‘Ambitious,’ ‘staggering variety,’ ‘imagination,’ and ‘almost too many options.’ Just a small sample of the words and phrases I’d noted down during my recent preview and hands-on with one of the year’s most promising titles. “Deus Ex meets Hitman, meets Assassins’s Creed, meets Thief,” being another I’ve scrawled, which in essence sums up Arkane Studios’ Dishonored.
Or does it? Certainly nothing I’ve written down quite does justice to the kind of graphical finery on display here; Dishonored’s Steampunk-derived world not at all harsh metallics and industrial browns as you might suspect, but rather an altogether more vibrant and fresh-faced place inspired by the want to create a ‘moving painting’ as co-directors Raphael Colontonio and Harvey Smith described.
Indeed there are times that the onscreen action resembles a traditional Disney cartoon as rats scuttle about and “tall boys” – mechanised stilts with guns for want of a better description – prowl the streets with an almost liquid stride.
Perhaps such lavishness should be expected of art director Viktor Antonov – Dishonored certainly sharing the sense of style and scale that one of his previous projects, Half-Life 2, extolled. While the presence of Antonov might be a surprise, there are certainly no prizes for guessing that some of those responsible for Deus Ex are in the box seats, the scope for decision making here present conjuring thoughts of Ion Storm’s masterpiece at every turn.
In fact ‘conjuring’ is an apt word given that the hero of the piece, Corvo Atano, calls himself a supernatural assassin, the job description consisting of being someone not only trained in the art of killing, but able to bend the laws of physics to his whim too, not the kind of guy you’d want to cross then.
Been crossed he has though, Atano apparently the victim of an elaborate frame-up, as his charge, the queen of the realm is killed, as he ends up pursued by multiple agencies and, as you’d expect, looking to get even with those who plotted against him in the first place (and here’s where the variation and staggering variety bit comes in).
You see the tools at his disposal with which to wreak said vengeance are many and diverse. Indeed I lost count of the ways to kill a man demonstrated during my look at the game, with the co-directors admitting that playtesters have combined Atano’s powers in ways even they hadn’t envisioned.
Not only skilled with a blade, Atano is also is possession of a personal armoury consisting of grenades, pistol and a crossbow that’s able too deal death as easily as it can sleep – the developers happy to offer the player the choice of who they kill or merely drug.
Then there are his supernatural powers: the ability to teleport Nightcrawler-style to locations within sight; the ability to possess anything and anyone (from fish in the city’s river to your hapless target; “Dark Vision” which allows him to see through walls and, when all else fails, the power to stop time and so make good his plan of attack or escape.
Of course such power doesn’t come free, all costs him energy and so can’t be wielded completely wildly, while you won’t have access to all of his multifaceted tools and techniques from the off, the demo I played massaged sufficiently to show off much that the layer would have to take time to unlock as they make their way through the game.
Worth the wait? Without doubt. Dishonored looks like the true Deus Ex of this generation and offers so much freedom of movement and choice that I’m left only concerned with exactly how the developers are going to be able to constrain the player sufficiently to keep the story moving forward at an interesting pace.
And don’t worry if you’ve seen the latest gameplay trailers in which Atano is made to deal death quickly and efficiently with nary a pause for breath – this is one tough game as epitomised by my series of deaths before my embarrassed shuffling away from the unit during my hands on.
For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Arkane Studios
When? 12 October 2012