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Dishonored: The Elevation of Stealth

/ Dec 10th, 2012 No Comments



Stealth. Man, did I hate it. Sitting still? Never fun. Until Dishonored. We all know why the game has been widely praised by critics and gamers from all corners. A bold new IP from a great niche developer in a risky gaming economy, crafted with ingenuity and evolving the refined influences of spiritual predecessors like Bioshock and Deus Ex, there’s a lot Arkane Studios and publisher Bethesda Softwork’s Dishonored does well.

But for me, what really sets the Victorian Whaling Society first-person-slasher apart is in how it transformed my long-avowed disinterest in stealth gameplay into an eager anticipation for hiding and biding my time. The game’s promised freedom of choice through clever powers was enough to convince me to try my hand at pacifist stealth–on my first playthrough. Until that moment, I hadn’t bothered with stealth since Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. That I’d already been encouraged to make such a significant player choice before even popping the disc in my Xbox 360, was a sign that what lay ahead might be something special.

A Better Way to Play?

Dishonored arrived at the perfect time. I’ve enjoyed many gameplay scenarios as a gamer, from the youthful fervor with which I tackled weapons in Final Fantasy VII (hi again, Knights of the Round) to wrestling with the grayer shades of morality in Grand Theft Auto IV. But as gaming has matured, so has its exploration of player choice. Immersion requires emotional investment, and feeling the weight of in-game decisions helps forge that connection.

[adsense250itp]The simple truth was this: putting myself in Corvo Attano’s boots as a loyal protector wrongly accused of murdering his precious charge and kidnapping her daughter, I didn’t want to kill any guards. I knew they were simply doing their jobs, influenced to despise me by the lies concocted by those responsible for the Empress’ murder. I wanted a clean conscience. Yet when I’d tried pacifist runs in previous games, I’d never been satisfied with the mechanics offered. I always found myself bored. And impatient. What stealth needed, I felt, was a way to make skulking exciting for the ADHD gamer (like myself) in the same way that Mirror’s Edge made simple running and climbing into an exhilarating masterpiece of flowing action.

Blink and You’ll Get It

The crowning jewel in the quick-stealth crown Dishonored has claimed is Blink, the versatile (as well as vertical) movement-booster that expands each level in fantastic ways–allowing the player unparalleled freedom to root out the game’s fabled multiple paths to end goals. Much like similar traversal gameplay in its thematic cousin Arkham City, Blink accomplishes two vital tasks: etching Dunwall’s decaying shapes and claustrophobic dimensions into player memory while also keeping passive elements of stealth in active play. With so many dynamic ways to approach obstacles or clusters of guards, I found myself Blinking from ledge to pole to streetlight, tracking overlapping guards to plot knockouts – hitting a scout-class groove. Blink, Dark Vision, scan area, Blink again. Smooth and elusive, just like an assassin.

The key aspect of Blink’s success in creating dynamic paths past challenges is the ‘freemium’ nature of its mana usage. You can never not Blink, even if your mana is depleted, because of the power’s continual single-use regeneration. A brief wait between Blinks is all that’s needed to allow another fast-travel jump. The incentive to zip around areas, guards unaware of Corvo’s total badassery as the player fashions a plan to put them to sleep, is an enormous part of what has made the stealth in Dishonored click with gamers like me. It’s fun. Much more fun than I’d thought possible, even with my high hopes for the game. And it has opened my imagination to the future possibilities inherent in creative stealth gameplay.

The Outsider Grants Us a New Power

Arkane, a gambler with style, has done gaming a big favor by taking a chance. Given the recent murmurs that a sequel to the great-selling game may materialize, my hopes for a next-gen Dishonored include more complex and dynamic enemy movements, massive collaborative AI with more realistic reactions guided by advanced in-game physics, and more powers to play with in an even bigger, seamless world. The perfection of a great idea.

The contributions Dishonored has made to gaming could be significant. Imagine a supernatural parkour game blending the ordinary-world athletic aesthetic of Mirror’s Edge with the freedom of movement of Dishonored. I know I can’t wait to wallrun, leap into space off a skyscraper, and teleport into another wallrun to choke out a guard. Just please, no Flash-animated cutscenes.

Matthew Allen
Matthew is a contributor to Gaming Illustrated and likes games that are full of kinetic gameplay, great layered storytelling and innovation in the exploration of the medium and the genre represented.
Matthew Allen

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