Thursday, October 11, 2012

It just doesn't know

Dishonored is certainly, well, it's definitely, um, something?

Let's start with what it isn't It is not the best looking game in the world. It took me quite a while to decide if the look was intentional or if the standard Unreal Engine 3 issue of texture not loading was just taking longer that usual to sort itself out. Environments lack the crisp detail that I have come to expect in modern first person games. Character models are stiff and do not animate very well. This is especially apparent in their mouths and faces, which makes the (so far) mediocre voice acting all the more distracting. It simply does not look like a AAA title.

Because it isn't.

Arkane Studios does not have a huge list of games to their name. They helped with BioShock 2 and put out Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic on their own. The giant money engines that put out games that look like Call of Duty or, oddly enough, Skyrim, were just not present for this game and it is obvious. What it lacks is clarity it makes up for in design. Arkane knew that they couldn't afford to create the best looking game so they decided to make one that just look right instead of looking real.

Once I got over my initial 'hurf durf where are my hi-res textures' reaction and played the game it became readily apparent that the game looks exactly the way it is supposed to. Yes, the environments are a far cry from Crysis 2, but they convey a feeling of desperation and despair just fine. Dishonored is depressing to look at. Assuming that was the point, they nailed it.

It is difficult to play Dishonored for any length of time with comparing it to BioShock. There are right and left handed abilities that can be combined in most any way. Runes are found to buy new abilities and improve existing ones. Combat is better approached with guile or stealth than head on. Being sneaky seems to be where the game wants you to go, and this bring on an unfortunate comparison to Thief. In my case, Thief Deadly Shadows because that it the only one that I have played.

Deadly Shadows, if I remember correctly, had an on screen icon which indicated how much light was on your character. This could be used as an accurate way to determine if you were in fact hiding or if you ass was hanging out of the bush you were crouching in. Dishonored has nothing of the sort, forcing you to rely on which direction the guard is facing and where he is looking. At first. Then you unlock an upgrade for the dark sight skill which allows you to see them through walls and creates Metal Gear Solid style cone of sight visuals. The game realized that hiding was more difficult than it should be but the swung to far in the other direction to compensate.

This is not the only example of the swinging between hand holding and vicious abuse with nothing in between. There is an item that will show you exactly where objects hidden in a level are. Without it, good luck. The final target for a level is highlighted from almost the very beginning, making it easy to make a bee line to the end of the level and skip the side quests that have relatively little to offer aside. If you do chose to finish the side quests and acquire more upgrades you can become a killing machine but killing to many guards will net you an inferior ending. They were quite a few cooks in on the creation of Dishonored and they, for their good intentions, have thinned out what could have been a better broth.

These opinions are based off of only around three hours of play so I may very well change my mind several times before the game is done. I was trying to play it the same way I played Deadly Shadows: incapacitate the guards, stack them like cord wood in the entry hall, then start them on fire as a warning to everyone, but that wasn't working. Now I am caught somewhere between violent thief and incompetent assassin, trying not to kill people and then being overrun by fire breathing Irishmen for trying to poison their still.

I am not making that part up. Those bastards spit unblockable fire and were nigh immune to my puny sword thrusts. It was not a good time, so I didn't feel bad when I finally found said still and befouled it with putrid rat guts.

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