Let's get a couple of things of our chest straight away. Dishonored is a splendid, fantastic game that is worthy of awards, plaudits and it's own parade with floats and dancing girls and everything. However, every time we see or write the word it reminds us of its only significant flaw and, therefore, needs to be exorcised before we can continue.
99 per cent perfect
Pedantic it may be, but the American spelling of "Dishonored", in preference to the English spelling of "Dishonoured" with an added "u", irks us. Not in itself specifically, but because it is a stark reminder of the main and almost only issue we have with the game.
For all intents and purposes, the finely crafted setting of Dunwall, the city in which you spend a majority of your play time, is based entirely on Victorian England. The police wear British bobbies' helmets, the streets are narrow and nigh-on cobblestoned, and there's a pub – a good, old-fashioned English public house that looks like the Queen Vic from EastEnders, the Rover's Return from Coronation Street, and the Cock and Trumpet from outside of Pocket-lint Towers.
Obviously, the setting is more complex than a mere homage to Jack the Ripper movies, and it's as steam punkified as you can get, but there's no denying that it's inspired by the gaslight period of England. Indeed, London.
Therefore, to have just about every character barking out their tightly scripted lines with a strong American accent is, for us, akin to remaking Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Rodney Dangerfield as George Smiley. Or, to turn the tables somewhat, casting Danny Dyer as Rhet Butler in Gone With the Wind: “Frankly sweetheart, I don't give a sodding monkey's.”
To be honest, we know that we're perhaps overdramatising what is, to many many people, not even a problem in the first place. And, we wouldn't even mention it if the game wasn't so darn good - but this one issue sticks out like a sore thumb. But as petty as our rant may be, it serves to prove how darn great the other 99.99 per cent of Dishonored actually is.
The best of the best
If we were forced at gunpoint to compare it with other great games, Dishonored is a megamix of Bioshock, Assassin's Creed and another Bethesda title, Fallout. It is thematically and graphically similar to the first in some ways. It plays a bit like the second, albeit in first person. And it sort of borrows the open-ended nature, mission and side-mission structure, and some RPG elements of the third.
However, it is also a creature of its own design. And we can imagine that calling future games “Dishonored-like” will come as second nature. Certainly, we think it will garner enough praise to have other publishers and development houses sitting up to take note. Maybe it'll even stop the rot the industry seems to have found itself in with sequel after sequel lining the shelves.
That said, Dishonored 2 is a shoo-in.
It's all about the gameplay, stupid
It's the gameplay, you see. Not the mechanics per se - although as first-person shooters/slashers go, it's fluid and easy to get to grips with – but the bedrock on which the game is based: freedom.
You play as eventual assassin Corvo Attano, Lord Protector to an Empress you didn't manage to, er, protect. Subsequently framed for her murder, you're thrown in jail - or should that be “gaol"? - and are awaiting execution, and it is here that you find out who the real culprits are. And where your adventure starts.
We're not big on throwing away spoilers on Pocket-lint, so we'll leave it at that. Needless to say, something is afoot and it is up to you to sort it all out. And - here's the beautiful part - you can do that in pretty much any way you choose. That's Dishonored's schtick. And it never gets tired.
Should you want to blast and maim your way through the nine grand levels, then go ahead. There'll be ramifications - the game even warns you of what could happen if you follow that path, stating that the plague-ridden streets will end up further overflowing with flesh-eating rats and the ending to the game will be much darker - but if it floats your boat, be our guest.
You could try a more stealth-oriented approach, hiding in shadows and taking out guards peacefully, using sleeper holds and tranquilliser crossbow bolts.
Or you could make great use of the magic your character has to hand after meeting a shady, otherworldly character in your dreams. And why not? The spells are cleverly thought-out and implemented, and once you've cast "Blink" - a short-hop teleport mechanic - you'll be casting it all the time. You even get to possess rats after you've earned that particular incantation.
In fact, what's most likely is that, like us, you'll combine elements from each, but to have the choice is exquisite. And none of them ever feels forced upon you.
The playing styles aren't the only examples of freedom in the game; the levels themselves offer myriad routes and means to bring an assassination or goal to conclusion. We also found that it pays to wander well from the obvious and beaten path, as other characters can be found who give you both interesting side missions and well-received rewards.
In that it is like the aforementioned Assassin's Creed franchise. Plus, in further similar tone, there are collectables scattered throughout that, once found, can help you improve your character and, therefore, complete the game more effectively.
And that's the last example of freedom: customisation. The RPG element comes in the form of assigning power-ups to skills and spells. Ignore the main quest for a while and collect runes or bone charms - both found by waving around a beating magical heart - no, really - and you can beef up your main character faster than if you concentrate on the story alone.
There's also the option of improving and customising your equipment and weaponry, to aid in the battle further. In short, Dishonored allows you to play the game exactly as you wish, and there are few other titles that pull that off so effectively. It is, quite simply, an astonishing achievement.
Dishonored has been getting positive whispers from those in the know for a while, but to many others it will have seemingly come from nowhere. It is an object lesson in the art of games design, giving the player choice and freedom without wrecking the semblance of a cohesive storyline.
It looks gorgeous, with almost oil painting style visuals and, unlike many other high concept titles out there, the gameplay mechinics, the actual nuts and bolts of using a joypad to control your character, are a doddle to pick up.
Dishonored is a game that will stay with you long after you've finished it. Indeed, because it is technically possible to play through the game a second or third time, using a completely different style, it is likely you will. There are few other games that can boast that feat.
If this wonderful journey isn't at least nominated in every magazine and website's game of the year awards, we'll eat our rats... Sorry, hats.
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