Takes insulting the gamer to new lows
The name of this game, “Dishonored”, might be a reference to the protagonist who is framed for murder. Perhaps, however, it is a description of lead designer Harvey Smith. Or, maybe, it describes the legion of sycophantic gaming journalists with no standards who have heaped endless praised upon this steaming turd. Regardless of how ironically named this game is, Dishonored is not a good game. It is, in fact, quite bad. It’s ugly, its story is poorly developed, and, worst of all, its stealth-action gameplay is so horribly dumbed down that it takes insulting the gamer to new lows. This game was designed by the only people on Earth who thought that Deus Ex: Invisible War wasn’t dumbed down enough and that the levels were too big.
Theoretically, Dishonored is about one third Bioshock, one third Hitman, and one third Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. In reality, it is about one third Deus Ex: Invisible War, one third Call of Duty, and one third Bioshock, as seen through a muddy filter. Let’s talk about this game’s most obvious major problem. It looks awful, even on the PC with every setting maxed out. The entire game looks as somebody took an Unreal Engine 3 game from 2007 and smeared a layer of dirty Vaseline onto everything. Colors look dull and washed out. Textures are muddy. The technology is horribly outdated and characters look atrocious when you are less than 20 feet away from them. Worst, of all, the console-inspired field of view is so small that the protagonist might as well be a horse wearing blinders. The graphical options have an FOV slider, but it’s basically worthless. Even with the maximum field of view enabled, it feels like you are looking down a tunnel with no peripheral vision. Crysis and Half-Life 2 (a game released eight years ago) look significantly better than Dishonored. Is anyone else irritated or deeply saddened by this fact? The declining standards of the video game industry are stunning. The race to the bottom continues.
The ugliness would be very easy to tolerate if Dishonored brought something to the table in the gameplay department, but it doesn’t. It is advertised mostly as a stealth game, and it tries to be one of those, but it fails miserably. In order to explain how and why it fails, it helps to explain why stealth has worked in the past with other games – games like Thief, System Shock 2, Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, Hitman, and Manhunt. These games gave you some reason to be stealthy, and then they gave you useful tools for achieving that stealth. In System Shock 2, Thief, and Manhunt, you had to be stealthy, because you were highly vulnerable if you were discovered. You could maybe defeat one enemy, but any more than that, and you would probably be slaughtered. Dishonored, on the other hand, gives you no such incentive. It is hilariously easy to survive encounters against multiple enemies once you have been discovered. Enemies attack, you easily block them with your dagger, and then you cut them open with one or two attacks when they are stunned. Killing these enemies is as easy as peeing. There is no special skill or timing involved. On top of the easy swordplay, you also get to dual wield with a missile weapon in your left hand. In case you are too retarded to kill enemies with melee combat, you can just shoot them in the face with a pistol or crossbow. Combat is just a joke, and even if you struggle with it, you are tripping over items that restore your health every five feet. This is what I mean by “insulting the gamer”. The only thing missing is a tutorial on how to double click the game to start it up.
To be fair, Dishonored isn’t the first stealth game with this problem. Some other stealth series, like Assassins Creed and Hitman, are also guilty of making combat too easy. However, these games give you character-driven reasons to be stealthy. Dishonored gives you no character-related reason to stay undetected. Your character gets no development and has no personality. Remember Garrett, and Sam Fisher? Those guys had personality. They were clever but also cynical and anti-social, which is what made them perfect characters to be creeping around in the darkness avoiding the guards. Ezio Auditore is a super slick badass who creeps around big cities and blends into crowds wearing his cloak. His every movement communicates “stealthy”. Hitman’s Agent 47 doesn’t speak, but he is a cold professional who wouldn’t want to soil his reputation (or his nice clean suit) by leaving behind a trail of bodies. Corvo (the protagonist in Dishonored), on the other hand, has no reason to not run into every room and slaughter the guards like pigs. All that you know about Corvo is that he is the “Lord Protector” of the queen. He is a bodyguard first, and not an assassin or a thief. There is nothing in his character (or lack thereof) that suggests that he gives a crap whether his work is sloppy or bloody. Yet the game continuously tries to portray you as some kind of badass infiltrator.
