E3 2012 Preview: Dishonored

Be stealthy and succeed. Rush, and end up a bust.

Dishonored is a first-person action game where you play as Corvo, a stealthy assassin, in a beautiful steampunk-inspired atmosphere. Throughout the game, you progressively gain various supernatural abilities, such as teleporting and soul possession, in order to take out your marked targets. It is a game whose play style takes an intelligent approach rather than focus on brute strength. At E3 last week, a behind closed doors presentation by Arkane Studios’ co-creative directors Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith explained why. 

Many players are used to having the ability to blow through enemies – at least, not with heavy energy limitations. However, this is exactly the sort of control players have to learn to balance as they play through Dishonored. To exemplify this fact, the demonstration level was played through twice – first covertly, where the player attempted only to take out his targets, rather than every person he came in contact with. The amount of innocent people you kill is tracked during gameplay, and the more you kill, the more likely you are to get the ‘bad ending’. It is also more beneficial not to attract the attention of enemies and move on the sly, otherwise you may end up using your energy defending yourself before you even meet your targets.

The mission was to take out two aristocratic men hiding out in a pleasure house called “The Golden Cat.” The player has many tools at their disposal in order to infiltrate the building without being detected. For instance: a binocular vision that allows you to site all the entrances. In this case, there are at least seven ways to enter The Golden Cat.

Rather than use the front door and attracting attention, the demonstrator used his soul possession abilities to sneak in, all the while moving about using a teleportation technique that allows him to move without being detected. When you initially gain the soul possession technique, the creatures you can possess are limited, but at the most advanced level, you’ll have the ability to possess other human beings. In order to teleport, you simply aim and release, and the character moves straight in the direction of your desired location.

The demonstrator possesses a fish and swims through the sewer to enter into the pleasure house. Once inside, he abandons the fish and regains his original form. The next technique demonstrated is a golden sensory visor that allows the player to see through walls, identify others around them, and eavesdrop on their conversations. The most important aspect of this technique is that it shows the line of vision of nearby citizens, allowing you to avoid eye contact and proceed without notice.

After eavesdropping on the ladies’ conversation (that is, the ladies of the pleasure house), you learn the locations of your targets. One is in the steam room nearby and the other is waiting in a private room. Before you can run off to your targets, you need to acquire the master key from the madame in charge. Still avoiding killing all non-targets, the player sneaks into her office and steals the keys right off her person. When approaching the target in the steam room, the player performs the assassination without being in the same room by jacking the steam pump and then breaking it, essentially cooking the target. The player then proceeds to move on upstairs to the final target.

Again making use of the golden security visor, the player sneaks past the pleasure house guards, guests, and ladies. Since the next target is already in the company of a woman, the player sneaks outside and uses the soul possession technique to take control of the man and lead him alone to the balcony. Immediately releasing him, the player performs a brutal assassination by knife and then dumps the body over the edge and escapes without harming anyone else. A long fall from the rooftop would normally be fatal, but using the soul possession technique mid-fall prevents the player from taking damage.

The second play through begins the same, but this time the demonstrator shows what happens when you take the brutal approach and try to take out everyone you encounter. Before he even reaches the first of his targets, he is quickly overpowered by the guards, and even with all of his powers at his disposal, it was impossible to complete the mission successfully because of the energy limitations. Clearly, the objective is to be smart about how you play, rather than rushing, button mashing, and overpowering your enemies based on strength alone.

Aesthetically, the field interface and menus are designed to be clean and uncluttered, with contrasting iconography. The tool menu makes use of a circular tool bar like that in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, showing all your abilities and their levels on a single screen. On top of that, the atmosphere is dark and richly painted, truly crafting its own unique world like a true fantasy game should.

One might rush to compare Dishonored to the Assassin’s Creed series, and while it may be similar in premise, the gameplay is dramatically different. Watch out for it on October 9. It will be available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, an PC.

If you missed the E3 trailer, catch it here. Find the E3 screenshots here. And watch a gameplay walkthrough, courtesy of G4 TV, here.

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