Review

Dishonored

The Sound Of Silence

Dishonored makes you listen—and it listens back.

By Scott Jones • October 9, 2012

Radio host Joe Frank once did a live show on WBAI where he invited an actor friend to make a mock appearance on the radio as a mime. Frank asked the “mime” to perform a piece from his upcoming show. The result: 30 seconds of dead air. Irate listeners lit up the phone lines at the station to point out how idiotic it was to have a mime perform on the radio. People were not accustomed to hearing silence on the radio.

Silence also isn’t something you often expect to find in the noisy, fast-moving world of video games. Dishonored, which tells the story of an assassin-cum-bodyguard named Corvo, is loaded with moments of quiet. It’s a game that rewards players for being observant, for pausing and being mindful, and for doing something in a virtual world that people generally loathe in real life—waiting.

Dishonored

You’ll wait for a vicious-looking hound to pass. You’ll wait for a spotlight to ever so slowly turn the other way. You’ll wait for a guard to make his rounds, only to watch him finally stop and urinate behind a dumpster. (No guards in the history of video games urinate as much as the well-hydrated guards of Dishonored.) All of this waiting takes place across real minutes. None of it is compressed in the name of hustling things along, because Dishonored has no interest in hustling things along. It’s a slow-moving game that demands that players actually listen to the conversations of others, and to—how quaint—read virtual books, similar to the tracts you’d read in Fallout 3 or Skyrim. Indeed, the hyper-literate Corvo would likely get a star each day of the school year from any grammar school teacher on the planet.

Dishonored

Dishonored is set in the fictional city of Dunwall. With its crumbling parapets, quaint enjoy-a-pint inns, and abandoned dog fighting arenas, Dunwall feels like a Dickensian amusement park gone to seed. At the start of the game, Corvo is in the wrong place at the wrong time during a coup, and he’s framed for the murder of an empress. He’s locked up in a jail cell. Thanks to a loaf of bread with a key inside, he escapes and connects with a band of rebels who intend to return order to Dunwall. They aim to do this by dispatching Corvo on stealthy missions that are designed to subvert Dunwall’s new order.

In a typical mission, you infiltrate a structure, take out your target, and escape. Later missions offer multiple paths to your mark and are stuffed with human guards and mechanical steampunk interlopers like the fearsome Tallboys, which look like the lethal cousins of Renaissance Faire stilt-walkers. It’s during these more complicated, Tallboy-filled missions that the game’s pliable nature reveals itself.

Dishonored

Urinating guards can either be stabbed in the back or merely knocked unconscious, which is the kind of “kill or maim?” decision that has become commonplace in games. Dishonored offers more nuanced choices, though. You could scale that building’s facade, or you could crawl through the sewers underneath. A sneaky player may simply remove the tank of whale oil from a bothersome machine-gun turret. Yet if you have a taste for revenge, you can reprogram the turret, BioShock style, to target the patrolling guards below. Standing atop a newly conquered turret, after all the time you spent cowering from its gaze, is merely one of Dishonored’s many cathartic moments.

Corvo eventually gains several supernatural powers, including the ability to possess human beings (or rats), and the ability to stop time. One possible permutation of these powers: Fire your gun, stop time, possess a nearby guard and move him in front of the halted bullet, start time again, and let the bullet run its course. There’s never one way, or a single right way, to accomplish any objective. No matter what I do in Dishonored or how I do it, there’s always this nagging feeling that there’s a better way out there that I simply haven’t sussed out yet.

Dishonored

It’s those permutations, and those momentary choices—do you kill a guard, or simply knock him unconscious?—that articulate the story at the heart of Dishonored. Each mission is designed to be played repeatedly in a Groundhog Day kind of way, until you’re finally satisfied that all the right choices have been made, and that the story—Corvo’s story, your story—has been told in exactly the way you intended it to be told.

There is a sense that the game is watching you—just as you spend a lot of time waiting, Dishonored waits patiently to see which choices you’ll make. During a mission early in the game, Corvo sneaks into a brothel where he finds a sexually adventurous man blindfolded and strapped into an electroshock chair. The blindfolded man says, “Finally! I’ve been waiting 20 minutes. Your footsteps sound a little loud. Have you gained a little weight, honey?” Dishonored isn’t just a world that’s designed to be observed; it’s also sophisticated enough to observe the player in return.

