Bethesda's new first-person fantasy/revenge epic is one hell of a game, but is it as original and fresh as we've been led to believe?---
You are Corvo Attano, the high bodyguard for the city Dunwall's Empress Kaldwin. Amidst a terrible rat-borne plague which has torn your city apart, you return home following a lengthy sojourn across the kingdom's isles in search of aid. The news is dire, and just when things seem as if they couldn't possibly get any worse, the Empress is murdered before your eyes, her only daughter kidnapped! You are framed for the crime and now, after six months of torture and imprisonment, you have escaped. Certain high-ranking city officials have transformed the city into a terrifying fascist regime. Plague victims are ignored and dying en masse. The time has come to not only save the true heir to throne, but to bring justice to those who have wronged you and your Empress. As the game's very tagline says, revenge solves everything, and you must cut a swath across the city killing and destroying your foes. Will you accomplish your mission and save Dunwall in the process, or will you become every bit as evil as the forces you now fight?
Developer Arkane has put together something rather special with Dishonored. The city of Dunwall is one of the most fantastic and fully realized fantasy worlds to grace the medium since gamers first came upon Bioshock's Rapture. A sort of hybrid steam-punk/fantastically magic vision of a Victorian-esque island nation unfolds before our eyes and it is, at times, downright gorgeous. Whether you are utilizing magic to possess plague-bearing rats or travel great distances in the blink of an eye, the environment is a feast for the eyes. The stark contrast between the wealthier, plague-free districts and the rubbish-strewn tenements of the slums paints a terrifying picture of the age-old wealth vs. the people conundrum. The longer you play and the deeper you journey, the more you realize there is a major discrepancy between those you've served and the lower-class citizens.
Graphically, Dishonored strikes a splendid balance between realism and dark artistic oddity. No detail was overlooked in either the environments nor character design, and exploring the differing areas in each of the game's missions is a complete blast. And explore you shall, as the much-touted freedom to attack an objective from multiple angles opens up a veritable cornucopia of options. Say, for example, you must enter a specific room during your quest for vengeance. You may either carve a path of destruction and kill everyone in your way, or you can patiently sneak to your goal without so much as alerting a single soul. There is, in fact, a trophy/achievement for completing the game without a single kill. Completionists will certainly want to give this a try, but the most rewarding gaming experience is up to each individual player. And the deeper into the game you make it, the more the missions open themselves up for experimentation. For instance, during a mission in which I accidentally alerted a guard and was forced to unleash my sword and magic on dozens of enemies, it became abundantly clear that retreat was my only option. Falling back and recovering was an exercise in high stress, but this forced regrouping caused me to find a door I might not otherwise have stumbled upon, and I was subsequently able to complete my mission with minimal murder and a better look at the specific environment. Kudos to Arkane for slowly staggering level/mission size and giving the player a sizable learning curve for the many means to complete each mission.
Have you played Bioshock? If so, you've practically played Dishonored. The similarities are exceedingly noticeable in the areas of dual-wielding a primary weapon and power mapped to the triggers, the dystopian vision of Dunwall and the no-longer-mentally-stable denizens of the city itself. In place of Rapture's Splicers, we are given Weepers, in place of Big Daddy, the Tall Boys. With every corner turned I kept expecting a spooky young girl to try and siphon my insides out with a terrifyingly long syringe. Admittedly, Dishonored can boast powers more fantastical and imaginative than Bioshock's plasmids, but the foundation for the bulk of the game's design decisions was put in place ages ago by Ken Levine and the boys down at Irrational Games.
Voice acting is mostly abysmal despite the impressive roster of celebrity talent. Mad Men star John Slattery manages a decent performance as one of your allies, as do mega-babe Susan Sarandon as the peculiar Granny Rags and Michael Madsen as the assassin Doud. However, an almost embarrassing show of inexperience from Chloë-Grace Moretz hurts the experience more than anything. This girl is a totally good actor in real life, but her turn as Princess Emily was cause for more than a few cringing moments.
Especially odd is the twist towards the end (which I won't spoil here, I promise). Everything changes out of nowhere and we are expected to simply forget that certain NPCs had committed monstrous crimes a few missions ago and work to aid them. This is where the choices you've made truly impact your experience, and it's just plain sloppy that a certain character changes his opinion of you just about in mid-sentence and can either help you out or totally mess you up. For a game to tell you that revenge solves everything and then punish you for enacting vengeance seems like entrapment and a minimally effective way to prove that your moral decisions have lasting repercussions. Really, the choices you make have little to do with anything beyond alerting enemies until these final moments, and it is, in a word, ridiculous.
Once you have beaten the game and are given one of the endings (yes, there is more than one ending), the payoff is minimal at best. You're given a paltry cutscene which sort of examines the choices you made throughout the game, but is mostly forgettable and lasts all of 30 seconds.
The Bottom Line
Make no mistake, Dishonored is Bioshock if the hero moved like Ezio Auditore. The strangely beautiful world and arsenal of powers at your disposal do plenty make it a super-exciting game that looks tremendous and is a blast to play, but this is in no way as fresh or original as we've been led to believe. Hopefully developer Arkane will be given a shot at a sequel and can iron out some of the kinks and expand upon their extremely promising groundwork. Have you played other games like this before? Yes you have. Is this the advent of a glorious new era in first-person gaming? No it isn't. Should you play Dishonored? Absolutely, just don't expect anything shockingly new.
As the fun one has while experiencing a game should be more important than originality, Dishonored receives a score of 8.2 out of 10
Developer: Arkane Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Rating: M (Let's just say that throats be gettin' slit every two seconds)
Cost: $59.99 (it's probably cheaper used...probably)