Before I get around to what I actually played this week, I’d like to spend some time on Dishonored. I more or less blitzed through that game last weekend, and needed some time to gather my thoughts on it rather than hastily jot something (probably incoherent) down last week. I did allude to the fact that I didn’t like Dishonored last week though. That fact has not changed.
It’s not any one thing about Dishonored that I don’t like either; nothing about it feels very good to me. The way the game handles stealth is far and away the main offender though, and that kind of sets the tone for everything else the game is about. Full disclosure here: I’m traditionally not a fan of stealth games, and for the longest time I more or less hated the genre. I really wanted to like things like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell back in the day (I never played the Thief games), but everything about their stealth gameplay rubbed me the wrong way. Yet in recent years I’ve felt like plenty of games have done stealth in a way that I could get behind. I loved Batman: Arkham Asylum’s stealth mechanics, and more recently had a blast playing Mark of the Ninja. I figured stealth games were changing in a way that benefited me, and the talk surrounding Dishonored suggested it was following the trend.
Dishonored’s stealth doesn’t feel like any of those recent games at all though. It’s far more in line with the stealth games I played around a decade ago. Things like Mark of the Ninja give you a lot of clear, concise, consistent information, and present it in such a way that makes navigating areas full of wandering guards something more engaging and less frustrating than classic trial and error methods. In fact, it almost becomes more of a puzzle game at that point, placing the focus on using the ample tools and information available to make it through areas undetected. Dishonored, on the other hand, doesn’t give you much information, and what’s there isn’t all that consistent. Its difficult to judge exactly how far guards can see or hear, and other than an ability that outlines enemies through walls (a lesser version of Batman’s detective vision), there’s nothing that makes you feel any more capable of being stealthy than a regular dude would be. Basically, I don’t feel like there are enough actual stealth mechanics to make it feel like a good stealth game. Instead, it feels like I’m bumbling around as I would in any other first person action game, the only difference here being that being seen by guards has substantial consequences.
This makes the whole act of trying to play Dishonored in a stealthy way really tedious to me, and I quickly fell back into the cliche trial and error routines of old (which involves a lot of reloading). The game’s clunky movement doesn’t help things either. Even Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which arguably has less of a focus on stealth than Dishonored, had simple cover mechanics and effective ways to move between pieces of cover. Dishonored has nothing past normal movement, which only compounds the problem of feeling like any generic, clumsy dude walking around, rather than someone who’s actually capable and equipped to be stealthy. Also, the “leaning” thing is just super goofy and didn’t seem to work right; I was spotted while "leaning" multiple times. I will admit that Blink is a cool power, and open ups interesting ways to navigate the terrain. That said, I never found a use for Blink other than as a slick navigation tool (not that the bland level designs make the best use of it though). It never helped me be stealthy, and it never helped in combat, which I bumbled my way through just as haphazardly as I did the stealth. Ranged combat is nothing more than a mediocre shooter, and melee combat always seemed to devolve into wild flailing. There’s not enough technique involved in either the movement or your combat abilities to allow for anything more substantial than that.
Despite the combat not feeling very good or satisfying it was incredibly easy, and I ended up turning to that way more often than I tried to be stealthy as a result; it was simply the path of least resistance. I frequently laid waste to entire hordes of dudes by mostly mashing, essentially swinging my sword and shooting bullets in random directions. It all kind of devalues the feel I think the game is trying to go for. I never felt like an elite assassin in the slightest, yet the fact that I could murder everything all the same made it seem like everyone else was even less competent. Some of the powers make this even more trivial, especially the time stopping power, which seems kind of broken. Then there were other powers that seemed to have no real practical use. Dishonored certainly has a lot of things that are just "for show”.
Finally, I didn’t get into the world or story of Dishonored either. They try to grab you early with an “important” character dying about five minutes in, which falls completely flat since you’ve just met this character and don’t know anything about them, or otherwise have any kind of attachment. From there it becomes a very simple revenge plot with obvious plot twists, and it tries to portray itself as being way more hardcore and edgy than it really is. The game’s tagline is “Revenge solves everything”, which is super dumb, and does a good job at describing the game's somewhat juvenile tone. Visually, the world itself looks pretty neat, and I do really like the art style. I also give props to the game’s voice talent, as the voicework here is consistently great. But other than that the actual happenings in the world are super dull, and I found none of the characters to be memorable. Anyway, that’s Dishonored. The whole thing kind of bummed me out, and I came away pretty disappointed. Fans of older stealth games will probably like it, but that's not me at all.
This week was something of a palette cleanser, as we played through the first Borderlands 2 DLC, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty. The Borderlands franchise continues its tradition of great DLC names, and I really enjoyed the actual content of the DLC too. It’s more Borderlands 2, and it’s done well. After that I started Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward this weekend, but have only played maybe an hour or so. So far so good, and I’ll definitely be playing more this week. I’m also looking forward to Criterion’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted, which is out on Tuesday. Granted, my gaming this coming week will be highly dependent on how long I lose power from Hurricane Sandy. Hopefully the damage will be minimal; fingers crossed. And that’s going to do it for now, until next time!
Currently playing: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward