by Chris Davis, reviewed on
Stealth games are a genre that doesn’t get a lot of attention. After all, in a world where the most popular titles involve running and gunning through hordes of enemies there isn’t much call in the industry for the genre. For every six dozen action-oriented titles you may have one or two stealth games but even those are, usually, of the worthless sort. Every now and then a great stealth game like Thief or a Metal Gear will come along and reignite the community’s passion before disappearing once again back into the ether.
An Assassin’s Retribution
Many games have laid claim to the statement that the world it is set in is “unlike any other.” When studios say that though it’s usually just a variation on a theme that involves orcs, elves, and an assortment of ugly, evil beasts. Dishonored makes that claim too, and from what we saw at Quakecon and Gamescom, we have to agree that it is indeed "unlike any other". An island-based whaling town set in a retro-futuristic industrial age? Steampunk this is clearly not.
Dishonored’s story takes place in Dunwall, a city in the middle of a series of islands known as the Isles. Most of humanity lives in the Isles far away from the Pandyssian continent where huge, dangerous beasts roam the land and from which few souls ever return. The entirety of Dishonored takes place in Dunwall though; a clear mythology and world history is set up for expansion past this game should Arkane wish to build upon their new IP.
In describing Dunwall, the closest approximation to a real-world equivalent would be Victorian-era England. The buildings and cobblestone roads share similarities but it is herein where the similarities end. Thanks to the immense talent of Viktor Antanov, the artist who seven years ago changed the landscape of the first person shooter genre with the alien-yet-familiar world of Half-Life 2, Dunwall lends alien architecture with Victorian streets to yield a city that dare the player to explore it.
Dunwall is in a state of decline thanks to a plague that has infected and killed off nearly half of the population. This seems to be one of the city’s lesser worries however as the government has recently been taken over in a coup. You play as Corvo, a legendary assassin and the bodyguard of The Emperess. At the start of Dishonored the coup occurs and Corvo fails to save the life of his mistress for which he is accused of murder. Sometime after his imprisonment Corvo escapes from his confines and, aided by the local resistance group, sets out to clear his name and will kill anyone who steps in his way.
Vengeance, By Blade Or Spell
As the lights dimmed and the demo began it was immediately apparent that Dishonored was quite different from what most have played before. The demo is set in a sectioned-off part of the city where a corrupt lawyer is profiting from the suffering of the citizens of Dunwall. Your goal is to assassinate him, but a secondary objective is to justify the kill with evidence of his wrongdoing. The lawyer is protected by the new government though so getting to him will not be an easy task.
Beginning in a sewer outlet, Corvo exits it into the harborfront where, before our eyes, a whaling ship bellows its horn as it parades into the harbor with its latest catch: a gigantic whale known as a Leviathan of the Deep. The sight alone of the ship and its dead cargo immediately separates Dishonored from most settings in games as it is one of the most alien sights to see in our world today. The reason why Dunwall prospers lies in the Leviathan itself. Imagine a world wherein crude oil and natural gas have never been discovered (or possibily even exists) and that the oils harvested from these Leviathans serves as the power source and the most prominent natural resource as humanity’s disposal. Everything is powered by it: lanterns, force fields, even machinery won’t function without it. The moral ambiguity of the resource is almost non-existent in the world of Dishonored and that alone is intriguing.
As Corvo walks along the steps of the harbor he pulls out a dagger, the demonstrator is clearly anticipating resistance. The city is currently under martial law and the streets are empty save for the roaming guards, the brave or brash troublemakers, and the dead. As Corvo ascends the steps voices can be heard. Corvo squats down quickly and peers over the last of the stairs to a ghastly sight: two guards are tossing the cloth-wrapped bodies of plague victims into the harbor while another stands watch. As the two continue on their duty the third walks away, beginning his patrol. Backing up, Corvo looks upward and spies an awning within reach. Jumping, he grabs the edge of the awning and pulls himself up.
Spotting the wandering guard, our demonstrator sneaks up from behind and delivers a killing blow with the dagger. Corvo searches the body before moving on as he is confident that he doesn’t have to hide the body since the other two are too busy with their appalling task. Corvo approaches a large force field that is just one of many elements of the game that are quite evocative of Half-Life 2. Corvo wanders into a nearby guard post and disarms it.