Dishonored In-Depth Preview – The Bastard Child of a Deus Ex, Half Life 2 & System Shock Threesome
Written Thursday, April 26, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Some of the more interesting gameplay demos in recent years have come from developers showing us multiple playthroughs of the same level played in an entirely different way. Eidos Montreal used it to demonstrate the multiple-facets of last year’s brilliant Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This year, Arkane Studios opted to do the same with Dishonored and as with Deus Ex, the game shone as a result. It should come as no surprise then that Harvey Smith of Deus Ex fame is one of Dishonored’s Co-Creative Directors.
Dishonored takes place on another version of Earth in the city of Dunwall. With a tyrant on the throne, a terrible plague inundating the city and the industrial revolution in full flow, you take control of Corvo Antano who sets off on a mission to clear his name from the allegations of murdering the previous ruler. The once-great bodyguard turned super-assassin must use his supernatural abilities and deadly assassin skills to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and clear his name. Ladies and gents, it’s a classic revenge story.
The city of Dunwall is an interesting concept and the artistic stylings of Half Life 2’s Viktor Antonov shine through every crevice. The dreary Victorian setting, inspired by ye olde London and blended with aspects of Edinburgh, takes on the shape of an almost twisted version of a city that could have been. The neo-Victorian steampunk captures the oppression of Half Life 2’s City 17 perfectly whilst the mechanical creations of Arkane’s art team give it a fresh, vivid and almost familiar feeling.
We pick up with Corvo about a third of the way into the game, assigned with the task of entering a bathhouse called ‘The Golden Cat’ and assassinating the corrupt politicians, the Pendletons – Custis and Morgan. According to Arkane, there are eight or nine ways into the bathhouse which range from the front and back doors, to the windows, the roof and various vents. Naturally, we got a look at the quietest and the loudest routes in multiple playthroughs and this is where our preview splinters.
Skulking in the Shadows
The first, and quite easily the more entertaining of the two walkthroughs, saw Corvo take to the shadows in an attempt to dispatch both targets silently. Starting in an alleyway near to the bathhouse main doors, Corvo sticks to the shadows, avoiding contact where possible. Using the blink ability – which is a teleportation power of sorts – and leaning out around cover, Corvo is able to gain higher ground and make his way around to the entrance of the bathhouse.
Going in through the front door is hardly stealth, right? But I guess possessing a rat and going in through a vent is. Excellent. Once inside – yes, still as a rat – Corvo is able to eavesdrop and gain valuable mission information, like in this instance, the whereabouts of the two targets within the bathhouse. Be careful when you’re a rat though, you might get stomped by a nearby guard.
The stealth mechanics are driven by how much sound you make, the light around you – or lack thereof – and the distance between you and your foe. That said, it still appears that you can lean round corners – in direct sight – and not be seen. It ruins the immersion a little bit, but hey, it works from a gameplay standpoint… we guess. It’s also important to hide bodies as well – it is a stealth game, duh – but being able to throw them over your soldier and jump ridiculous heights makes stashing them that much easier. This is Corvo the super assassin after all, so again, it makes sense.
Blinking behind guards and snapping their necks is a surefire way to avoid being detected, as is climbing around in the rafters and using windows to head outside away from patrolling guards – the ledges make a great place to stealthily store bodies as well.
Having gone all the way from the basement as a rat around the feet of the scantily clad ladies of the night to blinking his way through the lower levels of the bathhouse, Corvo stands at the doors to the steam room, which serves as the current hunting ground for Morgan Pendleton. Using Dark Vision – which allows Corvo to see through walls – the agile assassin can plan his most efficient and safest route. While the one guard has his back turned, Corvo quickly nips in to take down another guard and carry the body away to safety before the other one can turn around. Then, it’s a matter of a sleeping dart in the midriff to the last remaining guard and Corvo has free passage to Morgan.
With an unbreakable door in front of him though and Corvo wanting to make Morgan's death look like an accident, it’s not as straightforward as it could be. If Arkane opted for a more aggressive kill here they could have possessed a fish to use the water stream to get into the steam room and massacre Morgan in cold blood. Alas, that’s not necessary though. A few blinks and jumps later and Corvo is at the controls of the steam room where Morgan sits, unaware of his presence. Sabotaging the controls, Corvo is able to fill the steam room full of scalding hot steam and put an end to the corrupt politician’s life. Some “accident,” huh?