Dishonored
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: M

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  • rvb1023

    icantwaiticantwaiticantwaiticantwaiticantwaiticantwaiticantwaiticantwait

    Unfortunately can’t pick it up until Sunday though. Really glad this has been getting positive feedback, was really looking forward to this one. In this day and age a new IP is usually cause for celebration so I’m glad this game can back up the excitement. That and I love stealth games.

  • HobbesMkii

    I can barely stomach stealth in Dues Ex, so I have a pretty strong feeling I’m going to have a rough time with this game, even if I’m very much drawn to the setting.

    What’s the writing like, by the by?

    • http://twitter.com/marlowespade Chris Holly

       The story’s not the thing here, but the world building is top notch. The written excerpts you discover, the odd snatches of dialogue overheard, heck even the posters adorning the city – those are all uniformly excellent.

      That said, the main plot is fairly predictable and the acting’s mediocre at best.

      Also, it’s perfectly acceptable to forego stealth and be a killing machine (though it kind of locks you into one of the two possible endings.)

      • HobbesMkii

        I’m about to rant at you, and before I start, I want you to know that I’m not actually ranting at you in particular (although it will seem that way) but against a trend I’ve noticed in general:

        It depresses me that you say “the story’s not the thing here.” Why the hell is the story not the thing here? Video games are a narrative art form, just like books or film or television. But it doesn’t matter if the narrative is good, so long as the world in which the narrative is okay?
        And don’t bother giving me the ol’ “well, story plays second fiddle to gameplay” argument. If a book’s poorly written and not fun to read, or if a movie or TV show is not fun to watch, then, regardless of the quality of the story, it’s not a good piece of art. If the story’s not good in a video game, why don’t we ever go, “Hey, this story is the worst ever!” Why does terrible plotting get a pass? It’s barely even mentioned in this review, save for that one background paragraph that makes no judgement on its quality. 

        In his review of the last Transformers movie for The NY Times, A. O. Scott noted that nothing he could write could dissuade people from watching it, and that the spectacle was fantastic as ever Michael Bay film is. But even he still took the time (even knowing no one who would go to that film was there for it) to bash away at the film’s narrative. Why doesn’t that happen in video game reviews? It’s like the whole games journalism beat has seen that developers aren’t trying too hard when it comes to story and so have just given up calling them on it.

        What really rubs me the wrong way is that, for video games, you have to either completely shit the bed (Kane and Lynch) or bowl people over (Portal) to even rate a mention of whether your narrative works. And even then, it’s only mentioned as icing on the cake like “the Portal gun is awesome, the dialog is funny, the puzzles are challenging but not too hard and, by the by, there’s this interesting story about Aperture Science’s history going on in the background as you play through, if that’s what you’re into.”

        As someone who spends his free time both crafting and consuming story, this trend drives me absolutely bonkers. Which is why I asked, “how’s the story?” I know it’s been said that no one buys a game for the story, but I do. I do. And so your report (plus the complete lack of mention of story in any review I’ve read so far) says that, for me, Dishonored is a bargain bin pick up at best.

        • Bad Horse

          The trick is, this just isn’t the kind of game that can support story as the main element. In my experience, action games have a real problem with this – they can either shove story down our throats cutscene-style for great lengths of time (MGS series), abandon any meaningful storytelling in service of relentless action (CoD), or try to strike a balance by littering the gameworld with story hints that don’t really add up to a strong, coherent narrative (BioShock). I like or love most of those games, with the exception of CoD, but not because the story is particularly great. I love them because of their pacing and the overall play experience. Gameplay and world are easy to make satisfying in this context, where story is harder.

