One does not simply kill the rat plague
Imagine a stealth game that’s stuffed with phantom dark shadows which all guards see, but you don't, because you're a cat like that. Place some candles in the isolated rooms so you could vent steam by blowing at the poor things. Generously splash on a good amount of pattern recognition and sneaking in plain sight. Pour some sword and some choking, add some guns and some tranquilizers. Possess a guard, summon a herd of rat-looking moles from under the earth, blast them away with a deadly wind out of your hand, stop the time just because you can, merrily teleport away from the mess you’ve created. This mess should give you a pretty good idea of what Dishonored plays like. Unless you're a sceptic for whom Dishonored would play like your regular stealth game with lots of pleasant climbing and searching for the ways around obstacles.
But ignoring teleportation is rather like eating a cake box instead of the cake itself, for the quick accessibility of everything brings so much pleasure to the gameplay. Although it has a price too. The locations don't surprise or amaze you with their greatness and even sneaking through places that should, like the giant bridge, feels a bit like a stroll through your own kitchen.
And it's not the only thing that's underwhelming. The whole game just isn’t exactly drearie, dearie, despite the mounts of corpses everywhere and loads of sad abandoned buildings. And it’s a good thing because it’s cozy and pleasant to play. And if you have a problem with your scary game with a plague in it being cozy, you should probably contact the tech support.
On the technical side, it’s done rather nicely. Your screenshot taking finger will ache, scream and beg for mercy oblivious of the sometimes poor texture resolution.
Your ears won’t ditch you for that Prokofiev loving person next door too. Even though there’re no long memorable compositions in the game at all, at least there’re some nice short ones – and being repeatedly brought to the base location while listening to one, boy will you remember it.
Even your brain won’t seek to be extracted by a rogue dentist for the writing isn’t at all bad. It has a funny reference to Thief. It has unusual intriguing characters (or rather a character). The scattered around books sometimes contain nice ideas and are at least remotely interesting, although the game could really do with more of them. If you’ve read stuff thoroughly in the first two levels, then there won’t be much to read for the rest of the game, since most of the books have copies and even those copies sometimes have copies too, strategically placed so you would see them again and again.
Even some plot devices work as they're expected to, and that doesn’t disappoint in providing a really nice contrast to…
…the plot devices that don't. Which are most of them.
Because the story itself sucks rats, and in so many ways too. Not only its logic and originality are dangerously close to something Rhianna Pratchett would write, it also screws up all the potential the game has for becoming something more than just a fairly nice experience you choose to discuss the quality of your tasteless breakfast scone over. And one had to try really hard to screw it up here.
The thing is, the archetypal stories about revenge are pretty much autonomous. They don’t need unexpected plot twists, they don’t need hidden messages, they don’t even need complexity. All they need is a hero you can sympathise with, a bunch of mean bastards you can trample on and a way to make it personal for the hero. That’s it, and all the three points is where Dishonored shamelessly fails.
There is no hero – only a shell with a bunch of replies that don’t convey a shred of character. Yes, make me some gear. Yes, take me to the next target. No, I’m not a mute scary freak who stares at you holding a blooded knife in his hands while you talk.
There’re no mean bastards. Well, there’re bastards. And they do their things not quite out of kindness. But if you take for granted that adversaries should at least inspire some respect by not having the intelligence of a dead whale, you’re out of luck. And instead of justified hatred most of the time you feel... pity. What a nice way to trick people into thinking that revenge doesn’t solve anything, Dishonored! Wait, what was your slogan again?
And it’s not even close to personal. I mean, yes, the bastards framed Corvo for the murder of the empress and tried to execute him. But was she the love of his life or was she just a really good employer who always gave him the raise he wanted? Is this Corvo's daughter running around or is it his grandmother who suffers from the growth hormone deficiency? Is Corvo a man or is he secretly a bird so he can indefinitely stand on a rim of a flimsy cardboard box standing on the edge of a skyscraper precariously balanced on top of the Tower of Pisa? I honestly don’t know. And why is that I don’t know the most simple facts after spending over forty hours in the game, reading every scrap of paper and seeing all the endings playing as Corvo?