If you had any reason to be stealthy, it wouldn’t make the game fun, because the stealth mechanics suck. You get an ominous preview of the lousy stealth early in the game, during the semi-tutorial section. A six year old girl challenges you to a game of hide-and-seek. All that you have to do is hide behind an object about ten feet away from her and she’ll give up looking for you in a few seconds. Even if you can still see over that object, she still won’t see you. Dishonored breaks an unwritten stealth rule, that if you have a line of sight to an enemy, they have a line of sight to you. This event is pretty much representative of the entire game. The enemies might as well be six year old girls. The AI sucks.
Perhaps one reason why the game has braindead enemy AI is because the level sizes are tiny and there are no visual indicators to tell you how likely you are to be discovered. In other words, the game has to make up for giving you poor tools for staying undetected. Some successful stealth games like Thief, Splinter Cell, and Manhunt have allowed you to hide in an enemy’s line of sight by keeping you invisible in the darkness. Then, these games gave you an on-screen indicator of how well you were hidden (such as Thief’s light gem). That way, you could see enemies before they could see you. In Deus Ex, you weren’t invisible in darkness, but the levels were huge, so you could usually avoid patrol routes. Assassins Creed 2 has huge, open spaces, and allows you to distract guards with hired help like hookers and rogues. Dishonored doesn’t have any of these ideas. It makes up for its poor stealth mechanics with combat that is way too easy and poor stealth AI, and the narrow field of view prevents you from getting the vision that you need to scout your environments well. It seems like a game that was made by people who don’t understand what makes a stealth game fun.
Dishonored squanders what is possibly the coolest new setting to arrive in gaming in a long time. The setting is the lone reason why this game gets two stars from me instead of one. “Steampunk” can make for some really interesting stories. It is a highly refreshing change from “generic fantasy” and “near future military shooter”. The setting is well thought out and well realized, with both the art style and the numerous reading materials that you find scattered about the world. Dishonored presents a magical, early industrial world with a distinctly Orwellian vibe to it. The clothing, the environments, and the general sense of dirtiness and despair are appropriate for the magical/industrial setting. If you liked the settings of Bioshock and Arcanum, you will be pleased with Dishonored too. However, you probably won’t be too thrilled with the story. The game is genuinely trying to tell a good one, but it fails, because, once again, your character’s back story and personality are virtually nonexistent. Your character never speaks out loud. This approach works will with some stories, but not this one. The game tries to have a sentimental moment with you early on when your queen gets assassinated, but it fails. Who cares? You just met her in the game, and supposedly, you are just her bodyguard. It’s okay for an action game to not have a good story when simply getting from one side of the level to the other is fun, which is not the case for Dishonored
If the word “accessible” is ever used during the marketing campaign for a game, then you can probably knock one star off of the score that you expect to give it. That’s because “accessible” is a buzzword to replace the phrase: “dumbed down so that there will be no learning curve, no joy of discovery, and nobody will ever get the feeling of failure or challenge”. Make no mistake, Dishonored by this definition, one of the most “accessible” games to ever be released. But what else would you expect from the guy who gave us universal ammo in Deus Ex: Invisible War? The irony of all of this “accessibility” garbage is that it is supposed to make the game entertaining the moment that you start it up, but it ends up having the opposite effect. Dishonored is boring almost immediately. It isn’t fun to play, and on top of that, it insults you by assuming that you can’t navigate a narrow hallway without an objective marker pointing the way. Why is it that Thief and Deus Ex were more fun to play immediately that this game, even though those games were more complicated and much more “inaccessible”? Who or where is this mythical gaming demographic that need their hand held to the point of ruining the experience for everyone else?
If I sound like a cranky son-of-a-bitch, then that is because I am. I am cranky that games made more than five years ago sport more impressive technology than games made this year. I am cranky that Thief provided a more engrossing stealth experience in 1998 than this game provides today. Most of all, I am cranky that “Dishonored” gets lots of comparisons to “Deus Ex”. The only comparison that should be made with these games is one that shows how badly game design has decayed this generation.