Gameological At E3This Could Be Good



You can inhabit the souls of vermin or take a more direct approach as the assassin in Dishonored.

By Gus Mastrapa • June 6, 2012

The preview events provided by most game studios offer only brief glimpses at very big games, so reporting on a preview requires a lot of guesswork and reading between the lines. For E3, we’re highlighting a few games in which we see some promise. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

Dishonored’s trailer does a great disservice. The clip, released prior to E3 2012, makes this moody stealth adventure feel like like a dreary re-hash of BioShock made colorful only by bloodletting. But take a moment to breathe, and Dishonored’s dark beauty and open approach becomes more evident—there’s a vibrancy here.

The game takes place in a dark, steampunk-flavored alternate reality where whales are trussed up on massive rigs and bled for fuel in a huge, public act of torture. The streets and alleys, built right upon the water, have one foot in fantasy and the other in old-world Europe, evoking the exaggerated architecture of City Of Lost Children. This mundane beauty is countered by your deeds as an assassin—a killer armed with knife, crossbow, and an arsenal of deadly gadgets. You could call such outfitting somewhat predictable. What game character isn’t a Swiss army knife of death? But I still found myself surprised and titillated by a few of the kills. There’s a mine that expands into a sphere of razor wire, like a Lucio Fulci murder in a can. And the city’s frolicking packs of rats can be ordered to gnaw a target to death.

But the game’s best selling point here at E3 2012 came during a live demonstration, when developers attacked an assassination attempt in two different ways. The first run went on tiptoes by projecting the player’s soul into a the body of a fish in the canal shallows, allowing a stealthy swim through the cracked grate of a private bathhouse. What followed was a systematic but silent dismantling of guards with sleeping darts and non-lethal sleeper holds. The targets of the mission weren’t treated so kindly. One was boiled to death in a steam room, and the other was shoved off a balcony.

Of course, Dishonored can also be played the way the trailer suggests, by killing everything that moves. This type of murder earns the most blood and attention. Thugs will crowd an unwary, violent player, hammering them with blows and gunshots from all angles. I died most often when I took the brute-force path, rather than biding my time to plan my kills. I charged headlong up a curving stair, grabbed a wine bottle and chucked it at the head of an innocent waitress. Before I knew it, I was ringed by armed men, my vision a red blur that deepened until I hit the floor. Serves me right.

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874 Responses to “Rats!”

  1. Boy, you haven’t helped my already probably over-hyped expectations for the game, if for nothing else than for the unique setting.  You can kill with rats, there are walking suits that look like a steampunk version of something encountered in Half-Life, and the ‘whales,’ if I haven’t misheard, have tentacles.   

    • Raging Bear says:

      I went from “never heard of it” to “pre-ordering the hell out of it” about two thirds of the way through.

    • Vervack says:

      The Half-Life comparison is on the money, since Dishonored‘s lead artist was Viktor Antonov, who made his name by basically building City 17 and the Combine in Half-Life 2.

      Some of his portfolio is at His work reminds me a bit of a heavy-industrial version of Schuiten and Peeters, come to think of it.

      And yes, the whales have tendrils, and their oil appears to be utilized in the creation of magical batteries that basically run civilization. There does seem to be a mildly Lovecraftian vibe to this world, with the alien whales, the rat plagues, and what appear to be cults and malignant demiurge figures.

    • caspiancomic says:

       So to boil it all down to a crude equation, it would roughly be Half-Life + Assassin’s Creed + Bioshock Infinite + HP Lovecraft + Willard + that episode of Doctor Who where Space England is lashed to the back of that space whale?

      …could be interesting.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         Game Informer ran a big cover story on it, and have a “hub” on their site, though I’m not sure if you need a subscription to see it. That’s a pretty good equation for the general vibe, though I’d maybe add a dash of China Mieville.

        • Chuck Spear says:

          Exactly. China Mieville was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the trailer. And now I’ve gone and got this twist on “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor” stuck in my head.

  2. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    And the trailer features a chorus of girls delivering a beloved sea-shanty as an ominous dirge. What’s not to love?!

    • caspiancomic says:

       Are those really the lyrics to that song? Man, that song’s got a real “ring-a-round-the-rosie is actually about the black plague” vibe to it.

      • Sarapen says:

        No, the game’s song is about whalers and I don’t remember any lyrics about rusty cleavers in the original. The original is still fairly harsh in its recommended disciplinary actions for drinking on the job, though: Tie him to the taffrail when she’s yardarm under, Give ‘im a taste of the bosun’s rope end, Put him in bed with the captain’s daughter (a.k.a a cat-o-nine-tails), etc.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          There’s “Shave his belly with a rusty razor”. A song like this has god knows how many iterations, but it’s not difficult to imagine that they wrote a more hardcore (in air-quotes) version for the trailer.

