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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dishonored, not disgraced though., 27 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Dishonored (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
So anyway, it's a bad time to be a resident of Dunwall. The plague is in town, pest control are nowhere to be seen, the Empress has snuffed her lid to be replaced by a totalitarian regime of containment, and her 'murderer' is loose and happens to be a trained assassin called Corvo. That's you by the way.

Okay, so the story was concocted over a brunch and scribbled on a napkin in purple crayon; it's been done a million times and if you can't see the plot twists coming then there is something wrong with you, but what video game can genuinely claim to have imaginative writing these days anyway? Stick with Dishonored, there is a lot more to love.

The technical stuff first. The graphics are beautiful - what isn't these days - but the city itself has been sculpted rather than simply rendered. The architecture of Dunwall, from the slums to the palaces, are lovingly crafted and a pleasure to look at; towering, suffocating, oppressive. Even the early sewer levels, usually the lazy chore of any video game, are a pleasure. The slightly cartoonised characters also move in a fairly natural way, waving their unnaturally large hands around expressively when giving you the latest exposition. The sound effects are just that, really; swords clash, bottles shatter and doors creak. The music within the game is limited, no bad thing for a stealth-em-up, but is good for a bit of background tension, particularly when you've coughed too loudly whilst hiding behind a pillar and half of Dunwall's police force is haring after you.

The usual boring stuff aside, presentation is where Dishonored really scores some good points. There has been comment that the game has basically lifted the mechanics, nuts and bolts and all, from the Thief series, with further comment that this is A Bad Thing. Frankly, video game larceny isn't something to be endorsed but if you are going to shamelessly steal then you might as well steal from probably the greatest stealth game ever (yes, I'm including Metal Gear in that sweeping statement.) The controls are intuitive and perfectly tailored to suit either sneaky-sneaky-creep-strangle or hacking your way through the guards like an out of control combine harvester. The melee attack, which is to say your swordplay, feels particularly visceral and real - not just waving your blade vaguely in enemies faces until they are hypnotized to death - and with intelligent use of the block function you will rarely get into the kind of trouble you often found yourself in whilst playing certain other stealth games mentioned above. As if being an expert swordsman wasn't enough, Corvo isn't long into the game when he comes across the ability to influence his surroundings through bone charms; examples include being able to see through walls and teleporting to ledges. If this all sounds complicated, thankfully the menu systems are easy to use, with the standard telephone dial-esque quick select function for rapidly equipping various weapons or powers, which you are going to need in the heat of the moment.

The 'enemies' you encounter, including the poor sods patrolling the various areas you are trying to sneak through, are worthy opponents to all this hardware you bring. The AI is nicely tuned so that they don't simply follow fixed routes and will deviate to investigate a strange noise or even to have a chat with a fellow NPC. Tactical planning is rewarded with success, as is subtlety, and NPCs will react if they hear footsteps or gunshots or find their colleague slumped and snoring over a table having been cuddled into unconsciousness by Corvo.

My absolute favourite thing about Dishonored though is something that cannot be measured in polygons or AI code, something much more intangible and that is immersion.

First, a digression. Two of my top five games of all time are the steampunk epic Bioshock and Bethesda's Morrowind (with Thief not far outside the five.) Now, considering this is a steampunk Thief clone by Bethesda it should be, for me personally, better than a never ending chocolate cake that also makes tea and tells you nice things about yourself, but just because all the right ingredients for success are there, it isn't always that easy. The equally steampunky Bioshock II proved that you can take the same great atmosphere and game world and lose everything that made the original special, whilst Bethesda's trio of Oblivion/Fallout/Skyrim were prolonged exercises in buggy boredom. Worse than that though, none of them felt immersive enough for me to forgive their many faults.

