The Game: In this genre-mixing first-person action-stealth game, you play Corvo, a bodyguard-turned-assassin who’s seeking revenge after he was framed for murdering the city’s empress. The city in question is called Dunwall, a steampunk metropolis that draws inspiration from 17th-century London but also contains such futuristic elements as policemen patrolling the area on two-story-tall robotic stilts (pictured above). In addition to being highly trained with weapons, Corvo has 10 supernatural powers that were bestowed upon him by a half-god, half-devil figure known as the Outsider. These powers include the ability to “blink” — or quickly teleport — to nearby areas, the ability to take possession of people and animals, and the ability to slow time down. (Available Oct. 9 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.)
What We Played: In the demo, Corvo has to locate a scientist, render the target unconscious, and deliver the body to a boatman at a nearby dock. One of the appeals of Dishonored is that you can approach any situation in a myriad of ways. For my first time through the demo, I located the scientist by breaking into his home and killing a number of guards. This approach took around 30 minutes. For my second attempt, however, I wondered: Could I get to the scientist more quickly by teleporting across the city’s rooftops? Sure enough, I could. Alternatively, I could have taken possession of a fish and swam through the sewer system.
The Good: I’m a sucker for steampunk, and the city of Dunwall is a wonderful sci-fi creation — a location that feels like it’s been through centuries of history similar to our own (the plague is a major factor here), and yet is still very much its own thing. I was amazed by how quickly I was drawn into Dunwall and how eager I was to explore it. Then there are those magical powers, which were all unlocked for the demo. Like a giddy kid in a candy shop, I tried each ability out in various scenarios; one of my favorites: summoning a swarm of rats to devour nearby foes. Also, “blinking” across the city is addictive, and the game’s dedication to offering multiple paths through any obstacle means Dishonored will encourage and reward creative thinking.
The Not-So-Good: At the same time, the game’s emphasis on open-world problem solving may annoy some players. There is such a thing as having too many options. Once I broke into the scientist’s home, I wasn’t sure where to go next. Futilely, I kept returning to the basement where a watermill was turning, thinking there must be something I was supposed to be doing here. Had a game developer not intervened on my behalf, who knows how many frustrating minutes I would have spent down there? One other thing: Dishonored will inevitably be compared to the likes of BioShock, Deus Ex, and Assassin’s Creed. It definitely borrows some DNA from those games, but developer Arkane Studios is borrowing from the best.
Excitement Level: Dishonored is among the most engaging titles I’ve played at E3 so far. You know a game’s good when, at the conclusion of your demo appointment, you don’t want to leave. From 1 to 10, I’d give it a 9.