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Goggalor
Psychonaut
Premium
join:2009-06-09
Your Mind!
kudos:2
reply to TigerLord

Re: [RPG Review] Dishonored: Story-driven roleplaying

said by TigerLord:

It's Hitman but with supernatural powers

Hitman meets Bioshock would be the way I would describe it. Corvo does not have an open world to traverse, just targets/missions to do (like Agent 47). Instead of guns and piano/filament wire, Corvo has powers and some varying weapons.

It is one of those games that people (game sites) have had on their radar ever since E3 of last year.
--
From Psychonauts -
Lungfish Civilian: (describing Goggalor) He's impervious to bullets! ... and love!
--


Goggalor
Psychonaut
Premium
join:2009-06-09
Your Mind!
kudos:2

Review from Eurogamer.net (8/10):

Version tested: Xbox 360

When was the last time a game asked you to wait? Not just wait for a loading screen or pause for a few seconds to line up the perfect sniper shot. Real waiting. Patience. The ability to sit, immersed in a game world for minutes at a time, watching, plotting and planning.

There's a lot of waiting in Dishonored. You'll peer through keyholes as the seconds tick past, wary of pressing on until you're absolutely sure there's nobody on the other side. You'll squat behind walls and ruins, using supernatural abilities to follow the sickly yellow outlines of your foes, making mental notes until you've spotted the gap in their movements that might let you slip through undetected. You'll cower, low on health, as the thundering footsteps of mechanical stilt-walking Tall Boys stomp past, praying they don't spot you. In Arkane's dark and delicious tribute to hardcore stealth gaming, patience is most definitely a virtue.

Or you can run around, stabbing people in the neck or shooting them in the face. Your choice. In Dishonored's elastic world, there are no overt reasons not to be a violent maniac. No morality metre and no good or bad choices. As disgraced Royal bodyguard Corvo - framed for the assassination of the Empress of a plague-stricken waterfront empire - it's really up to you how you go about aiding a small Loyalist resistance in restoring order to the city of Dunwall, even if you end up leading it into chaos in the process.

What's most noticeable is how narrow Dishonored is. This is a ruthlessly focused game with no interest in the sort of meandering bloat that has crept into blockbusters as this hardware generation stretches out its twilight for another 12 months. There are no naval battles, no gimmicky co-op modes, no gameplay hubs to decorate and upgrade. There's just you, a small selection of gadgets and abilities, and levels that are true sandboxes: small, self-contained areas rich in possibilities.
1

The game doesn't judge the morality of your actions, only the chaos you leave in your wake. More chaos makes later stages harder.

There are just six active powers in the game and four passive ones. Each can be upgraded only once using secret runes found during your missions. Your weapons have a little more room to evolve, but even these are kept tightly controlled. Blueprints will allow your Tesla-esque scientist ally to create new gizmos, but the number barely scrapes into double figures. It's all about fully mastering the tools you have rather than constantly looking out for the next toy to play with.

So you'll teleport across short distances, use your sinister mask to eavesdrop on enemies like a steampunk Batman, or possess animals and humans in order to access places Corvo cannot reach. Rats, in particular, are a recurring motif - both friend and foe in your quest for revenge. Possessing them allows you to scurry through vents and pipes, circumnavigating high-tech security. In large numbers they'll even devour any dead bodies, helping to cover your tracks. Of course, they'll also try to eat you - unless you equip the "bone charm" power-up, one of 40 hidden throughout the game, that will keep them at bay.

Despite its microscopic focus on a level-by-level basis, this is a world to lose yourself in, drawing heavily on visual design director Viktor Antonov's experience on Valve's seminal Half-Life 2. Dunwall's elegant decay is familiar from Gordon Freeman's journey through City 17, as is the thin diffused sunlight that makes the soaring architecture look as defeated and washed-out as its inhabitants. There are even stronger reflections in the eerily masked City Watch guards and their angular blockades, so visually reminiscent of the Combine that it can't be an accident.

"It's deceptively easy to reduce the game to a laundry list of obvious influences, but if a game is going to draw from its peers, you'd be hard pushed to come up with a better list"
2

Weepers are plague-infected civilians who shamble around like zombies. Do you put them out of their misery, or leave them be?

