Screen shot of "Arriving at the Golden Cat" from Dishonored. Photo from Bethesda Softworks.
UNDATED (USA TODAY) -- The state of retail video games in 2012 can be summed up in one word: sequels. Nearly every new title hitting store shelves this year has been another chapter in a long-running franchise, from Halo to Mass Effect.
So, when publisher Bethesda Softworks announced Dishonored, the original title from Arkane Studios, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Finally, video game players get to visit a brand new universe. Fortunately, Dishonored's creativity goes beyond just fresh faces to meet and environments to explore. It's a dark, gripping stealth adventure.
Dishonored tells the tale of Corvo, a bodyguard for the Empress of Dunwall. After the Empress is mysteriously killed and her daughter kidnapped, Corvo is accused of murder and imprisoned. With help from a group called the Loyalists, he escapes jail and finds a safe haven to plot his revenge against the Lord Regent, Dunwall's new ruler.
Dishonored is a first-person stealth action title, as Corvo revisits Dunwall to perform assassinations and other missions while avoiding city authorities. Dunwall is littered with guards and spotlights, forcing players to operate in the shadows as they attempt to unseat the Lord Regent from power.
Where Dishonored shines is in the myriad of paths and strategies players use to complete their objectives. Loyalists have provided Corvo with special gear, including swords and crossbows with standard bolts or sleep darts, as well as a mask that serves as both disguise and tool with zooming spyglass.
Corvo is also blessed with supernatural powers to provide an added edge in evading Dunwall forces. He can use Dark Vision to see through walls and follow guard patterns, Blink to teleport to higher vantage points, or even Possession to take over the body of a rat and scurry past unsuspecting enemies. Players collect Runes during each mission to unlock or augment their abilities.
Dunwall is a dark place, with areas of the city closed off to slow a spreading rat plague epidemic. Infected humans called weepers roam the street, ready to pounce on anything in sight. Along with contributing to the game's dreary atmosphere, this rat plague presents an important game dilemma: kill too many people, and watch the infestation spread. Players that want to leave Dunwall a better place when they complete their missions must curb the spread of the plague by killing as few people as possible.
However, developers smartly avoid penalizing players if they choose to generate a bit more chaos. Combining weapons and supernatural powers produces spectacular results. Is an enemy firing with a pistol? Stop time, possess their body, then move them right in front of their own bullet. See a pair of guards in front of a key building? Unleash a personal rat plague to quickly wipe them out, or simply toss a glass bottle to distract them while you slip inside unnoticed.
Players even have multiple ways to complete missions, most of which involve eliminating key targets. They can take a direct approach, using their blade or other weapon to perform the job, or they can use other methods to avoid getting their hands dirty.
That's the beauty of Dishonored. The paths players choose go beyond rooftops or sewers. They have full control over the impression they decide to leave in Dunwall. It's also an adventure that begs to be played several times, as players try to finish missions without taking a life or the tougher challenge of operating without being seen.
In an industry overwhelmingly dominated by sequels, Dishonored is a welcome addition to the fall lineup, representing one of the most unique experiences launched this year.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Rating: M for Mature
Release Date: Oct. 9
Score: 3.5 stars (out of 4)