From there Corvo makes his way up through the cylindrical centre of the bathhouse, using Dark Vision to avoid nearby enemies and blink to cover fairly large distances in an instant while sticking to cover. While outside the door of the gold room - the location of Custis Pendleton - Corvo makes his way through a window onto the small ledge running around the outside of the prestigious room.
Keen to make quick work of him and make it seem like another unfortunate accident, Corvo possesses the target – possessing humans is a high level upgrade of the possession power – and walks him to the balcony. “Are you okay?” says the chamber wench as the possession stops the target mid-sentence. When on the balcony, Corvo is kicked out of the target’s possessed body, and before anyone can see Corvo he uses his whirlwind power to whoosh Custis to his death. Simple, effective and highly amusing. From then, it’s a matter of sneaking out the way he came in and Corvo's stealth approach is nigh on done.
Guns a’ Blazing
Now, the first thing you’ll notice about our write-up when it comes to the aggressive run through is how much shorter it is than the stealth run through. Well, there’s a simple explanation for that: the stealth run through is far more methodical and cunning than the guns blazing playthrough. The aggressive playthrough is all about using the tools at Corvo’s disposal and brutally killing anyone that crosses your path. It’s less about blinking and planning, and more about linking as many of the supernatural abilities into a combo as you can.
Unlike the planning involved in the first playthrough, the aggressive run through starts like this: shoot guy with a crossbow, jab knife in the neck of the guy on the roof, head inside and then decapitate the next guy with a sword. Completely brutal and a signal of intent of what’s to come.
By this point, the alarms are raised and all hell has broken loose, with wave after wave of guards flooding in to take down Corvo. Using revolvers, the Bend Time ability to line-up crossbow headshots and take down a group of guys in one burst, a bevy of grenades, as well as wind-blasting foes out of windows, Corvo is a powerful beast ripping the bathhouse guards a new one at will.
Targets? Oh yeah, Corvo has a job to do and unlike the original playthrough, Corvo simply blinks and blasts his way to their respective rooms, killing anything that moves along the way, eventually taking them down with sublime ease. It frankly doesn’t look as enjoyable as the stealthy playthrough did, but hey, it’ll appeal to someone out there, right? It’s all about choice though, and playing the game how you want.
That said, escaping the scene of the crime was more fun and showed a little ingenuity. Jumping from the balcony in the gold room, Corvo uses the possess ability just before he hits the ground to break his fall. Kicking straight out into a street full of guards, the assassin instantly drops a “spring razor” on the ground, which blows up moments later decimating a few of the alerted guards. A quick summon spell to summon tons of rats as a distraction and Corvo is able to take down whoever he wants before finally moving to the extraction zone.
Due to the more frenetic gameplay on offer here, it might be more necessary to drink the elixirs of Piero and Sokolov if you choose to play this way – two rival inventors who create potions, amongst other things, that can replenish your health and your essence. Chances are you won’t have all these powers at your disposal though, so it’ll be a lot trickier and you’ll want to actively seek out runes, charms and coins to constantly upgrade Corvo's abilities. Otherwise, let’s face it, it’s not going to be as fun.
For us though, the more aggressive playthrough didn’t tend to play to the strengths of the game, and the combat, aside from the cool powers, didn’t seem as intuitive or innovative as using the abilities in the stealth playthrough. In short, if you’re going to buy this to run and gun, you’re may be missing the point. As Smith points out though, a lot of players stealth in and power their way out anyway, so that way they’re set to benefit from both aspects of the play. That’s essentially how we play, anyway.
So, what’s up with the byline then? Simple, it’s clear from this gameplay demo alone that the choice of Deus Ex, the abilities of System Shock (or BioShock to those not in tune with the roots of the franchise) and the art of Half Life 2 all meld together for what is shaping up to be a unique and gripping experience for 2012. The fact that Harvey Smith (Deus Ex, System Shock), Raphael Colantonio (Arx Fatalis) and Viktor Antonov (Half Life 2) are all on board for this amalgamation of games doesn’t come as a surprise then. What does is how original Dishonored feels despite all of these comparisons. If this isn’t on your radar, then slap it on there right now. This could be one of the year’s biggest new IPs and if it isn’t, we’ll eat our proverbial digital hats.
Dishonored is scheduled for a 2012 release.