Over the last fourteen months since the announcement of Dishonored Electronic Theatre has regularly cited Arkane Studios’ latest as one of the most interesting titles set to launch this autumn. From the studio responsible for one of the most unfairly overlooked first-person adventure titles on current-generation hardware, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic – Elements, and governed by the guiding hand of the widely respected masters of first-person role-playing games (RPGs), Bethesda Softworks, Dishonored has enough pedigree behind it to make any serious gamer stand-up and pay attention. However the reality of the situation is that, if all the pieces manage to fit into place in the final build as well as they did in the preview section Electronic Theatre experienced, we could well be looking at a landmark achievement in the construction of virtual worlds.
Dishonored is a videogame in which a world is established with a set of rules that resemble our own. Your character Corvo Atano, is an assassin capable of some superhuman feats, but the rest of society go about their business as any human being in an fictional fascist vision of an 1800’s British city might. Guards patrol the streets, the homeless scavenge for food and the cultured echelons attend parties and secretly backstab one another. There is a code of conduct here that is clearly symbolic of a real world society, but as an assassin it’s up to you to tear it apart and throw the pieces back in the face of Lord Regent, the cad responsible for framing you for the death of the Empress.
In doing this, the player will take on a variety of assassination missions that each take place within a confined area of Dunwall, the fictional city in question. The mission Electronic Theatre took part in was reportedly about halfway through the videogame, and so the version of Atano playable had already acquired some rather special supernatural abilities. Beginning on a boat in a low level canal, the player was tasked with infiltrating a party and advising a certain attendee to refrain from badmouthing your employer. The only problem is, you’re not sure what your target looks like. In fact, you’re not even sure who your target is.
Much like the Hitman videogames, players must overcome one obstacle at a time. However there’s plenty of room for improvisation; the first goal of reaching the land above can be achieved by climbing a ladder, swimming to another surface that holds a ramp taking in at the rear, or simply teleporting to the surface right from where you are standing. Two guards patrolling a single line while moving in opposite directions can also be tackled in a number of ways, but avoiding killing either of them will put you in better stead for the next challenge. Of course, you are perfectly capable of taking down foes where needed, but unlike many first person melee titles the enemies won’t just stand there and take your blows willingly; in Dishonored, they’re just as smart as you are.
Once arriving at the party the player is given a great amount of freedom to explore and assess the situation. The mask the player wears has the benefit of allowing them to blend in at the masked ball, and providing suspicious activities are kept to a minimum you will be able to move about the estate largely unhindered. As would be expected there are several ways to complete your objective; discussing the present situation with party goers to discover the whereabouts of your potential victim, searching the area to find any vantage points or simply going balls-to-the-wall and taking on your foe face-to-face. Electronic Theatre opted for the latter, finding the man of the house and being challenged to a duel in place of our employer.
Reloading your checkpoint is often the best way to find the strings that pull a videogame through its different opportunities, and here in Dishonored it’s only ever likely to offer an overwhelming sense of freedom to an even greater extent. At the point in which both Atano and our opponent reach our marks, we turn and shoot immediately, taking down our foe before given the command to fire. As might be expected, this affords no patience from the guards, now relentlessly pursuing Atano as we attempt to find our true prey. Thankfully, our target has now been secured in their bedroom, and finding a ventilation shaft that stretches the full length of the house allows us to gain access and complete the assassination, though not unscathed.
A quick restart and we manage to confront our opponent using the supernatural ability to stop time. Once the gun has been fired, it’s actually possible to push our adversary onto his own bullet, bringing the duel to an abrupt and rather unsavoury ending. One restart later, and we simply ignore this opportunity, instead approaching our target directly and simply persuading her not to continue with the offence being caused to our employer, although in a decidedly aggressive manner.
Once your mission has been completed – however you decide to do it – you must escape, an effort which offers just as many opportunities as making your way in, though obviously if you’ve cleaned path already this is the easiest route. Your supernatural abilities well come in handy here, but be warned: in addition to your standard guards come the Overseers. Player’s can’t take too much damage at all, one or two bullets and it’s all over, but bringing the Overseers into play makes that a much more likely affair. Overseers will disorientate you and prevent you from using magical abilities, leaving you not only vulnerable to assault but also less able to navigate away from your pursuers.
During Electronic Theatre’s time with Dishonored only a small section of the videogame was available, and yet there was enough here to whet the appetite for the strategic options that will present themselves in the final build. Dishonored provides so much freedom that it’s hard not to get excited at the prospect of exploring its inventive world, and unveiling your own personality to its inhabitants. The viewpoint is familiar, the scenario has been done before and the supernatural abilities have all been seen in numerous other titles, and yet Dishonored looks set to redefine just what makes an action videogame.