Game of the year.
It’s hard to be objective when you have such strong emotions about the game you’re going to review. I’ll just say it up-front: this is my game of the year. Nothing comes, or will come, remotely close to it this year. Dishonored by Arkane Studios brought back the memories of classic PC games like Thief or Deus Ex, the constant need of exploring just one another room, reading just another little note, and then ending up playing for 10 hours straight. Games like these are a rarity in this day and age. This is not your average cookie-cutter first person shooter; I’d even dare to call it a first person stealth choose-your-own-adventure game. You can play it like an FPS. You can play it as a stealth game. You can play it as a mix of both. You can kill everyone in the room, or you can leave no trace behind. The choice is yours.
You control Corvo Attano, a personal bodyguard to the Empress of Dunwall, a fictional steampunk city based on London (though all the voice actors are American, which is a weird decision). If you get a familiar feeling of déjà vu when you look at the screens or when you play the game, it’s totally natural. Arkane hired Viktor Antonov, who was a designer of Valve’s City 17. But I’m digressing. About a minute into the game the Empress gets killed, her daughter gets kidnapped, and you get framed for the murder of Her Highness. You’re now a death row cellmate, but you receive help from The Loyalists, who know what really happened and want to restore peace and prosperity back to Dunwall. Exploring the beautifully crafted city is a great pleasure, although the actual situation in the city is far from lovely. Not only is the crime rampant, but the rat plague is killing citizens not by dozens or hundreds, but by thousands. During your playthrough, about half of Dunwall is already dead, as commented by the city guard. The moments in games when I think “wait, this is fucked up” are extremely rare. Seeing a wagon dropping dozens of dead bodies was one of those moments. The wagon appears again and again, throwing off bodies wrapped up in filthy bandages. It empties up and returns full again. The world of Dishonored is brutal, every character you encounter has his own agendas and reasons for acting the way he acts, and nothing is ever black or white.
The approach you take when blasting (stealthing?) through missions is entirely up to you, and you have a nice variety of supernatural powers at your disposal. Do you want to wreak havoc upon your enemies? You’re likely to invest in a Devouring Swarm ability, which creates a devouring swarm (sic) of rats that attack your enemy and then clean up by eating their body. Neat. Are you MGS or pre-2006 Splinter Cell fan? You’ll probably want to upgrade Dark Vision and Possession, one of the most useful tools when it comes to stealth playthrough. Each of the nine missions is designed as a sandbox. Theoretically you could go for an objective marker (which you can turn off, by the way) and finish Dishonored in about 5 hours. But if you want to do that, it’s not the game for you. There are multiple sidequests in each of the missions, and some of them will bring repercussions in the future. The game offers you a choice- do you want a free rune that lets you upgrade your character? OK, but you’re going to have to poison Dunwall’s distillery by the request of a crazy lady. Do you want to kill the real murderer of the Empress, or give him a message and only steal his pouch that he carries by his side? Regardless of your choice, it’s worth playing through the game a second time, just to see the different ways people react to you whether you slaughter everyone or leave unnoticed. By the way- even though you’re an assassin, you can finish the game without killing a single person. That’s right. In times when 3-hour-long corridor shooters earn numerous GOTY awards and critical acclaim, an offer of a choice like this is an excellent touch.
Summing up, Dishonored is a game that begs to be played at least twice. No playthrough will be the same, whether because you choose to end a sidequest differently, upgrade your character in a different manner, or skipping some chunks of content by mistake, because you weren’t patient enough to listen to the guards’ conversation which unlocked a non-lethal way to accomplish your assignment. The over the top picturesque artistic design, fantastic supernatural abilities, excellent voice acting and music, and most importantly- the freedom to tackle the missions in dozens of different ways make this my game of the year.