Oh no, I did notice they’ve gone for ‘invent the vital parts of the story yourself and don’t feel that nasty disappointment if something we’ve come up with wasn’t good enough for you’. And it’s ok as long as you give players the opportunity to clearly express what they’ve thought up in the various situations, like RPGs usually do (ok, who we are kidding, rarely as drunken whalers survive to sober up do). But there’re virtually no important choices in the game at all, except for just the one. And all you get after it is a drivel of the one of the characters about how Corvo quite possibly doesn’t know why he does things himself.
Dear developers, seeing your own mistakes is very nice of you. Coulnd’t you fix them or something while you were at it?
But what really smacks you on the cheek and yells ‘Immersion!’ in your ear when you’re finally starting to get immersed are little things. Cheap things. Like when you realise there’s only one song known to the citizens of Dunwall.
Or graffiti. The same ultra realistic graffiti are everywhere! The legacy of some pessimistic maniac who needed to tell you that you can not kill the rat plague rather desperately. And all the ads of the new indie rock band ‘Blood From the Eyes’. ‘Send us food, not bullets’, they write in the closed off apartments accessible only by unhealthy courageous climbing or magical teleportation. Surely the kind postman climbs among us! And what a sad world it is if they have no spud guns invented yet... By the way, didn’t you somehow manage to forget that you can not kill the rat plague? Well, you can’t.
And you can tell fortunes with this game! Just tell me, Dishonored, will anybody ever like the same bland dialogs repeated over and over? (Indeed, I believe so.) Could there be a suitable explanation of why do the guards answer all the questions with the same 8 ball phrases? (Chances are very good.) Does it include owls or the murderous cherry pie? (Never doubt it!) Ok, it's getting tiresome, I should probably blow off. (Blow off!)
But tell me, why on earth they didn't pursue a storyline about that mysterious 'he' who says to undress to so many women? (Never doubt it!)
But (as if adversaries weren’t enough) you can also interact with your allies. For example, Corvo's typical briefing sounds very much like this: 'Hi. This guy’s a meanie. Go kill him. Climb in the boat and go. Bye.' And way-hey and up he climbs, accompanied by the player’s silly outraged screams about proper discussions and preplanning.
Well, it does seem like a little excessive measure when you know that the guards have severely impaired vision and a healthy tendency to overlook the defencive mechanisms’ sudden malfunctions (at least they can recognize a bottle when it hits them in the arse), but it’s believability that suffers. And once this 'don’t you have someone to kill blow off' dialog happened with the senders slumped over a map discussing things. But not with Corvo, who actually does the missions!
Also, is there a stealth game at all that doesn’t do the ‘He’s probably watching us right now out of those shadows, ewww, how dreary indeed’ joke? (Blow off!)
Another thing, for a game where you need to access unobvious places to get your levelupping runes it really lacks the New Game+ feature. I completed the game, heck, I did it twice on the hardest setting (which wasn’t much harder than normal, mind you), can I please have fun with the creative killings now from the very beginning, and not from the middle of the game where you can at least pretend you got the half of the stuff you want?
‘No!’, says the strict game injuring its neck with a severely starched collar. ‘We can’t allow fun! Oh
well, you can replay separate levels with the abilities you’d gathered by that point, but that’s it, and don’t even think to ask for more. And before you do ask for more, know that there aren’t even cheat codes!’. Truly Victorian!
But then again, what did you expect from a game that stuffs your pockets with guns and threatens to show you the bad ending if you’ll have the nerve to use them?
The Bottom Line
So it was an unfairly short, sadly and rather stupidly spoiled, but still fairly nice experience, one that doesn't change anything inside you but undoubtedly pleas… Oh wait, no, it was probably just the wind.