Gamescom 2011: Dishonored Preview – There's a Rat in the Kitchen
Written Thursday, August 18, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Set in what Game Designer Harvey Smith defines as a “retro-future industrial world”, Dishonored is an FPS that combines action and stealth, with a range of options and routes the game's protagonist Corvo can pursue during his objectives to assassinate his assigned targets. Developer Arkane Studios wants to give the player a whole suite of abilities to choose from to make each gameplay experience different, and with a combination of diverse weaponry, supernatural powers and gadgets, Dishonored certainly looks poised to deliver on its promises. And what other first-person action game out there lets you control a rat or a fish? None, as far as we know.
It's perhaps no surprise that Dishonored's world too is a remarkably unique and stylised one, coming from Smith of Deus Ex and Thief fame and Dishonored Co-Creative Director Raf Colantonio, known for his work on Arx Fatalis. The game's blend of Victorian-styled steampunk and bizarre technology make for an interesting and fantastical world that's certainly not lacking in character, and is somewhat reminiscent of sequences we've seen in BioShock Infinite, which is no bad thing at all. There's even echoes of the Half-Life and Thief series' in the setting too, but Dishonored makes all of these aspects its own. In short, it looks great.
Ravaged by a plague carried by swarms of vermin, the world's population has been cut in half leading to a whole range of security measures created by the powers that be, meaning that getting around Dishonored's cobbled thoroughfares and alleyways isn't as straightforward as it could be. Thankfully, Corvo is pretty nimble, enabling him to climb buildings and use his range of abilities to effortlessly traverse the plague-ridden environments, where all manner of weird and wonderful things – normally involving lots of rats – can occur.
Starting out in a sewer tunnel in the 'Eminent Domain' – just one district in Dishonored's vast continental map - our demo opens with Corvo brandishing his trusty dagger, as an enormous tanker carrying what appears to be some kind of whale-shark hybrid glides through the harbour. Climbing the steps up from the water's edge to the street level, Corvo stumbles upon some swashbuckling pirate types enjoying a chat. Zooming in with his spyglass, using a tap of the right stick, Corvo decides to leave them alone, leaping a wall and evading them altogether.
Corvo's assassination target is Barrister Arnold Timsh, who resides much further into the small seaside town, at the top of a tower that's heavily guarded by his patrolling soldiers. Choking the first guard he encounters, Corvo proceeds to remove the battery from a crackling tesla gate known as a 'Wall of Light', blocking the way ahead. As he does so, a pack of rats scurries through the deactivated gate, before feeding on the remnants of a corpse on the other side. Picking up the subdued guard's pistol - which Corvo can dual wield with his blade – we see a woman being assaulted by a gang at the end of an alleyway.
Rushing to her aid, Corvo is able to unleash an adrenaline kill with a tap of the Y button, making short work of the morally bankrupt soldiers, with swift and brutal executions. Adrenaline is earned through performing assassinations and proves invaluable for carving through small groups of enemies. Saving the woman, she's understandably startled and runs for her life, only to be set upon by an army of rats, who bring her down and devour her in mere seconds. It seems that these aren't any old rats. They're aggressive, hostile and ravenous, but luckily Corvo seems to have an affinity with them, able to use them for his own ends.
Venturing onwards, Smith points out that there'll be side-quests to complete in Dishonored, and in this particular side-street alone, there's a man yelling from the balcony above who'll issue a side-objective and a body on the rooftops that'll set in motion another optional mystery to unravel. Forging ahead however, Corvo takes down another guard with a fatal assassination this time, which means the body will need to be hidden, lest the rats set upon the executed guard's still-warm flesh. Corvo slings the body over his shoulder and dumps it in the nearest trash bin, which also doubles as a hiding place from suspicious enemies.
Heading into another area divided by a short loading screen, Corvo finds a blueprint for the Walls of Light , lending him the knowledge he'll require to sabotage them and turn them to his advantage later on. There's a guard patrol up ahead, blocking the back entrance into a building adjacent to where Timsh's office can be found, so careful evasion is a sound tactic here. Waiting for the soldier to march down the street, all it takes is a quick dash through the door on the other side, which Corvo hastily closes behind him before drawing his crossbow. Taking a cautious approach up a winding staircase, Corvo ducks into a room strewn with wrapped up bodies and flies. Through the room, there's a ledge leading to the patrol encountered earlier, where Corvo can put his new-found knowledge of the Wall of Light to good use, inverting it by adjusting the control panel so that it zaps enemies, but let you pass through unscathed.
Jumping from on high, Corvo can perform aerial executions using that versatile blade of his, which becomes increasingly soaked in blood. With so many guards killed, the Chaos status surrounding you increases, meaning that guards may eventually get wind of what you're doing. Using one of his supernatural abilities, Corvo jumps and teleports to a rooftop and continues with the stealthy approach, possessing a rat and scarpering through a ventilation shaft into a kitchen on the ground floor of Timsh's tower.
With the tower infiltrated, Corvo leaves the rat's body and creeps up the spiral staircase beyond the kitchen, stopping to eavesdrop on a conversation before continuing his ascent. With one last guard standing between Corvo and his target, he plucks the key to the Legal Room from the soldier's belt, picks up a map and a rune, then spies on Timsh and his right hand men through the keyhole. It's time for an all-out assault...
Corvo tears the entrance door off its hinges with a Windblast spell accessed via the game's radial menu, bends time with another spell and then cuts the throats of the enemies stuck in suspended animation. Timsh has his weapon drawn ready to fire, but Corvo is too fast with another Windblast, sending the corrupt Barrister crashing through the glass doors behind him. This is the bit where it all kicks off, so Corvo bounds out of the window and back into the streets, sprinting back the way he came, shooting with his crossbow and decapitating enemies with a combination of his blade and the adrenaline button as he goes.
Every guard in the area now knows that Timsh has been murdered, as they assemble out in the middle of the streets waiting for Corvo to emerge again. He unleashes a swarm of rats at the group of enemies who thrash around trying to fight them off, giving Corvo the perfect chance to put a bullet into them or finish them off with his dagger. It's not over yet though, as Corvo finds himself back on the first street near the harbour, where the alarms and spotlights are active, and towering, spindly-legged bipedal walkers called 'Tall Boys' piloted by armoured soldiers have been deployed. Corvo goes for the soldiers with his crossbow, as the Tall Boys fire a few rockets his way. “You'll be able to possess and control the Tall Boys too,” Smith tells us when we talk to him after our presentation. A few bolts to the torsos for each of the Tall Boys causes them to topple over and Corvo is free to make a break for it and make good his escape, back into the dank sewer tunnel where he began.
Despite currently being at an Alpha stage in development, Dishonored is already looking like an accomplished FPS, with a variety of different elements like spells, gadgets and weapons at Corvo's disposal, enabling players to adopt the all-out action or pure stealth approach to missions. Between objectives, Corvo will be able to visit his hideout, which will act as the game's hub, where you'll be able to decide where to go next. It all looks in fine shape, and with the combined development pedigree of Smith and Colantonio on board, Dishonored should be one to watch next year.
Dishonored's distinctive style and choice-driven gameplay ought to make it an interesting prospect when it launches in 2012. We'll have a Dishonored video interview with Smith and Colantonio coming soon.