Review: Dishonored

RRP: $88 ($68 on PC)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
Classification: MA15+
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Rating: 8.5/10

It's refreshing to see a new and untested game IP make it to stores. Our collections are filled with the newest iteration of Modern Warfare, Fifa and Need for Speed, while the latter quarter of 2012 is a sequel bonanza. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Many of the games emerging in October, November and December are well-made and innovative regardless of the number that succeeds the name.

Unlike those games, Dishonored is sneaking into stores just at the beginning of the biggest release period of the year and yet many gamers aren't aware of just how interesting this game is.

Developed by Arkane Studios, and published by Bethesda, Dishonored is a classic tale of revenge set in an exciting and original world.

Many gamers hear Bethesda's name (keep in mind they're a publisher here and not a developer) and automatically imagine the snow-capped peaks of Skyrim or the murky marshlands of Morrowind but Dishonored's world of Gristol shows why Bethesda has such faith in the relatively untested Arkane Studios. The game is set in the city of Dunwall. The best way to describe it is a steampunk/neo-victorian city but really the city defies any traditional sci-fi classification.

Thanks to Viktor Antonov, the brain behind City 17 in Valve's Half Life 2, the designs are delightfully original and eerily familiar of plague-era London. This is especially true during the second half of the game when you see the dilapidated, plague-infested side of Dunwall. The level design really stands out. Seeing survivors huddle in crumbling ruins as they hide from the man-eating swarms of rats, patrolling city watch and plague-riddled "weepers" really makes Dunwall feel like a terrible place to live, but a fantastic place to set a game.

The city is as much a character in the game as the protagonist, Corvo Attano. Corvo was Royal Protector, the personal bodyguard to the Empress, before being framed for her murder and sentenced to execution. While waiting for his time to become a head shorter, Corvo is broken out of prison by a group of Loyalists who need his help to bring down the new, self-appointed Lord Regent.

Shortly after his escape through the sewers, Corvo is met by The Outsider, a mythical figure in the Dishonored universe. Neither good nor evil, The Outsider gives you his "mark" (which comes with fantastic powers) merely because he finds you interesting. Acting as a chaotic demi-god, he comes to you at points throughout the game and praises your unpredictability and viciousness in the face of overwhelming odds.

But by the end of the game you only know a small amount more about The Outsider than at the beginning, and most of it is conjecture. He feels very much like a character that could be explored in greater depth should we ever get to experience the world of Gristol again.

But back to Corvo. The amount of choice when it comes to how you find your target and deal with them is quite exciting. With the powers you're given you could possess a rat and infiltrate a building through the air vents or climb the exterior and gain entry through an upper floor.

Every situation is tailored to multiple play-styles and this is where Dishonored really shines. Aggressive players will find Corvo an unmatched killing machine with plenty of powerful and gruesome tactics available to him. More subtle players can actually complete the entire game without killing a single person. Depending on how you play, your "chaos" rating goes up or down, and this affects which of the two endings you get.

The good and bad endings have some fascinating differences come the final mission, but ultimately the story never truly delivers. Many gamers won't notice this as they hack their way through Dunwall's remaining population but by the end of the game the resolution left me feeling unsatisfied. Not because it was bad by any means, merely because it peters out. The violent ending is more interesting as internal struggles between the conspirators lead to all sorts of backstabbing. Mostly the plot just leads you from one target to another but I never felt invested in Corvo's struggle.

The side missions are worth exploring but once again never really go anywhere. An optional objective involving helping a character called Granny Rags is definitely one of the better ones but even so, her story is just left unfinished by the end of the game.

Not all is perfect in the state of Dunwall. As I've mentioned, the story never really comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion but that isn't all. The fantastic design is fairly proficient at masking the sometimes murky graphics. This won't affect your experience, but players concerned with this issue should definitely seek out the PC version.

My main concern is that, for a stealth game, the stealth is often hit and miss. The system of relaying guard awareness to players is a set of lightning bolts over the enemy's head. Though some guards will have superhuman senses, others apparently neglected to tell their employer they're clinically blind. For a game that prides itself on the stealth option, staying hidden can be a matter of luck some of the time. This might be a question of AI, as the guards follow preset paths until their alertness level goes up, but having sentries that never look up just feels lazy.

Dishonored is a great game. The variety of ways you can accomplish your missions are fun, engaging and offer plenty of replayability. But the game isn't perfect. The beautiful world of Dunwall is a highlight but you're never privy to the more interesting aspects of the society. Should Arkane ever revisit Gristol there's plenty of material ripe to explore. Regardless of my small gripes, this is still one of the must play games of 2012.

The story Review: Dishonored first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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