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Dishonored In-Depth GamesCom 2011 Preview

This year’s GamesCom managed to impress with a range of unusual games that moved away from the clichéd templates that many genre games rigidly stick to. One of these innovative titles was Arkane Studios’ Dishonored, a mixture of first-person stealth action and an historical steampunk dystopia.

Dishonored certainly has a strong pedigree behind it with Harvey Smith of Deus Ex and Thief fame being heavily involved in the game’s development. Arkane Studios have been working on the title for over two years already and were keen to demonstrate what really separates Dishonored from the slew of other first-person titles currently available. While the developers last title ran into significant development problems, hopefully with the backing of Bethesda the same issues won’t appear in what is undoubtedly a highly promising project.

The most exciting aspect of Dishonored is definitely its setting. The game takes place in a world inspired by both late Medieval England and the Industrial Revolution with a dash of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. It’s unlike anything that we’ve really seen and is certainly highly distinctive. Dishonored primarily focuses on the city of Dunwall although surrounding areas will also be open to exploration, including “The Isles” and the “Pandyssian Continent”. The environment is an open world and players can take different approaches to pursuing the story or scouring locations for hidden items and missions.

Dishonored

Dunwall and its surroundings grew up from an Industrial Revolution that focused on whale oil rather than fossil fuels. As such the city and machinery reflect these origins while continuing to have a strongly medieval aesthetic. At times during the demonstration, Dishonored felt like a spiritual successor to the Thief games with a similar steampunk aesthetic. Dunwall is also a city that has been hit terribly by a plague, something that was made very clear during the mission we were shown.

Despite the highly promising and distinctive setting, the main story seems far more clichéd and somewhat unoriginal. The main character is named Corvo who once acted as the friend and protector of the Empress. However, he was betrayed by the shadowy and nefarious Lord Regent who murdered the Empress and framed Corvo. The plot follows his attempts to clear his name and get revenge on the traitor after he breaks out of prison. Yet, with one of the team behind the original Deus Ex hopefully there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.

As our preview began, Corvo found himself in the sewers of Dunwall tasked with breaking into the city and killing a lawyer guilty of illegally evicting tenants from their homes. The developers were quick to emphasise that each mission in the game would have many different paths through and that player choice would be all important. If a player wanted to largely avoid combat altogether then they could make it through the game without fighting. It sounds like a grand statement, but on the basis of the demonstration there seemed to be a lot of options available.

Dishonored

Corvo’s first goal was to sneak past a group of guards that we busy dumping shrouded plague victims into the river. Gazing out over the water there were dozens of barges and bridges and the scene brought to mind images of London in the 17th century. The graphical style seemed rather odd, being stylised but also rather basic. Although it’s worth noting that this is still pre-alpha code and no doubt the visuals will be improved. Making it past the first group of enemies, Corvo encountered a “Wall of Light”. These towering, metal structures act as force fields preventing unauthorised entry. To prove the danger they posed, a group of rats exploded as they attempted to get through.

Corvo had a number of options of how to proceed. If he had upgraded his skills earlier, he would be able to hack the controls and reprogram the recognition protocols allowing him to simply walk through. However, at this stage he had to remove the battery powering it which he soon found after following the power cable its source. As the gate powered down, a huge swarm of rats dashed through, this raised plenty of chuckles from the journalists. However, rats aren’t just casual scenery and can be a lethal threat in large numbers.

Proceeding through the defunct barrier, Corvo witnessed the rodents devouring a corpse, tearing the flesh from the body. Rats cannot stand the light and in order to avoid being attacked by them, he had to carefully manoeuvre and dash through areas of shadow to keep them at bay. However, no sooner than he had made it past the vermin than he was attacked by a gang of thugs who were busy assaulting a woman. This gave an opportunity to showcase the combat which involved Corvo using both a handgun and a knife together.

Dishonored

The fight was brutal and quick as he dispatched the attackers in quick succession by mixing ranged and melee moves. It did look rather clunky at times, especially in first-person, and we could imagine that large fights against several opponents could become problematic. When Corvo was down to the last enemy he forced him into the shadows where he was quickly set upon by the rats, which leapt on his body and began ripping into him. It was rather disturbing and the animation as the man screamed and writhed in agony was genuinely unpleasant to witness.

After this gruesome interlude Corvo began working his way past groups of guards in order to get closer to the lawyer’s office. Along the way he demonstrated his teleporting ability which enabled him to clamber over rooftops and travel short distances while escaping notice. Hidden throughout Dunwall are “Runes”, magical items that allow for new skills to be selected. After stumbling across one, Corvo chose to learn the reprogram Walls of Light, allowing him an easy passage into the next area.

Reaching a large square with the lawyer’s office on the other side, Corvo faced a new problem. A large metallic tower stood in the centre of the courtyard and had a searchlight which scanned the area. These towers were particularly dangerous and could detect Corvo easily unless he used extra precautions. Here another supernatural power was demonstrated and spotting a long rat, the hero targeted it and possessed it. Controlling the rat he was able to slip past the tower and into a vent at the foot of the building.

Dishonored

Working his way slowly upwards, he pick pocketed a key from a patrolling guard allowing him access to the lawyer’s study. Here stealth went out of the window as he was forced to fight off the barrister’s henchman. Using another power to slow down time (and pluck the enemy bullets out of the air) he swiftly dispatched them with several cuts to the throat. Leaving the lawyer standing helpless, Corvo then shot him cold-bloodedly at point blank range sending his corpse flying from the window.

This prompted a mad dash past the tower, which now fired flaming projectiles at him towards safety. Sprinting towards the reprogrammed Wall of Light from earlier, he made it through before turning to see his pursuers burst into flames as they tried to follow. It was a breathtaking chase and it seemed that careful planning would make Corvo’s life much easier. However his problems were far from over as a pair of bizarre, stilted guards appeared leading to a desperate fight. After shooting them, making careful use of cover, he dashed for the sewers and disappeared into the darkness.

Dishonored is looking like a solid stealth game, although whether or not the combat is fluid as promised remains to be seen. Given the experience of Arkane Studios on Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, hopefully this won’t be an issue. We would like to see more of the free roaming and open world elements too, as it wasn’t quite clear in the playthrough how much freedom Corvo truly had. Dishonored has certainly grabbed our interest, with a fresh setting and a promising atmosphere. Expect to see more information in the next few months before a release early next year.

evilgiraffeman | 24th August, 2011

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