But then, Dishonored is not a game much concerned with originality. You can pick and choose from an array of influences that it all but wears on its sleeve. From co-creative director Harvey Smith there's a clear line back to the original Deus Ex, with its emphasis on allowing the player to choose between stealth and guile or bold assault on a moment-by-moment basis. The dual-wiedling, magic-and-melee first-person combat suggests The Elder Scrolls, but has deeper roots in Arkane Studio's Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah. The methodical pace harks back to Thief, while the option to murder or incapacitate your primary targets in a variety of opportunistic ways comes direct from Hitman. Even the way side stories are told through audio logs, books and notes suggests Arkane Studios absorbed some of Rapture's ambience while assisting on BioShock 2.

It's deceptively easy to reduce the game to a laundry list of obvious influences, but if a game is going to draw from its peers, you'd be hard pushed to come up with a better list than that. Crucially, Dishonored folds these inherited and inspired-by systems into a world that is very much its own, where Dickensian squalor rubs up against the ruthless intrigue of a Tudor court in a city financed by whale oil and whiskey and overrun with rats.

It's a game where the larger story being told ultimately takes a back seat to the unique stories you'll create in each level: those impossible escapes or uplifting flukes that stick in the memory long after you've forgotten the cut-scene drama of who did what and when. The game is at its strongest in the early stages, where the core plot informs a run of brilliantly inventive and distinctive missions.

"That the game can pose such an imposing stealth challenge, yet still accommodate players who muff it up, is deeply impressive."
3

Your 'blink' teleport move has limited range and requires line of sight to work. It's empowering, but requires skilled use.

You'll infiltrate a gaudy high class brothel, looking for ways to bump off two sadistic brothers. You'll mingle with guests at a decadent masked ball. Even the optional objectives are memorable in these locations: torture a perverted art dealer, or take part in a pistol duel with a snooty aristocrat. In such moments, every aspect of Dishonored pulls in the same direction and the result is invigorating, immersive and thoroughly satisfying

Sadly, such a fine balance doesn't last, and following a fairly predictable plot twist the game ditches the weird and colourful backdrops in favour of grey stone and steel as you creep through a generic enemy fortress on your way to a rather abrupt conclusion.

It's a seriously tough game too, especially if you're trying to be as stealthy as possible. Combat is tricky enough that open confrontation is a bad choice, but there are scenarios where simply travelling 50 metres becomes a task of herculean proportions as you inch ahead, dutifully saving every time you advance a decent distance without making some calamitous error. Although there are only nine missions, each contains multiple interlinked areas and, for those trying to maximise their stealth, it's entirely possible for one mission to take several hours to complete.

Certainly, the achievements for completing levels, and even the entire game, without being spotted or killing anyone will come with hardcore bragging rights. That the game can pose such an imposing stealth challenge, yet still accommodate players who muff it up, is deeply impressive.

"This is a muscular and confident game, one with the utmost faith in its own fiction and a dedication to gameplay satisfaction at a microscopic level"
4

One of the best items is a clockwork heart used to locate charms and runes. Point it at a character and it'll whisper secrets about them.

It's a shame, then, that the mechanics of the game aren't always up to the high standard set elsewhere. Context-sensitive actions are needlessly fussy, as opening doors or teleporting to ledges requires a little too much shuffling around for the right prompt to appear. Frustrating and, under pressure, sometimes fatal.

The AI of your opponents doesn't always hold up to scrutiny either, with guards sometimes spotting you from a long distance and other times remaining blissfully unaware of the black-clad figure crouching in their peripheral vision. Once alerted to your presence, their only instinct is to mob you, and should you evade them by ducking through a doorway, they won't think to check if you close the door behind you. On one occasion I actually had guards appear behind me in a room with only one exit, and it's common for bodies and thrown objects to lodge, juddering and twitching, in walls and floors.

It's disappointing, too, that after completing the game there's no way to go back and reattempt earlier missions with all the abilities and gadgets you've unlocked. You can replay any level you want, but only with the abilities you had at that point in the game. With no way to respec your character, you'll need to start over completely in order to try all the different approaches, as well as to see the impact of the chaos system that changes the game world according to your play-style (a system that struggles to make its presence felt in a single play-through). In this context the lack of a New Game + option, such a perfect fit for games of this type, seems all the more of an omission.