          Now, a nice adventure game is pretty much designed to do exactly this, and Portal also does an excellent job despite not fitting comfortably into any genre.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/LGYJ4HXQQKQGQCD6L5I4PQZKJE Juan

           I agree for the most part with your argument, but comparing the importance of a video-game’s narrative to a movie’s or a book’s doesn’t really work.  Narrative isn’t as important in a videogame as it is in a movie or a book, and a videogame can be fun and also be an intelligently designed game without an interesting narrative.  Its great to have a good story and it definitely improves the experience, but it’s much more important to build an interesting world and fill it with choices for the player.

        • http://twitter.com/marlowespade Chris Holly

          Great points, and I actually agree with you. My phrasing could have been better – when I say “The story’s not the thing here” it certainly wasn’t meant to denigrate the importance of story in (some kinds of) games.

          I myself gravitate towards games with a solid story (or at least games that allow me the opportunity to create my own). This game has a passable story; not outright terrible, just not particularly unique or different enough to warrant more than a paragraph’s mention in any review.

          It’s there, driving the plot forward, but it’s not the raison d’etre as in games like Bioshock (which a lot of people seem to be comparing it to, for reasons that escape me).

          It’s more in the vein of Thief and Deus Ex, (though I’ll be thrice-damned before I hold any game in as high esteem as I hold those two).

          My comment was more intended to reflect the fact that the quality of writing is excellent, it’s just not where you might be looking for it – in this case, the “plot” – but rather in the ancillary details that surround the entire enterprise. (For the record, the recent remake of *record scratch* Syndicate was also surprisingly excellent in this regard.)

          I too buy games based on story and after reading your comment, I’d agree with your stance – wait on this one if the gameplay and the world-building isn’t enough for you.

        • GaryX

          @HobbesMkii:disqus  @twitter-189093521:disqus @Bad_Horse:disqus @yahoo-LGYJ4HXQQKQGQCD6L5I4PQZKJE:disqus I agree with you for the most part, but I’d like to offer something of a semi-rebuttal jumping off of a point you raise here though it’ll be reductionist to a degree: “ If a book’s poorly written and not fun to read, or if a movie or TV show is not fun to watch, then, regardless of the quality of the story, it’s not a good piece of art.”
          In the way that you break it down, we could begin to look at mediums such as literature, television, and film as containing stories and that each medium has its own intrinsic tools for communicating that story. In writing, it’s diction, syntax, and style. In film and television, it’s the acting, camerawork, and production. In videogames, it’s the artstyle, genre, and gameplay. Through these different means, different mediums are able to communicate different narratives, but there are also many works that do not necessarily allow a narrative to dictate them. There can be novels that are stylistic tour-de-forces yet have the most pointless plot, and films that are about inhabiting the images on the screen and not the narrative propping them up. In the way that there are books that want to be read for the sake of reading or movies that want to be watched for the sake of watching over the desire to be told a story, I think video games can absolutely exist without the most spectacular story because they, like other mediums, are capable of being so astounding in other aspects that the story becomes clearly a means to these other ends. James Joyce wasn’t necessarily the greatest storyteller, yet his prose leaps off the page and encourages one to read it anyways. 

          Video games can (and have) shown themselves capable of delivering entertaining–and occasionally good–stories, but they are capable of excelling at their own unique qualities, whether it be engrossing world-building or gameplay, that I think it’s slightly unfair to reduce a potentially good title like Dishonored to “a bargain bin at best.” At the same time, I don’t think this should be used as a crutch by game developers to completely shirk narrative, but they need to find organic ways in which to develop it rather than just stuffing it in conventional (and frankly dull) ways. In this way, I think Bad Horse is totally on point.

        • Lord Autumn-Bottom

          Videogames can be a narrative form, but it isn’t really in their nature to the same extent that it is in film, which in turn is not as bound to storytelling as novels are.  But in all three, there’s a certain balance between story and other stuff — eloquence, graphics, atmosphere, originality, acting, gameplay, and so on.  I think there are plenty of people who’d call, Independence Day a good movie, for example, even though its story is pretty hackneyed.

          I do wish story would get a little more attention from both developers and players, but it’s ultimately just one piece of a puzzle, and its failings can be mitigated by the other pieces (of which I think there are more in videogames than in any other medium).

