Even when you’re a veteran games journalist, made grumpy and cynical by endless clones and hyped-up mediocrities, some games are still a case of love at first sight. You couldn’t take your first look at Uncharted, Gears of War or Bioshock without knowing that you were looking at something special, and the same goes for Half-Life, Halo, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Ico. And that’s why, even though we didn’t get the chance to go fully hands-on with Dishonored at our Gamescom 2011 preview of the game, we wanted to tell you about it anyway. If you loved Thief, Deus Ex, System Shock 2 or Bioshock, you’re going to love this. Even if you didn’t, you’re going to want to play it.
What platform is it on?
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
When's it due out?
What other game is it like?
Thief, Deus Ex, Bioshock
Does it use any new tech like 3D, PlayStation Move or Kinect for Xbox 360?
No - not unless they add stereoscopic 3D nearer release.
An ingenious, original take on the stealth/action adventure, set in a fictionalised 17th Century England, and designed by alumni from Deus Ex, Arx Fatalis and Half-Life 2.
Players take on the role of a legendary bodyguard, falsely accused of the murder of his beloved Empress. But this one won’t take the frame-up lying down. Using supernatural powers and the skills of a master assassin, he sets out to take revenge on the men who killed his mistress.
Trailers, demos and video
Our first impressions
Why does Dishonored look so special? It’s partly a matter of style and setting, and partly to do with the talent involved. Dishonored is the work of Arkane Studios, and the product of a collaboration between Harvey Smith, who worked on System Shock, Deus Ex and Thief: Deadly Shadows; Raf Colantonio, who worked on Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic; and Viktor Antonov, the architect of City 17 in Half-Life 2. Together, they’ve created a world that has its basis in 17th Century England, but one where a technology based on whale oil has created an early industrial and technological revolution.
It’s a fascinating setting, mixing fantasy with steampunk and a grab-bag of influences from different periods. More importantly, it’s utterly convincing. There’s something about the architecture, the clothing, the weapon design and the lighting that’s stylised, but also believable. Just as City 17 felt like a weird re-imagining of some Eastern European city, so the world of Dishonored looks like an alternate London of some indistinct period - a place you might find in the history books if only you could find the right ones. Threatened by plague, infested by rats and infused with a healthy dose of paranoia, it’s as compelling a setting as anything in Deus Ex, Half-Life 2 or Thief.
This world provides the background for the tale of an imperial assassin, wrongly accused of murdering the Empress you were sworn to protect. Your mission? To take revenge on the men behind the murder, and bring the whole conspiracy to light. Your tools? Not just the knife, the flintlock pistol and the crossbow, but a range of supernatural powers, which allow you to teleport short distances, slow the passage of time or possess living things.
The key to Dishonored - as with Thief, Deus Ex and Bioshock - is that how you do things is up to you. In the section of the game we saw demoed, your target is a lawyer, safely ensconced in a secure part of town and protected by guards in a fortress-like mansion. There’s a challenge involved just in getting past the vaporising gates that protect the area from menaces, human and rodent alike, but from there you have a series of options to get within slaying range of your man. A full-frontal assault is risky, but might be possible. Stealth and sorcery provide alternate routes. In our case, however, the assassin managed to summon a pack of rats, possess one, then slip into the mansion in rodent form before transforming back. From here, it was a simple matter of sneaking past the guards and finding the lawyer in his chambers
And at this point we got our first real taste of combat. Knives are a quick, sure way of despatching adversaries, but by combining crossbow and time-slowing skills, our assassin was able to evade a storm of incoming fire, get behind the attacking guards, and finish them off in a chain of rapid-fire kills. Dishonored is a game of precision and ingenuity, giving you the tools to attack and defend, but a multiplicity of ways in which they can be gainfully employed. In a way, it’s the best bits of Thief, Deus Ex and Bioshock.
Yet it’s also a game with moral choices. You can choose to be a stone cold killer, slaying anything and everything in your way, or you can save your anger for those who deserve it, working methodically and sparing the innocent. The higher the level of violence, the more the game’s Chaos metric creeps up, and we’re promised real consequences in terms of a branching plotline and a reactive world. The hope is of a more subtle system than the simple multiple endings we see in other, supposedly choice-driven action games.
The game is still in the early stages of development at the moment, and we’ve only seen a carefully selected section, but there’s a real magic to this one. Things could go wrong, and Dishonored might end up as another over-hyped disappointment, but when a game comes from nowhere to get the kind of buzz Dishonored is getting right now, there’s every reason to hope that this might be one of next-year’s brightest hopes.
Gamescom is a fantastic chance to see the latest games due out over the coming year or beyond, as well as letting us get a glimpse into what is going to be the big titles and the ones to avoid like the plague.
The big problem however, is that for most of the titles that glimpse is, well, just that. At the show you'll get to play a level here or a multiplayer map there or even have a product manager walk you through a specific level.
So, with that in mind we present you with our Quick Play.
What we've done is broken down the key facts you need to know and then given you our first impressions based on around 15 minutes of gaming. For us, that 15 minutes isn't enough to do a First Look review, and especially not a review. How can you rate a game that offers over 30 hours of gaming based on just 15 minutes of play? However, it should hopefully give you an idea, a feeling, a notion of what to expect come launch day.