There has been a dearth of games when it comes to the stealth genre in this generation. No, I’m not talking about open-world games such as Fallout or The Elder Scrolls that give barebones stealth mechanics. Sure, there have been a few games here and there, but even those were plagued by very un-stealth-like mechanics, such as the action-heavy sequences in Metal Gear Solid 4 and the boss fights in the otherwise stellar Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Other games that started out with stealth mechanics completely dropped all pretence and went for all out action with minor stealth gameplay as the series went on (here’s looking at you, Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell). This year, on the other hand, seems to have an interesting line-up of games, with a few stealth titles thrown in for good measure. Here's a look at one of this year’s stealth offerings, and surprisingly enough, a new IP – Dishonored.
These guys won't know what hit 'em
The storyline of the game is pretty basic, and there are some issues with the general storytelling. The main protagonist of the game is Corvo Attano – loyal bodyguard of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin – who is wrongfully framed for her murder. You eventually break out of prison and join La Resistance (not the real name of the group) in taking down the Lord Regent and his corrupt supporters. The main story is more-or-less summed up by the game’s tagline: Revenge Solves Everything. Corvo is the silent protagonist, which brings up some unintentionally hilarious dilemmas in the story. Despite this, the game has a conversation system at certain points where Corvo has (unvoiced) dialogues. While it is understandable that the developers chose to forego a voice for Corvo so that the player can project themselves in the character, the major problem lies in the fact that Corvo could have easily defended himself against accusations of killing the Empress.
When it comes down to it, Dishonored can be best described as Thief with magical powers. While it does give you the option to very graphically murder anything in your path, be it a guard, an innocent bystander, or a rat, the game rewards you much more for being patient and causing as few casualties as you can. The game punishes wanton killings in subtle ways, ranging from letting you eavesdrop on conversations that the guards have with each other – thus letting you know that they have a life beyond walking around some nobleman’s house in circles, complete with wives and children – to upping the difficulty if you cause too many deaths in the previous levels. The game also counts the number of kills you’ve made and gives it a Chaos rating. Higher Chaos increases the number of rat swarms and weepers (this game’s zombies), and has the guards in later levels be more alert; it also affects the ending you will get.
The Tall Boys are some of the toughest enemies in the game
The game puts you in the shoes of Corvo through a first-person perspective, much like the Deus Ex and previously mentioned Thief games. Corvo is constantly wielding two weapons. While the weapon in your right hand is fixed to be a retractable sword, you get to switch between weapons, gadgets and spells on your left hand. The major difference from the gameplay of Thief would be that Dishonored doesn’t focus on light as a way of hiding, though it does play its own part. The more crucial part of hiding is line-of-sight. The level design of the game promotes finding your own way through the intricate areas in the game. You could walk up to the front door as you leave a bloody trail behind you, or you could opt for a scenic route that doesn’t kill nearly as many people. This is where the game gets most of its value. In terms of length, the game is short, having only nine missions. The meat of the game comes from retrying previous levels to get the perfect ratings—after playing through the story once. Those with OCD will have a lot to do here too, with the game even counting how many coins you left behind.
One of the main gameplay mechanics in the game are the spells that are granted to you through an acid-trip sequence by a Lovecraft-inspired entity known only as The Outsider. You are given two spells to start out with, along with a beating heart that helps you find runes. From this point, you are free to branch into whatever spells you may be interested in. The spells are varied, with spells as simple as Blink – a short distance teleport – along with spells that open up whole new avenues of gameplay, like Bend Time and Possession. Blink could let you access areas that you normally can’t climb to, like that open balcony that would give you the perfect opportunity to sneak into the mansion of the Baroness and corner her in her living quarters, while Possession could let you plant a Spring Razor on a rat, possess its body and just make it run into some guards, allowing you to laugh like a maniac the whole time you are pulling off your sadistic ritual.
You can make things go boom, if you so desire
The world is an interesting mix of a steampunk Victorian setting, a 1984-eqsue Orwellian setting and an existentially-horrifying Lovecraftian setting (read: Cosmic Horror Story). Influences of the ex-Half-Life developer working in Arkane feel felt, thanks to the Orwellian presence of the city guards and the shape of some of the guard posts. The world feels lovingly crafted, with a lot of background story and world-building stuff to be read in books that you can find in the game. One major point in the world of Dishonored is that everything is trying to actively kill humans. Be it something as simple as rats to something as big as the leviathan-esque ‘whales’, whose magical fat is used as a prime source of the Magitek energy that powers the world.
The visual design of the game looks great with the Unreal Engine used to great effect. While the game does follow what I have noticed to be a common trend in Unreal Engine games – namely super-buffed up men and slender women – it still manages to look striking and leaves you with a sense of place in the world. Thanks to the art-direction, the steampunk Victorian setting comes alive with bustling streets and gruesome execution moves.
The Half-Life 2 inspired visual design goes well with the setting
Short gameplay time and questionable story elements aside, this is easily one of the best games to have come out this year. It can be described as a puzzle game where you have to take your time and think up the best possible route to your targets. It is also one of the few games that lets you pull off a complete pacifism zero-kill runs, including giving you options to “neutralise” your assassination targets, instead of straight up assassinating them. It’s not very often that a game as intelligent as this comes along, and from everything you can see, it looks like a labour of love. The success of Dishonored could very easily mark the return of stealth-based games into the spotlight.