Such oversights are easily forgiven when stacked up against Arkane's broader achievements, but they can't help but take the shine off an otherwise impeccably polished experience. And that, ultimately, is what you'll take away from time spent in Dishonored's ominous embrace.

This is a muscular and confident game, one with the utmost faith in its own fiction and a dedication to gameplay satisfaction at a microscopic level, paid off in dozens of situations that feel completely random and organic, even when they've clearly been planted there for you to find. Tighter control and a more generous approach to replay value would elevate Dishonored to true classic status, but it stands as one of the year's best all the same.


--
From Psychonauts -
Lungfish Civilian: (describing Goggalor) He's impervious to bullets! ... and love!
--


Goggalor
Psychonaut
Premium
join:2009-06-09
Your Mind!
kudos:2

Review from IGN (9.2/10):

Are you getting sick of playing games that don’t actually let you play? You know the ones I mean: they funnel you down a narrow path, don’t give you much freedom in what you can do, and rely on cinematic set pieces to drive the spectacle. I am, and that’s why Dishonored is such a refreshing experience. It picks up where games like Deus Ex and BioShock left off, and puts choice back in the hands of the player.

As Corvo Attano, protector to an Empress, players find themselves in Dunwall, a grimy port city whose population is being decimated by a rat-born plague. It’s an industrial setting; a fishing town grown rich off the back of the whale oil that powers the city’s circuits. It’s also a hive of corruption, political machinations and power grabbing, and this all comes to the fore when the Empress is assassinated, and Corvo sets out to avenge her death.

That vengeance can take many forms. Unlike so many video game protagonists, Corvo is not pre-ordained to be a mass murderer. The entire game can be completed without killing a single person, so guards can be avoided or knocked unconscious, and non-lethal options can be found for assassination targets.

I demand satisfaction, sir.

Of course, if you want to cut a bloody swathe across Dunwall, that’s catered for too. Just be warned: killing your way to the end of the game has a number of ramifications. More dead bodies means more rats and more guards, and a darker overall conclusion.

If you’re anything like me though, you’ll probably take an approach that’s somewhere in the middle – at least for your first play-through. Whatever you do, the mechanics are highly versatile and each setting has been designed to give players multiple options for achieving any one goal.

By way of example, in one mission Corvo has two targets to take out inside a brothel, but there is, of course, an alternative to killing them. If you can find another guest in the complex and get him to give up the code for his safe, you can then give this code to a character in the Distillery District and he’ll make both your targets disappear. In my first playthrough, I got the code, but went and eliminated both the targets anyway, then took the contents of the safe for myself.


The mechanics are highly versatile and each setting has been designed to give players multiple options for achieving any one goal.

These kind of options make missions much more engaging than if players were simply tasked with the usual 'go here, kill this' objectives. That said, it's actually the moment to moment gameplay choices that make Dishonored so compelling.

What happens, for instance, if you need to get past a 'wall of light'? These electrified gateways are set up throughout the city and will fry anything that’s not authorised to pass through them. You might be able to circumvent it by climbing up onto the rooftops and traversing around, or use the possession power to scurry through a drainage pipe as a rat and get to the other side. On the other hand you could deal with the gate itself by removing the whale oil tank that’s powering it, or hack into the system and reverse it. This last option is perhaps the most entertaining, as it means you’re now able to step through, but any guards who give chase will be instantly incinerated.

The approach you take will at least partly be determined by how you've customised Corvo, and these options are incredibly robust. Each of the game's ten powers can be unlocked in any order (after Blink), and each can be upgraded. Runes hidden throughout the world are the currency for unlocking and upgrading powers, and that hunt is brilliant fun in and of itself. For my first play through, I focused on using and levelling up three core powers: Blink, Dark Vision and Agility.

Blink is a short range teleport that’s useful for moving from cover to cover, getting the jump on enemies and scaling buildings. Dark Vision lets players see enemy movements through walls, and also highlights other important objects in the world. Agility, on the other hand, is a passive power which increases jump height and movement speed, and reduces fall damage. As you can see, I opted for agility and stealth above all else.

To further enhance my cat burglar-like skills, I also spent cash upgrading my boots for quieter movement, and activated perks – via the game's hidden bone charms - to drastically reduce the time it takes to choke an enemy, as well as to increase my movement speed in stealth mode and while carrying corpses.