The reason isn't easy to explain, but there is something about the Dishonored dimension that feels 'real' in the sense that you don't really matter as a character, that you're stepping into a universe that had existed before and will continue to exist after you've gone. In Oblivion/Fallout/Skyrim, you're already proclaimed the Saviour Of Every Living Thing before you've had your first autosave, and to be fair the Empress does her best to ruin things by whispering with her dying breath that "only you can save us", but all the same you are made to feel like a small cog in a larger machine, much as you were when you fell out of the plane into the original Bioshock, or you stepped off the boat as an ex-convict in rags in Morrowind. It means there is potential for character development, beyond what you might expect of someone like Corvo who is about as charismatic as a plank of wood. And even though the main plot and most of the dialogue is absolute bobbins, there is a remarkable cast of side characters and quests lurking in the backstreets of Dunwall fleshing out the city, making it feel more like a living thing even as it is dying. The addition of the various warning signs, debris of human life, even the crumbling adverts for products and places, all are jigsaw pieces turning an ordinary gaming arena into something much more organic. All the result of more larceny, this time from Bioshock's Rapture, but I return to my point regarding Thief. If you're going to steal, steal from the best...

There are faults of course. The voice acting is rarely better than adequate; some of the voice actors seem to think they'd signed up to a video game adaptation of Christmas panto. Also there is a moral choice system, the bane of modern games, forcing us out of the comparatively interesting grey areas into hard black and white. Dishonored's moral choice (between sneaking and killing) is better than most in that there are genuine consequences for the player, consequences that actually MAKE SENSE. For example, if you are Stabby McKillfeast in the early levels, don't be surprised to see an increased guard presence later on. Well, if you were the Captain of the Guard and you were losing men at three or four an hour, you'd lay on some extra hands as well wouldn't you? It's certainly better than Fallout 3's choice of being a bad guy shot by the good guys or a good guy shot by the bad guys (and woe betide you tried to be in the middle because you got shot by both...) There has been complaint that Dishonored giving you weapons but then disadvantaging you if you use them is a way of strong-arming you into picking the stealth route but, as I said before, combat is flowing and intuitive and easily parried so you can still mow down the entire city as long as you don't mind getting a 'bad' ending and being regarded as a greater social menace than the plague. It's also too short; the fact that it does have a lot of replay value is only a partial exoneration, but as the game tumbles in price it no longer seems quite as harsh as when it was first released.

So after all the nice things I've said about it, and all the nit picking I've done to find bad stuff about it, why only four stars? It's not going to threaten my top five anytime soon, but it's a welcome relief from the never ending brown stream of modern-warfare-battlefield-duty-calls games that have been stinking up the first-person shooting market for too long now.

It isn't going to make you think too much, other than how best to grapple that guy into a coma and sling him into a bin before his mate realises, but it would be a doing it a disservice to regard it as shallow, all window dressing with bits cribbed from other games, with no heart or soul. And one other point of praise; thank your chosen deity that Bethesda have bothered to test the game first before releasing it. Whilst they aren't the only developer to throw out half finished titles to meet an accountants demands for a certain market (I'm looking at you Codemasters), this is the first Bethesda game I've played in years without more bugs than an insect house. And if that isn't enough incentive to buy it I don't know what is...
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Dec 2012 21:34:40 GMT
Mike K says:
Great review thanks, really informative and entertaining. You could do this for a living.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Dec 2012 13:05:27 GMT
Jimmi C says:
Thank you Mike, very kind! I hope, if you did part with your hard earned cash, you weren't disappointed or felt misled by the review.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Feb 2013 13:39:00 GMT
S. Deacon says:
Wow! What a great, indepth and witty review! It's currently down to £17.99 and it did get a great gamespot review (not that GS reviews are worth the virtual paper they're printed on!). But I digress, this was a fabulous review and I will be getting it (sounds like it's got a bit more personality than Deus Ex).

Out of curiosity, have you played Deus Ex? (was a 3*** title in my opinion)

Also 'What's an "insect house" precious?' (only joshing ya!)

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Feb 2013 15:39:39 GMT
Jimmi C says:
Thank you! Hope you like it, since you're spending your money on it now...

I haven't played Deus Ex, except years ago when I attempted to run the demo of the PC original on my old cogs-and-sprockets machine. I got about as far as the title screen before it had a near fatal heart attack and wouldn't talk to me for a few days afterwards.

Posted on 4 Jun 2013 09:29:24 BDT
Happytruck says:
What an entertaining review. I agree, you could do this professionally Jimmi C. Thanks for taking the time - very entertaining and enlightening.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jun 2013 21:29:01 BDT
Jimmi C says:
Thank you Happytruck
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Location: St Albans, England

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