so I am a bit disappointed that it isn’t. But i think it does still sound good.

    Comment posted on 27/04/2012 at 14:45.

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