Xbox 360 Review

Dishonored

Arkane weaves a compelling masterpiece in their first outing as a Bethesda studio

Nobody seems to speak in a Cockney accent in Dunwall, not even the City Watch. It's not a disappointment that they don't but the city is such a lovingly-crafted environment echoing Victorian London (and sometimes Terry Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork) that it comes as a surprise when most of the characters speak with American accents.

Despite its dark themes of betrayal and revenge in a city besieged by a deadly and contagious plague. Dishonored still retains a brightness and beauty that captures what the city once was as well as what it is just now. Dilapidated grandeur is everywhere with rats running around and its quite easy to forget why you were there in the first place - revenge.

Corvo Attano is your typical game protagonist - a fallen hero out for revenge in a city that once hailed him as a hero and now seeks to destroy him at every turn. He is imbued with special powers after a mystical character known only as The Outsider visits him in a dream gifting him with magical abilities to move swiftly and silently from point to point (a power called Blink), slow down time and even possess other creatures for a short time.

His story is typical as well and almost straight out of the A-Team. As the Empresss chief bodyguard he is framed for her murder and the kidnapping of her daughter by some mysterious and rather unsavoury types he must first escape from jail and seek revenge on those that put him there.

Dishonored is far from a typical game though. The richness of the environment that Arkane Studios goes beyond the kind of detail that we might see in Liberty City and demonstrates a living city that responds to Corvos every action for better or for worse.

While it may draw comparisons form the likes of Deus Ex and Thief (the latter of which could learn a great deal from Dishonored) the blend of mysticism and technology combined with the compelling world of Dunwall really gives Dishonored an identity all its very own.

At the heart of the game, aside from Dunwall itself is a game structure that organically blends both freedom of choice and linearity together to cleverly create a fairly direct narrative with the ability of the player go out and make the story their own.

The game is broken down by assassination target; each one bringing Corvo closer to saving Dunwall and installing the Empresss daughter to the throne. After each he returns to his secret home at the abandoned Hound Pits Pub by boat to rest and learn of his next move from a secret faction that knows the truth about the death of the Empress and wants to see poeer restored ot her daughter.

Within each mission are a number of optional side-quests offering the chance to earn runes which can be used to upgrade Corvos characteristics and powers, bone charms which give him slight skill enhancements, hard currency and even opening up unexpected assistance in completing his main objectives.

Every action affects Dunwall. Returning to the city after rest will show the results of Corvos previous actions. In and early mission for example, choosing to poison a still that is used to create a healing elixir that wards off the plague may take down a dangerous game and make them more peaceable but it will also mean that there will be more zombie-like plague victims around in the more derelict areas of the city.

Charging in head-on throughout the game will cause more panic and fear in the city and make it a much more unruly place to be in. Using stealth and non-fatal attacks will also mean that there are more guards around to keep the citys ailing population in check.

It's all carefully balanced. Every mission and every side quest has multiple approaches allowing players to choose the approach that suits them from storming down the front doors to crawling across rooftops and ledges to gain a silent entrance through an open window. Theres no right way to complete an assassination and theres plenty of scope for replaying the game and taking a completely different approach.

Everything about Dishonored is utterly bewitching. The richness of Dunwall itself is enough to warrant high praise but the game's impressive craftsmanship goes far beyond creating a beautiful and characterful game world. Arkane has managed to create a game which draws you in and fully immerses you in Corvo's struggle in a way few games have achieved.

There is so much more that can be said about Dishonored but it would either sound like gushing or result in heinous spoilers. All we can add is this, if there ever was such a thing as a must-play game of the year then, without a doubt, Dishonored fits that bill. Take a step into Corvo's world and make it your own. You will not regret it.

97%
Preview
First Look: Life Is Strange
Dontnod gives us a taste of what to expect from their new episodic series.