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By Ryan Noik 30 October 2012

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Immersive gaming at its finest
9.5    Gameplay
9.0    Story
9.5    Presentation
9.0    Lasting appeal
4.5

If you like your games with plenty of intrigue and suspense, and a story that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go, then you’re going to love Dishonored.
 
You step into the shoes of Corvo, the Queen’s Royal Protector, who has just returned from a mission to find a solution to a plague that is having a devastating impact on Dunwall. 

Upon arrival though, you are quickly confronted with further troubles: the Empress is murdered and the princess kidnapped, while you are branded as a traitor and sentenced to death as part of a sinister, insidious political plot.

This sets the stage for a plan to find the princess and overthrow the tyrannical Lord Regent, who has claimed the throne, while exacting your bloody revenge on those who framed you for the Queen’s murder.
 
"So, when City Water didn't respond to my reports of the water leak for the sixth week in a row, I decided to just buy a boat."
 
Choices and consequences

Dishonored is certainly stylistically realised, boasting a certain Victorian/Steampunk aesthetic, which makes the world immediately come to life as a distinctive setting in its own right. For example, the machines in the realm are powered by the very volatile and explosive whale oil, which can be incorporated into how one deals with the watch guard a little further into the game.  

You can choose to play the game as a hardcore assassin, eliminating any and all that get in your way, or rather, use a more stealthy approach, to subdue, rather than murder foes. Doing the former carries a price: the more deaths you leave in your wake, the higher your Chaos count, which results in more rats in the city, the expansion of the plague, and thus a grimmer city.

However, it is more complicated than that, because even if you do opt for a stealthier, non-lethal approach to the game (which is considerably more difficult than it sounds) you also need to think about how you hide bodies and unconscious foes.

Just like leaving a trail of dead or unconscious bodies will attract swarms of rats, who are considerably more vicious than the average rat you may find in your house and more akin to those envisioned by James Herbert, the rats are no kinder to those you have masterfully subdued. In a swarm, they devour the dead and the living alike.

Thus, throwing an unconscious body into an alley populated by a rats has the same effect as killing that person outright. This means that there is plenty of room for thought and even strategy in the game, with regards to how you fulfil your missions, and make your way through the world.
 
"Honey, you remember your cousin who said he loved rats? Apparently, they loved him too - as a main course."  
  
Tell me a story

In the interest of giving fair warning, Dishonored is not one for the squeamish. Should you engage in and win at sword fights, more often than not you will find that your opponent’s beheading is quite graphically rendered, as is the resulting puddle of blood. 

Perhaps even more disturbing than the gory nature of combat are the almost maniacally unhinged residents that you may come across. They could give Hannibal Lecter lessons in being sinister and creepy; and reminded us more than a little of Bioshock.  

Along with highlighting how deeply Dunwall is sinking into chaos and despair, the distinctive characters, who are supported by excellent voice acting, only further served to make Dunwall seem like a real place, and made the game that much more immersive. Graphics and textures within the game are top notch; while water and fire are so well rendered that it is easy to forget you are playing a game, rather than watching a movie. 

You’ll also find notes and books dotted around the city, which add greater context to the unfolding story. Additionally, the background score, while not overpowering and even subtle at times, manages to set the mood quite deftly.
 
In harsh economic times, staying ahead of the competition is easier, and gorier, than you think.
 
Fight of your life

The one aspect of the game that may just compel you to abandon stealth in favour of a more aggressive approach is how enjoyable combat can be. Once you are noticed, fights often happen very quickly, and while brief, can be intense.

This is due to the fact that you can be overwhelmed quite quickly, and as deadly as Corvo is, he cannot take too much damage before meeting his demise. Blocking and counter-striking therefore can make a big difference between defeating your opponents, and getting an eyeful of your opponents shoes after meeting your demise.

However, even dying and having to restart from the last saved point isn’t too onerous, owing to the game’s myriad of ways of approaching different scenarios. Nonetheless, we strongly recommend saving, and saving often.
 
Power plays

Along with your sword, pistol, crossbow, and explosives, you can also deal damage with a myriad of supernatural powers.  

It is the latter which further enable players to customise their Dishonored experience, as some powers lend themselves to assisting a stealthier approach, while others are more aggressively inclined. For example, Dark Vision enables one to see through walls and detect traps, and Bend Time slows time for short durations, while Blood Thirsty and Devouring Swarm unleashes a brutal flurry of fatal attacks and conjures a swarm of vicious rats, respectively.

Your first power though, and the one we found to be the most useful, is Blink. This enables you to teleport over short ranges; and proved incredibly useful for getting to cover quickly, exploring the environment and slipping past guards and thugs unnoticed.

Almost as useful was Possession, which enables you to briefly possess an animal for a bit and use their body to your advantage. Possessing a rat, for example, enables you to scurry through small openings and find alternative routes to rooms; although doing this too many times during one play through seemed to have the mysterious side-effect of invoking in us an unusual longing for extra cheese.  
 
Vincent's wife warned him that opening his own lemonade stand would be a cutthroat business.

City in Runes
 
Each power consumes a certain amount of mana when used, and cost Runes, which are scattered through the world, to purchase.

Finding Runes with which to increase one’s powers can be addicting in its own right, particularly as you are given a handheld Heart, which not only beats when you are nearby a hidden Rune but also whispers secrets, in a seductive, sibilant female voice, about the locations in which you find yourself.

Our main quandary came from whether to keep the Heart equipped at all times and be alerted right away to the presence of a nearby Rune or Bone Charm, or whether to keep our pistol or crossbow equipped and close at hand in its stead.
 
Thankfully, Dishonored thoughtfully includes a quick access wheel, and lets you map commonly used weapons, powers, and the Heart to your D-pad.  
 
To the point

It would be only too easy to gush over the breadth, depth and richness of the game on offer in Dishonored, and many already have. Get ready, because for once, so will we: Bethesda’s latest is a masterpiece; a gem of a game that is tremendously immersive, and that both covertly, and blatantly, managed to steal our entertainment time away from other titles begging for our attention.

Dishonored is a game that not only gives ample evidence as to the importance of new intellectual properties continually being developed, it truly honours what games can be, and simply has to be experienced. Unreservedly recommended. R600 including free delivery from LivDigital on 010-590-9281.

Pros
 
Superbly realised world
Enticing story
Excellent voice-acting and finely drawn characters
Plenty to find and do
Engaging combat

Cons
Slightly longish loading screens
A time-sink of note 
PROS
Superbly realised world; Enticing story; Excellent voice-acting and finely drawn characters; Plenty to find and do; Engaging combat
CONS
Slightly longish loading screens; A time-sink of note
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