Then there’s the Possession spell: once you’ve invested enough in it, you can take control of any man or beast for a few seconds. The limitations are pretty strict: you can’t attack, you die if they die, and when the spell ends, you step out of your victim rather than returning to your original location. But you can use Possession to slip past security systems without hacking them, or to escape a crowd of angry guards. I loved taking control of a Tallboy, the towering archers on stilts. The rest of the guards just see you vanish, and search for you while their heavy backup mysteriously wanders off to be alone.
Something else Dishonored never loses is its aesthetic flair. Dunwall is a rotting city port defined by the sharp divide between rich and poor. Everything is weathered, faded and crumbling except for the pristine soapstone mansions of the aristocracy, and the game art relishes that grotesque contrast. Every monied bureaucrat wears a caricature of a sneer, every plague victim an exaggerated look of permanent dismay.
The masquerade mission is the visual centrepiece: a silk draped party in a manor of dazzling opulence, attended by bitchy socialites whose monstrous masks seem like an externalisation of their ugly indifference to the plague. In the street outside, its vomiting victims are cut down by the guards’ explosive arrows if they stumble too far out of the gutter.
Dishonored’s whole world is textured with an oil-painted smudge that brings out the 19th-century vibe – despite the sci-fi tech. That’s part of what makes its atmosphere so intoxicating: we don’t often get to explore a setting like this.
For all those reasons, I recommend turning off almost every part of the interface. There’s a thrillingly nerdy array of options for this, and I found myself getting more and more lost in the game once I’d tinkered with them: I learned to listen for the noise of my mana recharging, read street signs to figure out where I was going, and notice the way I was holding my weapon to check whether I was in sneak mode.
This is all PC specific, and our version gets all the special attention we like: field-of-view options, responsive mouse movement, graphics options – you can even ‘Disable rat shadows’. +5% to the score right there.
The only thing I can’t vouch for is performance: Bethesda aren’t letting code out of their office at time of writing, so I’ve only played it on a 2.8GHz Core i7 with a 2GB GeForce GTX 670 graphics card. On that setup – contain your shock – it ran smoothly.
The fact that someone’s still putting real effort into the PC version of their multi-platform game is one good reason to buy it. But with Dishonored, there are quite a few. The fact that it doesn’t have any unskippable boss fights. That it’s one of the few major new games that isn’t a sequel or a remake. That a developer went to huge lengths to allow players this much freedom, and a publisher gave them the time and money to make it this slick.
It’s a big, shiny example of so much we keep asking for in games, but rarely get. Luckily, the best way to vindicate it is to buy and then play an amazing game.
A gorgeous, complex and slick assassination sim, with fascinating systems to play with and huge open levels to explore.