        • BillyNerdass

           This may be (and probably is) reductionist, but for me this sort of thing frequently comes down to plot vs. story.

        • tedthefed

          Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?  Games can’t provide sufficient illusion of control for players AND craft a good story.

          Personally, if I could wave a magic wand, I’d make it so players had very little control over when and how the story moved forward.  I’d happily give up the illusion of control to just be told a good story with one ending… ONE…. that’s well-written.

        • http://twitter.com/pws4 pws

          Okay, my argument here is that video games are not a narrative art form, even though they can certainly contain a strong narrative.  If video games were a narrative art form, we’d have to say that Street Fighter II and Super Mario World were not good games, and that would simply not be true.  Or you know, Pac Man Champion Edition would need to be more like this:

          http://thenewgamer.com/content/files/images/madness_6.jpg

          Your argument is still valid, for games like Dishonored where we have an expectation of a strong story.  If only to say, “Despite appearances, this is not really a story game.”  At which point, waiting for the bargain bin or Bioshock Infinite is perfectly sensible for people who are mainly interested in story based games. (I like story based games too, but I also like racing games, for example.)

          However, I don’t require a story for San Francisco Rush beyond “Cars drive really quickly around the track.  One wins.  The end.”  I would be amused if there were a good narrative (Suda 51 made a notorious one for that one NES Fire Pro Wrestling game he did, for example) but I can’t really say it’s a bad racing game just because it doesn’t have one.

        • http://twitter.com/pws4 pws

          @tedthefed:disqus Ideally, video games are more like what Tolkien was trying to accomplish with The Lord of the Rings, rather than being like the actual novels.

          Tolkien wanted to create some fake languages.  He realized as a linguist that he’d have to have a decent backstory or the fake languages would be stupid.  So he came up with all that mythology that turned into the Lord of the Rings and the Simall… simul..  Similarion and so forth.

          http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/language.html

          This actually makes what Tolkien was doing closer to what a video game creator is doing than what most novelists were doing.  Tolkien wanted to create languages he found beautiful, but he needed a story behind them.  Video games with a strong story should seek to emulate this idea if not his content.  (Notice that Tolkien spawned about 100 million billion video games by now… this is not an accident.)

          In this case, the video games are like the languages that Tolkien created that required the Lord of the Rings to exist, rather than the Lord of the Rings itself.

        • GaryX

          @twitter-254382115:disqus Totally unrelated, but is your avatar from Paranoia Agent by chance?

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.klepadlo Chris Klepadlo

          I have only just started but I think the story is in an interesting spot, it is indeed far from magnificent or horrid. rather it is a victim of an experiment into what i want to call organic storytelling. lets face it the main story plays back seat in this game but the real story in this game is NOT  the main story is the story of the world. rather then present a collective narrative for all players to follow it creates an organic world where each player interprets the things around them differently. the story of the house littered with bodies, or the tower lying in ruin even the questionable stains have a tale just waiting to be imagined by the player. aside form this little things like books, notes, nursery rhymes and posters flesh out the world and tell a story separate form the one the player follows as corvo. in a sense you could compare it to what skyrim lacked, like skyrim dishonored holds many plot elements that are left and never dealt with again. however dishonored compensates by giving the elements a pretense in the world. the city is in decline people are turning to various things for comfort, how can you tell? well advertisements for place of burlesque can be seen with surprising frequency and there is no shortage of underground fight to take minds off the blood and rats above. in the midst of fear and despair many of the people turn to childhood rhymes and often you may overhear two people trading rhymes perhaps in a vain attempt to ease the every so subtle trembling slowly contaminating their body.

          I apologize for my horrendous structure and many errors but i have a class and am pressed for time.

    • KidvanDanzig

      Nothing special. Seems pretty straightforward so far.

  • caspiancomic

    Oh snap, a new game that I actually want to play! I’m not a hopelessly nostalgic curmudgeon after all! Mind you, I probably won’t be playing it for some time, what with classes and all. It’ll probably be a few weeks at least, but in all likelihood it won’t be until after Christmas. Agony!

