Review : Dishonored

TPCOVERPS3-formockupsIt’s a hard life being an NPC. You wait around for hours for that sanctimonious vigilante whose face has been hogging all the advertising posters to come buy some swanky equipment off you, or examine your dialogue for some nuggets of information about their impending quest, but when they finally show up they ignore your forlorn pre-programmed cries and brush past… Or worse they hack your head off.

Spare a thought then for the NPCs of Arkane Studios’ stealthy assassination game, Dishonored.  Whatever it said in the job description of the soldiers and prison officers of Dunwall City, it clearly failed to mention “Applicants must accept danger of dismemberment by bloodthirsty rats, possession, and be able to whistle at least four bars of ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor?’”

Then again, maybe it did. The NPCs roaming the dark streets of steampunk city, Dunwall, aren’t the most observant of beings. In one mission, I gravely misjudged the teleporting distance from my cushy patch of shadows to the one just past the loitering guards, and found myself aparating right under their noses. With a panicked shriek I quickly flitted to behind a pillar, looking back in time to see a bemused guard scratching his head, content to disregard the shady masked man who just vanished from under his nose as the mere frolicking of a particularly large and resourceful rat.

Dishonoured follows the plight of Corvo, an assassin who seeks revenge after being framed for the brutal murder of the Empress he was technically meant to be body guarding. The first five-minutes of gameplay taken up with sunshiny skies and innocent games of hide and seek are soon replaced by the dripping walls of a dungeon and the shambling footsteps of zombie-like citizens known as “weepers”.  Turns out it can be a hard life for core characters too.

Undoubtedly, the strength of Dishonored lies in its imaginative gameplay. Each level can be completed in a variety of ways: you can smash your way into a masquerade ball and redecorate the entrance hall with spinal fluid or you can swipe a party invitation off an unsuspecting guest and slip in undercover. Need to infiltrate the hotel your mark is holed up in? Blink across the rooftops and through an open window or possess an unsuspecting fish swimming in the moat to swim through a grate into the hotel’s basement.

Magic really is crucial (there’s a nifty achievement for completing the story with no spells, but what’s the fun in that?). The abilities Corvo wields are a potent mix of explosive combat and creative cunning. When mastered, players are rewarded with complete control of time and space, meaning with a flick of L2 you can stop time, possess the unlucky guard who just fired his pistol in your face, and walk him straight into the path of his own suspended bullet. With the world still in suspended animation around you, you can then blink a safe distance away to the rooftops above, ready to unpause time, grab your popcorn and watch the ensuing chaos. It’s a technical marvel.

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The beauty of this is the glorious satisfaction of playing a game that actually lets you play it, not just cajoling you down the single track of scripted levels like a reluctant horse bridled with blinkers. The freedom of crafting your own route and set-pieces is one of the game’s main successes, giving the player absolute autonomy and forcing you to pay attention to every scrap of detail in the world around you. You have to work for the answers to complicated predicaments, and each of Dishonored’s nine levels become a playground littered with opportunities for you to build glorious combos with your powers, and ransack hidden rooftops for clues to achieve your goals.

It’s a shame then that with such dynamic skillsets the actual dialogue of Dishonored is so bland. The world is so rich that it screams out for a story to match, but the trouble with a silent protagonist is he becomes the epitome of THAT nightmare guy you’d hate to sit next to at a dinner party. You know, the strong, silent type who can’t hold a conversation and, in the case of Corvo, only seems to want to eat tinned sardines he finds in sewers.

Whilst this lack of character is a deliberate ploy designed to make you project your own personality upon Corvo’s mute canvas, it actually does the opposite, preventing players from immersing themselves fully in the gameplay. What’s more, being dragged back between missions to your allies’ HQ (a rundown pub, because ALL the best plans are hatched over a pint of beer) seriously drags the pacing. It’s a shame that amid such a talented vocal cast as Mad Men’s John Slattery and Lord of the Rings’ Brad Dourif, Corvo himself is unable to find his voice.

