Shooters bore me. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love them: Halo and Goldeneye are still among my favorite games, after all. But I’ve played so many over the years that, with few exceptions, they all kind of blend blandly together. But when I ventured into San Francisco a few weeks ago for an hour-long demo of Arkane Studio's Dishonored, it offered hope...a promise that the shooter genre can deliver much more.
And it’s with that framework that we present the 7 reasons why Dishonored has the potential to be the year’s best shooter.
The Setting is More Bioshock than Modern Warfare
In an era when seemingly most shooters are modeled after a contemporary war setting, Dishonored offers something a little more fantastic. Taking place during the 1800s in an industrial whaling city called Dunwall, you play as a supernatural assassin who used to be anything but. Indeed, you used to be the greatly respected bodyguard of the empress, that is until you were framed for her murder. Motivated by revenge and the powers granted to you by dark forces, you set out to discover the truth and pay vengeance to those who have wronged you.
Not only does the story play with more fantasy-type elements than your common shooter, but the game offers a stylized visual aesthetic that’s immediately apparent as not being photo realistic, but never verges on cartoonish. Instead, the exaggerated visuals heighten the sense of darkness and despair that has befallen the city. The game also features a strong steampunk presence, such as by featuring enemies called “Tall Boys’ that tower over you with their steam-powered stilts. The general aesthetic, when combined with the more deliberate pacing, draws to mind memories of Bioshock--a very good thing.
Not Open-World, but Not Quite Linear
And like Bioshock, there isn’t just one way--the right way--to play the game. Although you do progress through the game mission to mission in a linear fashion, each level is more like a mini open-world, providing myriad options in which to complete your tasks and take out the enemies. It reminded me strongly of Resident Evil 4, in how no two gamers played through the same area in the exact same way. Hell, the designers have basically made it a mandate that everyone will have a unique experience by giving certain mission-specific characters and items random start locations, similar to Dr. Doak’s location in Goldeneye.
Though the choices available to you start with the level design, that’s certainly not where they end.
Stealth vs Rambo
In fact, Dishonored has essentially been designed from the ground-up to be played as either a stealth game or an action game, with levels created to cater to both types. The developers demonstrated this by playing through the same level twice, one trying to be as quiet as a mouse (or a rat...more on that later) and the other blowing through it, Rambo-style. In one play-through, the developer snuck along the rooftops and through an open window to avoid arousing the guards and used non-lethal means of dealing with enemies. In the other, he stuck to the streets and battled his way--loudly--to the front door.
Of course, the developers realize that most players will fall somewhere between the two extremes, and for good reason: there’s a lot of badass options at your disposal and it’d be a shame not to try them all.
Dark Powers Galore
Regardless of which play style you choose, there are a host of dark powers that will become available at your disposal that grant some pretty amazing abilities. One power that’ll be particularly useful to those playing stealthy is Dark Vision, which enables you to not only see enemies through walls, but also reveals their “cone of vision,” making it clear what exact they can--and more importantly--can’t see.
Another power, Blink, allows you to instantly teleport to any area nearby that’s within sight. It functions by planting a beacon wherever you’re looking, then with a simple press of a button, you’ll teleport there instantly. It’s a great way to get around without arousing suspicion--unless they actually see you teleport of course--that might raise a few eyebrows.
Bend Time rates pretty highly on the “cool-shit-ometer,” slowing everything but yourself to a crawl. You can use this time to get yourself a better fighting position or avoid a battle entirely. In an interesting twist, anything that you touch will return to normal time--your time--for a second or two before returning to its slowed state. One example given was knocking a bottle from a tall building: it would fall at normal speed for several feet before slowing dramatically as it once again fell victim to your power.
Another power available to you is Wind Blast, allowing you to initiate a strong gust of air that can blow enemies right off their feet. In one scene we were shown, the main character used Wind Blast to blow a corrupt official right through their glass door and off the balcony. There are other uses for it too, such as blowing down locked doors or deflecting inbound arrows back at their archers.
And in what might be the worst way to die, you can use the Plague Power to summon a horde of rats infected by the plague to devour your enemies before your very eyes.
You can Possess a Fish!
Perhaps the most tantalizing of the magic powers is Possession, which enables you to enter the body of any living creature and assume full control of them for a short duration. It reminded me of the inspired, but problematic, Geist on the GameCube, but it seems to be more fully realized here.
Here’s how it works: if you’re close to a creature, you can possess them. However, the amount of time you can control them varies greatly depending on how capable they are. So you’ll only be able to control humans for a few seconds, whereas you can maneuver a fish for considerably longer. Now why would you want to control a fish? Because it can allow you to enter buildings through the sewer system without gaining unwanted attention--after all, who would suspect a fish? Other non-human creatures you can take control of include dogs and rats as well.
Possessing a human, on the other hand, allows for quite a few more options. Besides not being restricted to waterways, they are the only creatures you can possess that aren’t dumb-founded by doors (yay humans!), allowing access to most areas in the level. You’re also able to perform other simple actions, such as collecting and using basic items. Now, when I say “humans,” I mean you can control any of them, whether civilian or foe (such as the aforementioned Tall Boys," but it’s important to realize that the one thing you can’t do when possessing a human is use their weapon. After all, it would be far too easy to simply possess a soldier and take out the rest of his squad. Despite this, you can still use this power for some very interesting combat strategies.
The dark powers you possess can allow for some truly outrageous--and twisted--gameplay strategies. For instance, if you slow time with the Time Bend power while an enemy is shooting at you, you can then possess them and walk them into the path of their very own bullet, in effect, causing them to commit suicide. Yeah, pretty messed up, right? And awesome.
There are so many ways in which to use the powers that testers have discovered strategies not even intended by the developers! One example provided was using Wind to blow the missiles launched by the Tall Boys right back at them. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Another tester discovered that you can drop from impossible heights without dying by using possess on an NPC just before you hit the ground. The options available to you at any given time truly do seem staggering.
With so many ways to play through Dishonored, it’s only fitting that it should have an impact on how the game plays out. And we don’t just mean in determining which ending you get (though that is certainly a factor too), but instead in the subtle changes that take place in the world as a result of your actions.
For example, if you tend to play closer to the dark side, the world will change to reflect this. One example given was that the amount of rats exploring subsequent levels would increase as your bodycount rises. Characters will also react differently to you, depending on how they perceive you in the world. It’s all very dynamic, but also very subtle--there are no “karma” meters here to break the immersion.
And that’s the seven reasons why we think Dishonored has the potential to be the best shooter of the year. Now admittedly, we haven’t played it ourselves yet, but what we saw looked extremely promising. Keep an eye on GameXplain.com for more on this promising game which is due for release sometime this year.