The folks at Arkane Studios have something special headed our way this October. Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio, Co-Creative Directors, gave us a behind-closed-doors look at their techno-noire stealth action title, Dishonored.
If you look at the track record for Arkane Studios, you’ll see some very unique titles – Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah, and collaboration on Bioshock 2. It is also clear that their passion is first person action titles that mix stealth with fantastic storytelling. With Dishonored, Arkane wanted to provide as much player creativity and choice in this world – you are the author of your own experience. Your character is a supernatural assassin named Corvo Atano who is falsely accused of killing the same Empress that you are charged with protecting, and now it is up to you to discover why the Lord Regent has framed him.
Dishonored takes place in the city of Dunwall – a steampunk city powered entirely by whale oil. In one scene, we see proof of this as we see a large whale suspended in the docks, likely being ‘mined’ for power. Artistically, the game looks like an noir oil painting in motion. Each mission in the game is handcrafted with a specific look and feel, but the whole package is very steampunk. (Whalepunk? Is that a thing now?) Gold sepia tones, foreboding government watchtowers, stone and steel buildings on the waterside – this title is sets a clear tone of oppression. When you hear that Victor Antonov (Art Director for Half Life 2) and Harvey Smith (worked on Deus Ex, System Shock, Ultima VIII) are leading this project, it honestly comes as no surprise with the atmosphere of this title.
Dishonored can be tackled in a multiple of ways: surgically, stealthily, or everywhere in between. To that end, our demonstration would be run twice – once as quietly as possible, and the other in a very loud way. Our objective sounds simple – infiltrate a whorehouse called “The Golden Cat” and kill the Pendleton brothers, two corrupt members of Parliament.
Corvo is a master swordsman, an excellent shot, and possesses some fantastic supernatural powers that give him quite an edge in combat and stealth. As our demonstration opens we see Corvo preparing to breach The Golden Cat, but he’ll have to reach it first. Quietly choking out a guard to secure his quiet ascent, Corvo uses a power called “blink” to leap forward and vertically without being seen. He then pulls out out a device called “The Heart” (probably because it’s a heart with a glass plug in the valve) that beats faster as he gets closer to a rune, the collectable that allows you to upgrade your skills. As we look over the building he intends to breach, we are informed that there are 8 ways to enter the building including the front door, the rooftop, and windows, but what happened next really surprised me.
Corvo’s powers are all unlocked for the purposes of the demo, but we use a low level skill called “Possession” that allows us to take control of creatures and at its highest levels human beings. Watching a young woman walk away from the nearby guards, isolating herself while she looked over the waterfront, I assumed that we’d be taking control of her. I was wrong. Walking closer to the water’s edge, we lock our eyes on a fish and take control of it. Swimming through a drainage tunnel to get into the building, we make our way through the underwater tunnel before shifting back to our normal form just inside the building. Using “Dark Vision” we are able to locate your enemies through the walls, seeing their vision paths and direction. Corvo won’t be able to use his powers indefinitely (he has what looked like roughly 20 in a wheel menu) so don’t think you’ll be using this vision mode all the time.
Dishonored isn’t all about the visual fidelity though – the folks at Arkane have worked very hard on 3D sound. This means that, as we stand near a door the sound is muffled realistically, and any noise you make would be similarly muffled for the AI. Peeking through the keyhole we see Prudence, the woman that runs the Golden Cat, and a guard. When they finish their conversation, we trail Prudence back to her room. As she busies herself with something, we sneak up behind her and are presented with three options – snap her neck, choke her to sleep, or pick her pocket. With the master key to the place in our hands, we ascend the stairs to where our first target resides. The locations of enemies, including story NPCs, are randomized, so we gleaned this information by overhearing a conversation between two women in the environment earlier.
As we home in on our first target, we run across a “Carmine Heirloom” worth 100 coins – a hint about the ability to buy new weapons and items, although that wasn’t shown in our demo. Two guards are bantering about The Golden Cat, talking about how one of the prostitutes really likes him. The other guard remarks that she really likes his wallet, but they eventually mentions that our target is in a steam room. Spotting our target with our spyglass, we see that our target has two guards. Bending time, we stick both of them with a crossbow before they can even react. Peeping through the door we find that our target is getting a hand massage. We do have the key to the room, but that’d be awful direct – we instead head to an adjacent room. In the room we find a steam pipe with a crank wheel. As we crank the wheel we let an abundance of steam into the room, boiling them to death. As Morgan Pendleton died we get a noire painting in the corner of our hud letting us know that our first target was down.
Carefully sneaking back upstairs, we carefully dodge the guards and make our way outside. Choking out another guard on a balcony (we carry him and hide his body) we inch along the building’s outside ledge, spotting Lord Curtis Pendleton – our second target. His whore asks, “Who do you want me to be today?” He responds in a rather dismissive tone. Using our highest level of possession, we do something surprising – we take control of the target himself. The girl is even more confused and distraught as we walk our target out to the balcony, release him (he begins retching on the ground) and then use a power to blow him off the balcony of the third floor to his death into the waters below. With our second target dead, the developers revealed something interesting – players who have recently tested the game have figured out a new and expeditious way to escape that they had not anticipated. Leaping off the balcony ourselves, we possess the woman that we saw by the water’s edge earlier, breaking a ‘fall’ that would have otherwise killed us. We calmly walk past the guard and end our mission.
As this mission is part of a much larger mission, we find ourselves starting at a different part of the mission – the roof. Using this different approach, we use blink and doublejump to move from rooftop to rooftop, sniping guards with our bow. As the guard’s head is snapped back, his helmet breaks the glass of the window behind him – a nice demonstration of the physics powering Dishonored. Blinking right next to another guard, we ruthlessly yank his head to the side, plunging our blade deep into his neck. Ascending from our perch, we air-assassinate another guard giving him similar treatment to the last. Blowing out a nearby candle, we storm into a room, slashing and using our pistol to execute everyone. Dismembering them, slowing time and stabbing them, and otherwise eviscerating all the guards, we block and counterattack their incoming strikes. Using the same push power that we did against Lord Curtis Pendleton, we simply blast him out of a nearby window this time – subtle it isn’t.
As we run roughshod over civilians and soldiers alike, ruthlessly executing everyone in our path, we are advised that the game tracks how many innocents we kill, giving you a darker ending based on the choices you’ve made. With a trail of bodies a mile long behind us, we grab the second Pendleton brother by the throat, choke him, and then stab him in his neck. Escaping, we leap back into the nearby atrium, then jump from the first floor balcony. Stopping time, we gun down four guards who come to the rescue, our arrows frozen in time until they are released to find purchase within the body of our enemies.
Before the close of our demo, we got to see a second area called “The Flooded District”. This part of the city is ruined by a broken dam, and everything is under a few inches of water. People that are infected by the plague are thrown down here by the city watch. To make sure they stay there, the city watch stations “Tall Boys” – soldiers on stilts with rocket launchers. These huge mechanical creatures patrol the area with their thin metal legs reminding me instantly of Half-Life 2’s Striders. As we attacked the ground troops, demonstrating the hand-to-hand real time blocking and countering combat system, we found ourselves being hit from all sides. Our demo was live, and the person controlling it accidentally provoked three of these Tall Boys and a ground troop. It wasn’t long before the deluge of rocket fire ended our character’s life, and our demonstration for the day. Such is the life of a live demonstration.
From what I saw at this demonstration, what we got to experience with our hands-on portion, and what we heard on our interview for the title, Dishonored looks like it’ll be not only an amazing action/stealth title, but something completely unique. Look for it on October 25th, 2012, and look for our continued coverage until that time.