Still, the last time we were treated to the sight of a man in an iron mask swashbuckling his way through a corrupted city, it turned out to be the choirboy face of a young Leonardo Di Caprio. Fourteen years on, Dishonored delivers an experience that is far more satisfying, mixing the decadence of Victorian London with the corruption of a dystopian state and a generous helping of arcane magic thrown in for good measure. It has revitalised first-person gaming, breaking away from the generic storm-through-pre-set-levels-and-release-all-those-stabbitty-stab-urges-you’ve-been-bottling-up to create something truly unique, compelling and downright addictive.

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Top 3 Games for Beating Stress

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Have you ever had one of “those days”? When you got stuck behind a colourblind guy at traffic lights? When you forgot it was your day on the cleaning rota to scrub skid marks off the toilet bowl and your housemates are outside your door brandishing torches and pitchforks? When your bank balance is so into the negative you have to give it hourly pep talks to persuade it the glass is half full?

What you need is Nazi Zombies.

No, not literally; a shed load of goose-stepping corpses kick starting the apocalypse wouldn’t do much to improve anyone’s mood. But stick a controller in your hands and suddenly you’re plunged into virtual reality choc full of zombies ripe for a machine gunning, which (when you’re so stressed you’d probably eat your OWN face) is really rather cathartic. COD Zombies shuffled onto our screens back in 2008, when Treyarch decided the best way to reward players for completing the campaign was plonking them in a rickety old house surrounded by bloodthirsty German corpses… And my God did we love them for it.nacht-derHaving evolved from abandoned theatres peppered with power-ups (“You need a little REVIIIIIIVE!”), Zombies’ latest instalment sees players driving through a burning town on an old school bus, dodging lava pits and battling zombies in the largest and most complex map to date. The beauty of this game is you can play it however you like: just want to blow some brains? Then grab an Alien ray gun, knuckle down and get shooting. Fancy something a bit more involved? Join the global online community and immerse yourself in the intricate backstory (yes, there’s actually a plot). Be warned though, this is VERY addictive. Common side-effects include the compulsive urge to yell “FETCH ME THEIR SOULS” when walking your dog and the inexplicable need to board up your windows whilst making little “Ding!” noises.

Or maybe mass-undead-genocide isn’t your thing?

That’s cool too (though you still might want to work on an apocalypse contingency plan; You don’t want to be THAT guy crouched behind your sofa freaking out as the government seal you and your zombie neighbours in a bio-hazard dome). If you spend your day kicking old ladies as they cross the road and munching on the hearts of baby bunnies then maybe this isn’t for you, because PSN classic Flower is both poetry and game. Using your Sixaxis controller, you can enter the dreams of flowers, steering a petal on the crest of a breeze as you swoop through Herbal Essences adverts to collect and gather more petals. Considering it’s been used in an interactive Church service, this game is the perfect example of how gaming can go beyond smash ’em up shooters into an emotive form of storytelling. With a stunning score that would make even the Angry Birds zen, this is the gaming equivalent of popping bubble wrap. Really, really pretty bubble wrap.

Still not convinced?

Ok, you’re a tough one. Sounds like you have some serious anger issues that cannot be solved by undead pest control or whimsical horticulture. How about undercover Hong Kong crime lords? Enter Sleeping Dogs. Taking all the best bits of great games such as Grand Theft Auto and Batman: Arkham Asylum, you play as undercover Detective Wei Shen as he tries to infiltrate the feared Triad criminal gang. Open-world games are brilliant for blowing off steam simply because of their freedom and Sleeping Dogs gives you considerable control, dotting the city with side-missions, clothes stores (for budding fashionistas), countless collectibles and even a tucked-away Kung Fu School. But the best thing about this game is it knows when you’re feeling tetchy. One day I was running through the Hong Kong, chewing my lip in frustration as I looked for a nice car to hi-jack (nothing brightens my day like ruining an NPC’s), when a sympathetic voice called out “Hey! You look like you could use a Pork Bun!”. I turned, all thoughts of sleek red ferraris gone, to see a chirpy street vendor waving his chubby hand in my direction. 10 yuan and a few virtual mouthfuls later, my character had extra health and I was feeling validated.

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What I’m trying to say is that Gaming is the virtual Spa, available 24/7 for your relaxation needs. From exploring far-off landscapes to occupying your brain with a platform puzzle, it offers a package for everyone. So ditch the pick-me-ups and power-up for a dose of pure escapism. Remember: therapy is expensive, video games are cheap….er.