  3. CivilizationHasFailed says:

    There is just no way this game can be good. It has no focus or control. The breadth of abilities you have from teleporting, possessing animals and people, x-ray vision, freeze time, etc etc etc, the game will be overblown. The closest thing I can compare it to is Prototype which took every cool ability the designers could think up and shoved it into the game. “They’re all too cool, we can’t cut anything dammit!” the devs surely thought, despite the game being bloated with so many unnecessary abilities that you could never remember you even had. It was a fun rental, but there was no consideration or discipline to the design, it was just “FUCK IT: the game”. This game looks just like that.

    At least they know their market, gamers like COOL FUCKING SHIT and they jam-pack it to the seams and bam, instant franchise hit.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I dunno, as much as I hate hype and most modern AAA games and the glorification of violence etc etc, sometimes having a ton of powers or whatever is a lot of FUN. So long as they work properly and are interesting, I don’t see the harm. If you have access to every power at the same time I can imagine it getting boring, but if you have to pick a few to equip I can see myself tweaking it to get the best/most fun combos. 

      Color me interested.

      • Merve says:

        I can imagine this game having the same type of “Plasmid” system as BioShock, so a player might have access to all the powers, but can only equip a few at a time, like you suggested.

        I’m not totally sold on this game yet, if only because the stealth-action-gadget-melee hybrid reminds me of my least favourite parts of Arkham City, but I think they’ve picked a fascinating setting for the game. Quasi-fantasy European steampunk isn’t something you see everyday. In fact, I might pick this thing up for the setting alone.

        • CivilizationHasFailed says:

          I don’t think so because the demo showed a power wheel and there were like 20 options, seems like they are all accessible at once. 

        • Merve says:

          @CivilizationHasFailed:disqus: Maybe they just enabled all the powers in the demo to show them off. Or maybe they were showing off a section of the game towards the end when all the powers are unlocked. Or maybe you’re right and the player has way too many options. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not totally sold on this game yet. I’ll wait until I hear more about it before I pass judgment.

    • Chris Holly says:

      I get your trepidation, but I think to pre-emptively declare that it has no focus or control (or the opposite) is a rush to judgment until we’ve played it.

      I’m perfectly OK with being presented with too many options – I can discard the ones I don’t use or like. I would much rather the game err on the side of too much rather than too few.

      The danger is if the options aren’t balanced; then you get into the Prototype situation where it becomes ridiculous to use any power other than the “best” one. Hopefully the level/mission design in Dishonored will make most options viable. Given the Deus Ex pedigree of the design team, I’m confident it’ll turn out well.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I get what you’re saying, but it’s way too early for that talk. By and large, though, I actually agree with you. Giving a player too many options is usually a bad idea, or at the very least I don’t like games with too many options. I find that most of the time when I’m given 10 or 12 options for dealing with the average enemy, I usually find one thing that works and use that for the entire game. In Arkham City I would have never even learned about half of the stuff you can do with your gizmos if some of the challenge maps hadn’t outright told me to do them.

      I guess you could argue that the other options are for people with different play styles though. Take MGS, for example: in Snake Eater my friends absolutely never use the ability to interrogate a guard, which is a skill I use all the time. So if they had to design the game around their needs, they’d probably cut that feature, while I’d probably cut out like half of the weapons that they swear by.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

        I would be someone arguing that some games have an overwhelming number of options which still work well for the game.

        Even something with only fairly basic interaction, like an assortment of weapons, can be like that: in Half-Life 2, once I get the crossbow, I use it almost exclusively unless I run out of ammo. One of my friends, I remember, used the crowbar fully half the game, even when she had better weapons, because she thought it was funny to smash stuff with it.

        Having a bajillion options and only actually using a couple of them can make a game seem overstuffed, but if it’s a good game with decent replay value, it can also be fun to go back and try using options other than your “favorites.”

  4. Sarapen says:

    I’m intrigued by the setting but I’m not really a fan of the first person perspective in video games, Oblivion and Fallout 3 notwithstanding. I think I got that style of game out of my system back in the Doom days.

    • Merve says:

      Ever since the videos for this game began appearing, I’ve been thinking that this is a third-person game masquerading as a first-person game.

      • Sarapen says:

        That’s what I think about Deus Ex, actually. Well, from what I’ve seen of it, I’ve never actually played it.

        • Merve says:

          I feel that the first-person perspective fits the Deus Ex games. In the first two, it makes the gunplay feel tight, and in the third, it makes you feel like you’re really walking through the world.

          Dishonored, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t have firearms, so the first-person perspective doesn’t yield the advantage of tighter shooting. That being said, the first-person perspective lends itself better to the feeling of walking through the game’s world, and that might be what the devs are going for here. I’d have to get my hands on the game to judge.

  5. MattKodner says:

    As an animatronic rat, I heartily endorse Dishonored and all rat-related games of the future


    this game looks like it’s basically a cross between Bioshock and Half Life 2 

    • blue vodka lemonade says:

       That’s a box-quote right there.

      “Look! Our game is just like those two other things you like so much, nerds!”

  7. blue vodka lemonade says:

    It looks like this also has one of my least-favorite details from Bioshock/Bioshock Infinite: the almost-but-not-quite-realistically-drawn human characters.