The Best Thing At GamesCom 2011 - DishonouredPublisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3
Last year, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings wowed us from the off with graphics that were simply jaw-dropping, but this year we have to admit that our favourite game of GamesCom
didn't provide the same type of initial punch. Dishonoured doesn't look graphically impressive. The brightness seems far to high, with the shadows curiously lacking for a game that tries to sell itself at least partly on its stealth features. It doesn't help that the palette is washed out either; grey and beige dominate your view of the world, giving Dishonoured a distinctly chalky feel.
Harvey Smith stands at the front of the room, the Deus Ex and System Shock designer looking shorter than I imagined for someone with such a massive reputation. He narrates the action as someone else plays the game on a big projector screen, explaining that this version of Dishonoured is an Alpha. It's hard to deny that it looks like one too, even though there’s clearly artistry beneath the technical limits.
As the presentation gets under way however, things change. Not literally; visually Dishonoured remains characterised by too-pale colours and oddly exorbitant splashes of blood for the duration of the show. Metaphorically, however, animation changes everything as soon as you see this game in action then it starts to shine.
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Dishonoured tells the story of a super-powered assassin in a city overrun with corruption and plague. Half of Dunwall's population has been slain by this mysterious illness, meaning half the buildings are empty for you to run through or hide in. Narratively that's all Arkane seems ready to share, with conversation instead turning to focus on the game mechanics. There's a lot to be said too.
'Dishonoured is a game about improvisational gameplay
' says Smith, standing in shadow to the left of the projector screen. 'It's possible to approach everything through just action and combat, or through just stealth, but really it's about mixing the two. Many games give players lots of cool skills, but in Dishonoured with only give you a few, but we make them very deep and invite you to see how you can use them to explore the game in new ways.
It’s then that Harvey says two things that really excite me: that it’s possible to play through all of Dishonoured without killing anyone, as there are alternate scenarios for every assassination. More than that though, it’s possible to get through the entire game without being seen at all. It’s all about how you use the tools at your disposal.
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The tools that Arkane are offering fall all over the spectrum of normality too, ranging from old cliches such as bullet time through to more exotic options, such as short-range teleportation. Mixing and matching these is key to moving through the game, as demonstrated when Harvey has the player jump off a building and teleport mid-fall, getting the extra distance required to reach a far rooftop. From here it’s then possible to enter the house of your target – in this case a corrupt lawyer who is benefiting from the plague – from a new angle.
Dishonoured isn’t just about creating a great game in the mould of Thief or Deus Ex, however – though both of those remain strong, obvious influences. Instead, Dishonoured brings remedies to the problems that sometimes drag down other titles in the genre. Think stealth games involve nothing but learning AI patrol routes, for example? That’s not the case in Dishonoured, where props placed throughout levels can randomly attract guards off their usual paths, throwing your gambit off kilter and pushing Dishonoured toward the kind of awesome, improvisational action that makes it so deserving of a closer look. That’s something we’ll definitely be doing over the next few weeks.
Check our GamesCom 2011 news hub for all the information from Cologne this year.