You may well choose completely different abilities and perks. If you’re combat-focused, whirlwind sends enemies flying and is really effective, as is slow time, which actually freezes time when fully levelled up. While some powers are more useful than others, it's a good selection and great fun to experiment with. They're backed up by more traditional weapons: crossbow, pistol, grenades, spring razor, and so on, and these can all be upgraded too.

Dishonored’s nine missions are all very distinct. You’ll attend a society gala in disguise, scale a bridge, escape from prison, wander through flooded slums and stalk across rooftops. You'll take part in a duel, carry an unconscious man through a gauntlet of enemies and decide whether or not to become a torturer. Each mission is designed as a sandbox, allowing players to utilise whatever approach they want, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll take your time, getting the lay of the land, discovering alternate routes, listening in on conversations, taking on optional objectives, looking for secrets and treasure, and generally just playing.

Players who really take the time to enjoy the experience are rewarded too. The more runes, bone charms and money you find, the more you can augment and upgrade your character, and the more bad-ass you’ll become. In fact, by the last couple of missions I was almost too powerful; able to stalk, choke and kill with ease. Good thing there are hard and extra hard difficulty settings to move on to, which ramp up the perceptiveness of enemies and increase the general challenge.

It’s also worth noting that taking out the actual targets in each mission can often be a bit of a letdown. In almost all cases you’ve got a serious advantage over them – no matter how heavily guarded they are. That’s not much of a deal breaker, however, because Dishonored really is about exploration and experimentation as much as the end goal. This is one of those games in which you’ll save often, reloading again and again to try different approaches, until you get each gameplay vignette just right.

Even though the odds are very much in your favour (on normal difficulty at least), the gameplay evolves nicely alongside the story. New factions and enemy types are introduced, which help shift up the vibe and introduce new challenges. One mission in particular pits Corvo against foes that aren’t so easily outmanoeuvred, and it’s a great touch, even though I’d have loved to see that sub-story pushed a little further.

Some of the more bad-ass enemies in Dishonored.

In fact, that goes for a lot of the game. It’s a fascinating world with a memorable cast, not to mention an interesting overarching tension between mystical pagan magic and industrialisation, but all these elements never really feel like they come to fruition. The experience is still engrossing from start to finish, however.

You may also have some small issues with the controls. Climbing ledges - particularly when getting out of water - sometimes isn't as smooth as it could be. The mechanic for sneaking up on guards and grabbing them from behind can be a little temperamental too - nothing worse than coming up behind a guard and blocking instead of grabbing. It's also a little disappointing that the well-implemented first person perspective doesn't extend to carrying objects, which just hover in space, in stark contrast to wielding weapons, powers and knocking guards out. Oh, and you'll come across a few invisible walls in the play spaces, too, which is a bit of a shame, but probably unavoidable. None of these concerns are deal breakers, as Dishonored is very much a joy to play.

It's also one of the prettiest games of recent years. The art direction is nothing short of incredible, and it's matched with a visual aesthetic that makes the world look like an oil painting in motion. Dishonored isn’t competing on detail; it’s driven by soft textures, intelligent use of colours and contrast, and beautiful lighting. From terraced urban streets to industrial warehouses, menacing fortresses to regal palaces, it’s Victorian England meets City 17 meets whalepunk. The character modelling is superb too, even if the facial animations could be better... and the oddly oversized hands could be smaller.

As is becoming standard, PC owners are in for the biggest visual treat. Dishonored does look excellent on console - I finished it on Xbox 360, then started again on PS3, and thoroughly enjoyed playing on both. You may notice minor frame rate issues and a little tearing, but nothing that will really take away from the gameplay. That said, it's significantly better-looking on a modern PC, so that should be the platform of choice for players who have the option.

The Verdict

It's a shame that Dishonored's story isn't greater than the sum of its decidedly memorable parts, but its gameplay absolutely is. Each mission is built as an elaborate network of choices for players to explore, and the same can be said for Corvo himself. Each player's selection of powers, perks and other upgrades will inform how they see and interact with this world, and no two play-throughs will be exactly the same. Dishonored is a game you'll talk with your friends about, and that you'll want to play multiple times. In this game there are always other paths to be taken and other challenges to conquer, and that's a refreshing thing indeed.


--
From Psychonauts -
Lungfish Civilian: (describing Goggalor) He's impervious to bullets! ... and love!
--