As most of you will probably already know by now, Dishonored is rather good. The freedom it places in the hands of the player, along with the wonderfully realised Steampunk setting, has seen it receive universal acclaim and it has been touted as a potential winner of numerous game of the year awards. Be that as it may, I’m here to tell you to think very carefully before you spend your hard-earned cash on Arkane Studio’s masked masterpiece. Sure, it’s likely that you’ll be left with a wonderful sense of completeness once the credits roll but there’s a chance – if you’re a certain type of gamer – that you might be left empty, disappointed and wondering what all the fuss was about.
The AI, surely the basis of any game that focuses on stealth, is patchy - something that’s evident as soon as our hero Corvo escapes his prison cell in the game’s opening chapters. Confronted with a group of three guards, he strangles one and dumps the body out of sight. The other guards continue chatting merrily, completely oblivious to the fact that one of their number has disappeared in front of their eyes. There’s no ‘Hey, wasn’t Jerry standing right there two minutes ago?’; they just finish their conversation and carry on their rounds.
Once you are eventually spotted, your enemies will gain an incredible and sudden IQ boost
It’s a moment that is symptomatic of a problem that you will encounter throughout the whole game, and it will leave anyone who is a stickler for immersion very put off. Your adversaries are both incredibly blind and a little bit dim, even on the highest difficulties. Their field of vision is horse-with-blinkers narrow, and they must all be experiencing terrible neck cramp because they seem to have an inability to see anything that goes on above a first floor window. The developers have also implemented a strange mechanic that means that you can’t be seen whilst ‘leaning’ (activated with the E and Q keys on the PC) out of cover, even if you can see the whites of a patrolling guard’s eyes.
Once you are eventually spotted, your enemies will gain an incredible and sudden IQ boost. They’ll shout for their friends to come running, and running their friends will come: you will be ganged up on by groups so large and so strong that you’ll feel like the nerdy kid being bullied at school (again), and escaping will always your best option for survival. Fortunately, due to your supernatural powers, getting out of trouble is usually a cinch, and once you’re hidden in the shadows again, the problem at hand rears its ugly head again. Once they’ve calmed down a bit, the guards simply act as if nothing has happened. They might keep their hands on their swords for a couple of minutes but they will eventually disperse back to their posts, where they become completely oblivious to the bodies of their fallen comrades littering Dunwall’s streets.
If you fail to initiate the game’s various side quests, or consistently choose the least inspiring path then you’ll be left decidedly dissatisfied, wondering where exactly the element of choice was.
Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a game-breaker: I still very much enjoyed Dishonored despite the fact that this flaw kept gnawing away at me, but for some people the fact that we still have AI like this in 2012 will be a huge disappointment. There is, regrettably, another issue that I feel might turn even more people away from Dishonored’s inviting arms. Having choice in a video game is great. It makes you feel that you’re not just a guy (or girl) sitting in a dark room wearing clothes that are far too comfortable with your face far too close to a screen; it makes you feel you’re making actual decisions that are having a very real impact. However, when you have a game that bases its brilliance largely on this mechanic (as is the case here), you have a problem: namely, that not everyone is going to experience this sense of freedom that has been so lovingly and lavishly woveninto the core of the game.
If you play through levels multiple times (like I did), then you have time to recognise the laissez faire attitude to assassination that the developers have provided. But if you’re a straight-to-the-point kind of person with not much time on your hands you’ll want to sail through the levels quickly, meaning that the game’s trademark sense of choice might elude you and your experience will be over all too abruptly. Certainly, there are numerous interesting paths that you can take through any one of the game’s fantastically designed levels, but there’s a chance that this fact will flit by faster than a blinking assassin if you don’t stop to catch your bearings every once in a while. If you fail to initiate the game’s various side quests, or consistently choose the least inspiring path then you’ll be left decidedly dissatisfied, wondering where exactly the element of choice was.
The freedom that the game grants you is staggering, it just takes a while to realise it.
Dishonored requires multiple playthroughs to be truly appreciated. It’ll take a couple of cracks of the whip before you realise that, actually, you could get in to your target building through that open window, or drop down on your target from that overhanging roof. Once you learn the ins and outs of Dunwall you’ll be transformed into a sinister kid in a sweet shop dreaming up increasingly evil plans to reach the sherbet lemons on top shelf. The freedom that the game grants you is staggering, it just takes a while to realise it.
As I briefly mentioned before, I really enjoyed Dishonored, but I fear that it’s not to everyone’s taste. If what I said about the clunky AI has you frowning, or if you’re the type to breeze through a game without searching every nook and cranny then you should sit on your wallet for now. I’d wait until the cheap used copies surface on Amazon or, if you’re a PC gamer, wait for the inevitable reduction that it’ll receive on Steam’s Christmas sale. Dishonored still merits your time and effort, but not at the current asking price.
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