"Author of your own experience."
"Play the way you want."
Buzzwords and phrases like the above are kicked tossed out like candy. Games are hyped into the stratosphere by passing off the illusion of choice through a couple minor variations in approach or gameplay. It's rare that any game obeys its hype, and even more atypical when choice is an actual feature and not a shoehorned accessory. So you'll excuse me if I rolled my eyes when these words were tossed out before our demo of Arkane Studio's Dishonored.
It was the sequence after the game's introduction that I should have paid better attention to. You see, our demo lasted a half hour - but the segment of the game we experienced lasted only fifteen minutes. The demo was a half hour because the folks from Arkane ran through the exact same mission twice, and both runs couldn't have been more different from one another. As a disgraced bodyguard falsely accused of murdering the empress he was sworn to protect, Corvo Atano, in this particular sequence, was charged with infiltrating The Golden Cat, a brothel of sorts, to assassinate two presumably corrupt and connected members of Parliament.
Pure stealth was the option for the first crack at the mission. Though there were said to be eight distinct ways to gain entry to The Golden Cat, Atano, in this attempt, took the road less travelled. You see, rather than Blink (read: teleport) up the roof or go in the front door guns blazing, Atano posses a fish swimming around the moat and swam in through the drain. Yeah.
If it wasn't already clear, Dishonored has more going for it than your typical first person experience. It has all the traditional bells and whistles like pistols, sleep arrows, and melee knives (albeit with a seemingly larger focus on melee), but it augments these abilities with a host of super powers. Included were the aforementioned short range teleportation power, Blink. Also present was Dark Vision, which allowed Atano to not only see through walls, but also see any NPC's cone of vision. Possession allowed Atano to temporarily inhabit the body of any close by organism, and another ability stopped time completely while Atano manipulated the world around him. There also seemed to be a good old fashion Force (as in The Force) style push, but that wasn't explicitly detailed.
But, like I was saying, in this particular instance he became and fish and literally swam in The Golden Cat through the sewer system. From there Atano used a combination of Blink and Dark Vision to avoid the eyes of any and everyone, taking the time to peer through key holes and listen to conversations along the way. This allowed him to determine the location of his marks, one of which happened to be in a steam room closer to the basement. While Atano could have shot his mark through a crack in the wall, he instead chose to manipulate the steam coming in and cooked his target to death. For his brother up top in the penthouse, Atano possessed his body, walked him out to the balcony, left his body, and then blew his mark over the edge. Targets dead; game, set and match.
Then it got really interesting. The demo reset and a completely different approach was taken. Atano didn't just kill a few people on his way there; he deliberately went out of his way to kill everybody. From the humble guards out front to the innocent women inside The Golden Cat, everyone was a victim to Atano's wrath. Interestingly enough we were told that murdering innocent people, as defined by anyone who is not your target, would result in a significant change to the narrative at the end game. In any case that was definitely a harder way to play Dishonored and should probably only be undertaken by experienced and properly outfitted players, but damn did it make for some cool sequences. My personal favorite was when Atano stopped time, fired off three shots at three different targets with the cross bow, circled behind them, and started time again with a prime time view of the arrows ripping their targets apart. It doesn't get any more badass (or satisfying) than that.
After our hands off demo concluded I got a chance to check out Dishonored for myself through a totally different sequence. I was tasked with invading a building and extracting a VIP, meaning I specifically had to keep this gentleman alive. I fumbled with the controls for a bit due to predictable unfamiliarity, but after a few minutes I was able to shift around with Blink and posses certain NPC's without much a of a problem. In fact, possession turned out to be my greatest tool. I kept getting electrocuted by this gate because I wasn't approved to pass through it. So what did I do? I inhabited the body of a guard and walked right in. Of particular concern was the end result if I was spotted. It reminded me of Metal Gear Solid where I was mostly screwed once I was seen and the alarms started going off, feeling more like a hopeless fail state than a slight setback.
In any cased I eventually reached my target, put him to sleep, and made off like a bandit. Sort of. I made the mistake of trying to exit the way I came, rather than using my brain and jumping out the window. From there I Blinked to close rooftops and made it, body slung over my shoulder, to the drop off point in no time. That seemed much easier than the way I came in, and you know what? It also could have been the way I came in. There's so much potential in Dishonored, from the myriad of weapons and abilities to the various traversal options - and all of the power is given to the player. For real this time. I can't wait to play more of this game, and thankfully we'll get too soon because Dishonored is due this fall. Check back with us then for a full review.