    Anyway, what really hooked me on this game was seeing a pair of videos on Gametrailers that depicted two different ways to complete the same mission: a sneakthiefy stealthy way, and a kick-the-door-down-and-kill-everyone kind of way. This looks like it’ll be a great game for my pals and I to play together, since we’ve all got very different approaches to these sorts of games and it’s fun to observe the sorts of decisions someone else makes, and why. (See also: the MGS series)

    Particularly interesting about the walkthrough videos was that the developer narrating them was mentioning that several tricks he was using in the videos were actually not purposefully programmed into the game, but were developed on the fly by curious and experimental play testers. Some of the tricks they were pulling off (like, one imagines, Scott’s bullet/time stop/guard possess/time start combo) blew the developers away, since they had never thought of implementing the game’s tools in those ways. It also influenced the development cycle from that point on: when a play tester would attempt something weird that wouldn’t work, the developers would go back into the game to make sure that thing they were trying to do could be pulled off in a later build. I love games that really allow you to be creative like that, so I’ve got a feeling I’m really going to dig this game. Now, I’ve just got to wait to play it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      They really need to do more to play up the unique aspects of this game in ads and stuff. I mentioned this elsewhere, but I was surprised to see so much anticipation for this game around GS when, from all the ads I had seen, which focused on grit, desaturated color, a badass hooded protagonist, and a vague one-word title,  it looked like another bland also-ran actioner cribbing from the likes of Prototype or Ass Creed or Condemned.

      • Captain Internet

        It seems like a modern take on the Thief and System Shock games. Which is, of course, a good thing. 

        I also wonder why they produce those ads to give the impression that it’s Call of Duty : Victorian Warfare though. Possibly because it makes people more likely to buy it?

      • GaryX

        For me, the hype has solely come from the lead designers behind it (which I’ve discovered is the best way to go about tracking these things).

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

         I’ve been seeing ads for this game online for probably at least a month now, and I mostly didn’t care at all and ignored them for the very reasons you list. The ads seemed to focus on brutally killing targets, a drab, dark world, and not much else. I had it pegged as just another “brown and bloom” violent game.

        Then I found out the team consisted of veterans from games like Deus Ex and Bioshock. That’s when I put in my pre-order.

    • The_Misanthrope

       I feel your pain, @caspiancomic:disqus !  This game and X-Com are out this week, but I just won’t have time to really invest in them until after the school semester.

      Everything I’ve heard about this game seems right up my alley.  I complained about the narrow mission conditions in the GTA series really sapping some of that open-world flavor, but this seems like it is done just right.  This is how it should work–a world with many avenues of exploration instead of one scripted path, many unique tools to let you experiment your way to your goal–but so many modern games are afraid that if they don’t lead the player by the nose through every little bit of the game, they’ll get disenchanted.

      Of course, the only downside I have with most stealth games is the often dumb AI.  It is hard to get much satisfaction from outwitting them, since once the player has figured out their routines and response patterns, it is just a matter of gaming the system.  While it seems unreasonable to expect something resembling true, learning AI in a video game (or other applications, for that matter), I don’t think it would be too hard to maybe add a new type of AI to these types of games:  the detective AI.  Going from a reasonable deduction from whatever clues you left (because players are rarely cautious about these things), this AI type would gather evidence to figure out your preferred methods (to relay to the other AI so they can guard against this) and maybe even a likely area where you might be hiding (to dispatch a small team to search the area).  Granted, this would still be limited and, over time, players would learn how to game the detective, but at least it might subvert stealth gameplay for a bit.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    You’ll wait for a vicious-looking hound to pass. You’ll wait for a spotlight to ever so slowly turn the other way. You’ll wait for a guard to make his rounds, only to watch him finally stop and urinate behind a dumpster.

    Presumably while crouching.
     
    *Scott Jones wipes away tears of pure joy*

  • Dunwatt

    I guess I’ll go ahead and add this to my list of “Games I’ll Be Playing In Five Years Once I’m Finished Playing Games I’ve Wanted to Play For the Last Five Years.”

