Eurogamer Expo 2012: Dishonored hands-on
I’ve been a fish, a rat and a house maid. I’ve seen through walls, teleported up buildings and thrown men over balconies with whirlwinds. I’ve stalked in the shadows, sniped with a crossbow and duelled with blades. I’ve played Dishonored.
Arkane Studio’s steampunk adventure is a first-person shooter/brawler/stealth/whatever you want it to be really, because Dishonored contains that rarest of ingredients in the highly linear, set-piece driven action adventure genre these days – choice.
I began my playthrough in a back alley behind a stack of barrels with two men blocking the main entrance to the building that housed my target, Doctor Sokolov. Adopting the stealthy crouched stance I activated Dark Vision – a supernatural ability akin to Arkham City’s Detective Vision, which provides you with a clear outline of enemies, interactive object and the noise you are making. I proceeded to sneak silently behind their gaze, entering a small side-house that led to a flowing river underneath the building.
Here I possessed a fish, swam around clueless for a while and came across two water wheels churning away. Popping back into human form I rode the prong of one onto a higher ledge, teleported over to a now visible balcony and jumped up to what looked like a back entrance. Snag; here a guard kept watch, standing right next to an alarm.
It soon, however, becomes apparent that such obstacles should only be viewed as opportunities for experimentation to a supernatural assassin in the beautiful 19th century London-inspired Dunwall. Undeterred I found a nearby fuse box which disabled the alarm, snuck up on the guard and blasted him into the water with a swipe of my whirlwind creating arm. Score; I was in, and without the slightest hint of detection.
The sheer ease with which I had randomly stumbled across this entrance suggests that Arkane have saturated each level with a Deus Ex-like plethora of ways to infiltrate this building, and indeed on a second playthrough I entered through a small vent having possessed a rat.
Once inside the interior was revealed to be an open plan, multileveled structure, saturated with guards and traps. Here I took advantage of the teleportation ability, which places you atop any structure you want within a reasonable distance. In seconds I was up in the rafters, peering down like a hawk on the clueless servants that would soon become my prey. Or so I had thought.
Attempting to teleport into a corridor near my target I fudged my aim, falling slap bang in the middle of a trio of gun toting sentries. What ensued can only be described as an embarrassing kerfuffle of summoned rats, exploding arrows and clashing blades, but what a glorious kerfuffle it was: Dishonored’s melee combat feels weighty, tense and challenging in all the right ways, requiring perfect block timing in order to break your enemy’s swipe, opening an opportunity for an instant kill parry, and granting you with a deeply personal death animation that can only be described as schlocky, crunchy and harrowing in equal measure.
Dishonored does a wonderful job of empowering its players then, through the pick ‘n’ mix sandbox of gameplay options at your disposal, be they offensive or the defensive. I never did find Mr Sokolov: frustrated at failing on a clean stealth run through I decided to restart (yes, I’m that kind of player) and toy with different play styles. But what I did find was one of the most exciting prospects for the 2012 holiday season. A game soaked in an industrial gothic-steampunk atmosphere of urgency, brimming with caricature personalities and bursting to the seams with choice, that rarest and most delicious of action adventure ingredients.