E3 2012: Dishonored Hands-On

If there’s one thing you can count on seeing every year at E3, it’s sequels. Halo 4, Assassin’s Creed III, God of War 3, Hitman, Gears of War, Metal Gear, the list goes on and on. That’s why it’s always a rare treat when a new IP with AAA potential shows up at E3. It’s even better when you get some time with that title and find it seems to be living up to that potential. Dishonored definitely fits the bill nicely.

Dishonored takes place in a neo-victorian steampunk world, with an art style the developers call “a moving painting”. You play as Corvo Atano, an ex-member of the empresses bodyguard. When the empress is murdered you are framed and end up a fugitive trying to clear your name and take vengeance on the actual perpetrators. A pretty standard plot, but where Dishonored differentiates itself is in how you carry it out.

Dishonored is a first person action game. However, how you choose to play it is actually up to you. You see, you can choose to play stealthily, or all out murderous rampage. This is something Arkane went out of their way to demo to us, showing us two scenarios in which they were sent to execute two corrupt politicians. One where they killed them both using stealth and one where they killed them both using sheer brute force.

Assisting you to do this are a host of abilities and powers. On the more mundane side you have the ability to sprint, jump, slide, sneak, hide and lean from cover. On the supernatural side of things, you have several abilities, including a short teleportation, the ability to stop time, the ability to see through walls and see enemies cone of vision, a sort of “force push”, and the ability to posses people and animals. Each of these have to be earned and have a cost, so you can’t spam them.

However, you also have a nice arsenal of gadgets and weapons to supplement them. Aside from the standard you’d expect, pistols and the like, you have a few other more stealthy and high tech tools. For instance, if you prefer the non-lethal route, you have the option of using sleep darts in your crossbow instead of regular darts. Then, on the much more lethal side, you have a sort of razor wire trap that can also double as a grenade and will make quite the mess of anyone unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of it’s attentions. And yet, the weapon you’re most likely to find yourself using, is your trusty knife. It never runs out of ammo in a pinch, and when use with teleportation, time stopping and/or parrying, it makes for a deadly combination.

So both demos they walked us through used some variation of these abilities, powers and weapons to get them in and assassinate their target, the difference is in the execution, so to speak. For instance, you have multiple ways of getting to your target in the stealth scenario. In this instance, they possessed a fish, and used it to swim into a drainage pipe into the building. When sneaking through the building, he could easily get past enemies by using Dark Vision to see through walls and monitor their cones of vision.

However, if getting around wasn’t a possibility, a sleep dart was usually the solution, or sneak up behind and either knock them out or kill them. Need an essential item to get into a certain room? Sneak up behind and pickpocket it from the person who has it. Then to kill your targets. We saw two methods, one in which they flooded a room in which he was in with hot gases which burned and suffocated him to death. Another where, he sneaked out onto the targets balcony and possessed him, making him come out to him so he could calm force push him off the balcony to his death below.

On the flip side, if you don’t care for stealth, you can jump and teleport yourself over and smash you’re way into the building, guns ablazing. Slow down time, run up and slit several throats. Throw some razor wire traps here and there, pull out shotgun, blast away until your powers recharge. Force push a group of enemies away run slide and stab your way through the rest. Completely lacking in subtlety but making up for it entirely in flair. In this scenario of course, you have to be accurate with your aim and quick. The enemies can be unforgiving, so you need to be brutal. As for the actual assassinations, it comes down to tracking down your targets in the mess of exploding bodies and putting a bullet in their head or a knife in their throat.

Beyond this, I actually got to play a different mission, where I was tasked with capturing a certain person alive. Everyone in between him and me, well, it was left to me to decide what to do with them. I can say the powers really control well, and the enemies are no pushovers. I played both ways, stealth and gung-ho. Either way, your really have to go in with a plan, timing your attacks right either to ensure you don’t get seen or that you don’t let up on your barrage and allow the enemy a chance to gain the upper hand on you.

What’s also nice is the way in you can approach various situations. How you get into a building, how you kill a person. How you approach each scenario will be a unique experience to you. I can see some replay value in just going back and trying the same scenario a variety of different ways.

All in all, it was a great experience. My time with the game really just confirmed my gut feeling that this was a title with some real potential. Beyond that, it offers a truly unique offering in terms of gameplay, which is a rare thing these days. Sequels are great and all, but Dishonored shows that a great new IP is always a welcome treat.


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