E3 2012: Dishonored, tossing linearity aside

It’s hard to imagine, but there are probably leagues of gamers who are all too used to playing action games that are linear, action-focused, and practically mindless. There was a time when a game like GoldenEye 64 would just give you a level, some objectives to complete, and that was it. The way you went about doing those objectives was up to you. Dishonored looks to be bringing back the nonlinear level design from games like Thief, Deus Ex, and Golden Eye 64. These games are less about a pre-made roller coaster ride, and more about how players can improvise and discover their own tactics and new routes to complete objectives.

The demo was set somewhere in the middle of the single-player mode. My objective was to get to a doctor named Sokolov, and extract his unconscious body via boat; that was it. So I went about exploring the level to see how many different ways I could accomplish this one objective. In one secluded section, just past a small semi-unnoticeable alley, there was a gate. There was an opening at the bottom, and since I already had some knowledge of the game, I summoned a small horde of rats, possessed one, went under the gate, and released my possession of the rat, causing my human body to be manifested next to the rat. There’s also a teleportation power that can be used to get up onto ledges (and rooftops), if you happen to notice them. Double jumps can also be performed, and even though the game is in first-person, your character can pull himself up onto ledges as well. Sometimes I felt that the “camera” was too close for ledge-grabbing (accidentally hitting my head rather than jumping up to the ledge), but I guess it’s just something that will have to be gotten used to.

The combat in the game is very satisfying. You can swing at enemies, but as far as I could tell, you couldn’t interrupt enemies with normal sword blows. If they were swinging at you, you would need to either block their attacks or tap the block button at the right time to open the enemy up for a counter attack. The fact that the counter attacks aren’t automated made them a bit more satisfying, because most of the time I would have to run up to them and then perform the last violent blow (which sometimes resulted in a loss of a head). There are times when enemies get downed, like after you’ve used your forceful wind blast power on them. While they’re down, they’re susceptible to a one hit kill, if you’re able to get to them in time.

As for creativity in murder, well, there seems to be plenty of it. Unfortunately I feel like maybe I couldn’t do the game justice, but I did my best. I summoned a legion of rats, placed a mine on one of them, and then shot at some guards to get their attention. The guards didn’t know what hit them. The rats and both guards exploded, leaving only lifeless chunks behind. I didn’t get to try it out, but I was told that one could slow down time after an enemy shoots, possess that enemy, and then place him in front of his own bullet. After having played through the level, I knew the location of an explosive. So I possessed a guard and had him walk over to the explosive, and then tossed it at his comrades, leaving him clueless and practically helpless. I was told that it was possible to teleport above a “Tallboy” (the giant mechanical, manned stilt enemies) and perform a one-hit, death-from-above kill. Sure enough, it was possible, and it was awesome. I also resorted to timing my grenades and tossing them at the Tallboy for a slower, less dramatic kill.

The enemies were more of a challenge than I expected. For example, when the area allowed, they would attempt to surround me, leaving my sides and back vulnerable. The fact that they (mostly) have the upper hand in melee battles means that you’ll have to be skilled enough to parry their oncoming attacks, or witty enough to get yourself out of tight situations. One particular enemy, who seemed to be a higher-ranking officer, had a gun. I figured that he would shoot once and then rush me. However, since I was still distant, he chose to shoot a second time, stacking on the damage. By the time I got up to him, he was already able to pull off another round–these enemies do not mess around.

Just as an aside, I was surprised to see that some dead bodies were suddenly, randomly devoured by a swarm of rats. This kind of event is that much more awesome because it doesn’t feel scripted. Dishonored looks to keep things as open as it can, allowing for the unknown to happen.

Speaking briefly with Harvey Smith, I learned that in addition to the powers, there will be chances to augment them. For example, a bomb might disintegrate an enemy, taking care of the body so that you don’t have to take the time to hide it yourself.

For those of you who prefer stealth, your powers will enable you to traverse the environments and stay out of sight. Teleport, possession, and an ability that lets you see through walls will be your go-to powers. There are stealth take-downs that can be performed from behind enemies, and tranquilizer darts which are even powerful enough to take out Tallboys with around three of them (don’t worry, you will be limited on ammo).

I had quite an extended stay with Dishonored (an hour and a half), which is not something I normally do at E3. However, a game like this is not something that’s easy to demo at E3, and it’s not easy to preview either. It takes time, and from what I’ve played, it was well worth that time. I’ll be looking forward to Dishonored when it releases on October 9th, 2012 for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

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