This preview originally appeared in issue 242 of PC Gamer UK. Preview by Matt Lees.
Anyone who remembers the golden PC age of the late 1990s – all Thiefs and Deus Exes – will instantly feel at home with Dishonored. But there’s more to the game than just nostalgia.
Dishonored reinvents the stealth genre as much as it revives it, and it takes a while to get my head into the right gear. Our protagonist Corvo has the power to teleport by using his blink power, encouraging you to quickly jump between areas of cover, rather than waiting impatiently for the perfect moment in a patrol. It’s not stealth as a meticulous trudge, as in so many games, but speedy, fun and empowering.
I’m dropped into the final part of a mission, where I’m tasked with kidnapping a chap called Sokolov. This area was clearly hit hard by Dishonored’s rat plague, and has been razed to help prevent the spread of disease. Scrawled messages paint a fuzzy picture of the period in which the army took over, but it feels like no one has lived here for a while.
My first run through the mission takes an obvious route, sending me into scuffles against patrolling guards. Corvo can handle himself in straight combat, providing you can nail the timing of a parry. Come up against more than one foe, however, and a fair fight won’t always go in your favour. Luckily, you don’t need to fight fair.
Three guards spot me and reach for their swords, but all three of them die before they can unsheath their weapons. Freezing time with Corvo’s wooshy powers, I casually slice their throats open while they remain temporarily suspended. It’s like a Victor Szasz cameo in Bernard’s Watch. Glorious stuff.
Having access to all of the powers gave me a solution to any situation, but this luxury won’t be present in the full game. Second-tier powers come at the exclusion of others, so you’ll have to choose carefully to fit your play style. Arkane claim that you’ll only see 60-70 per cent of Dishonored in one playthrough, and from what I’ve seen so far I’m inclined to believe them.
The improved version of blink allows us to effectively bypass the level entirely – double-jumping and blinking to climb up through the buildings. Getting back down again isn’t as difficult: performing a vertical assassination lets someone else take the impact of your fall, but there’s a less gruesome version for those who’d prefer it. Leap off a building, possess someone before you hit the ground, and then hop out and simply walk away.
Possession in Dishonored isn’t just remote control: it’s a viable form of transport. After you hop out of your homemade flesh taxi, your victim is overwhelmed with nausea so you can easily sneak away, knock them out, or leave them to soak in their own Technicolor yawnjuice.
Even outside of playing with powers, the scope for improvisation in Dishonored is superb. Light-barrier gates can be turned off by removing the whale oil battery, or hacked to kill your enemies instead. The whale oil itself can be used to activate all manner of machinery throughout the game’s city of Dunwall, but also doubles up as an impromptu explosive.
Thankfully Dishonored doesn’t insult your intelligence with pop-up tooltips and handy suggestions. It never feels like there’s any one correct way to approach any situation, and this ambiguity brings Dunwall to life.
On my first go through one of the demo’s sections, I released some prisoners in order to distract the nearby guards at a checkpoint. They immediately ran off to their stabby doom, letting me pass through undetected. I naively presumed that this was the only purpose they served.
The second time I attempted the section, I decided to do things a bit differently: I killed the guards first, allowing the prisoners to progress unperforated. One of the prisoners thanked me for saving her life, and rewarded me with some information that allowed us to scout out some extra money.
Choice means you’re bound to miss a lot on your first playthrough, and the game’s systems themselves invite a second, or even a third excursion. Bone charms are special boosts that you can collect and equip throughout Dishonored, but you’ll only find 12 in any one game – a random selection out of 45 in total. Even the preparation and outcome of missions can vary – call in favours before a mission starts, for instance, and you might secure a better point of entry.
Nipping around the city without being seen is fantastically tense fun, but the murderous streaks are joyful too. Crossbows, pistols, and grenades all entertained, but I particularly enjoyed the limb-shredding properties of razor mines. Transitioning a teleport into a stab is the most fun I’ve had with a weapon in ages, and I can’t wait to see even more of Dunwall. Dishonored is deep, clever, and wonderfully sinister.