    • Electric Dragon

       I’ll be adding it to my list of “Games I’ll Be Playing Once I’ve Spent A Load Of Money Upgrading My Apparently Now Out-of-Date PC”. So far said list reads “XCOM, Dishono[u]red”

      • HobbesMkii

        Oh, you Limeys and your fancy use of the letter “u.” Honour, colour, harbour, labour.

        The ironic bit is that it was an Englishman whose dictionary caused the whole dropping in the first place. You’ve no one to blame but yourselves.

        • Ack_Ack

          You mean “oh, you English speaking non-Americans” – cuz, only America drops the “u”.

          And this game looks like the tits.

          -Ack Ack, unable to login to stupid comment system.

        • HobbesMkii

          @Ack_Ack:disqus  Only Americans don’t have time to waste inserting unnecessary vowels into words.

        • Fluka

          NO U

    • Cheese

      I’m struggling to put off buying it while I finish Borderlands 2 and Torchlight 2 (pumped about the Mechromancer DLC today, as a matter of fact).

      But this, XCOM, Assassin’s Creed III, and Persona 4 Golden are all on my Christmas wishlist. I’ll probably buy at least one of them between now and then, but I’m going to try to wait and see what I receive as a gift.

    • fieldafar

      Same here. Oh, to be time- and money-poor.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    Judging from what I’ve seen so far, I’m really digging Dishonored’s aesthetic, and I’m excited to play a game that isn’t an RPG, a simulator, or a first-person shooter.

    I am concerned about the PC version of the game, however. The system requirements are ridiculously high, and reportedly the game barely looks better on PC than on console. That indicates a poorly-optimized port to me; if they cut corners on optimizing the port, who knows where else they cut corners? Bethesda doesn’t exactly have a great reputation for putting out bug-free games. Maybe someone with more insight into the porting process could confirm or deny my instinct.

    In any case, I don’t really have a gaming budget at the moment, so I think I’ll wait until it goes on sale. But it does look like something I’ll definitely want to play at some point in the future.

    • Electric Dragon

      Of note on the aesthetic is that the art director is Viktor Antonov, the designer of City 17.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I’d actually read that the PC version looks drastically better than consoles. Ben Kuchera over at the penny-arcade report, said it felt like playing an oil painting come to life.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I’m just going by this video, which says that the PC version looks slightly better when maxed out and that there’s no improvement in the textures.

        Believe me – I’m not a “graphics whore” by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just slightly concerning that this is all you can get when the minimum system requirements are 4 GB of RAM and a Radeon HD 5850.

        The PC version appears to be a legit PC version, with hotkeys and good mouse controls. This isn’t a Saints Row 2 situation, that’s for sure. It just strikes me as poorly-optimized, that’s all.

  • Penis Van Lesbian

    Advice please.

    My son is desperate for this game. He’s 14. My general rule is to allow him to play mature games if they are straight-forward FPS where the only targets and options are to shoot other combatants. I don’t like him fucking with ordinary (albeit virtual) people. So, for example, GTA is out due to prostitute-mistreatment options and so on. Basically, I don’t like to give him too many opportunities for gratuitous violence… meanwhile his younger sister is busy drowning her sims or locking them in sealed rooms…

    Bad language is okay (you should hear his mother).

    Is this game ‘appropriate’? What can you and can’t you do to innocent bystanders?

    • The_Misanthrope

       Well, I can’t speak of the game, since I haven’t played it, but I do know that your son’s age is the prime territory in developmental psychology where the moral system really comes into play.  At his age, it is likely (though not necessarily) at the self-interested non-empathetic stage and will start to transition to a more nuanced empathetic system (with guilt and shame tossed in for good measure) as he gets around age 20 (though, again, mileage may vary).

      That said, I get the feeling if he really wants to play the game he will find some way to play it (likely at a friend’s house), so I would suggest the option of getting it and playing it with him.  This way you have a better chance to model appropriate responses and it’s a good way to share some quality time with him.

      Then again, this is just my opinion.  There are likely just as compelling counter-arguments:  the visceral aesthetics of onscreen violence making it hard to sell a moral message (in short, “there’s no such thing as an anti-war film”), the fact that I am merely a humble pre-teacher *and* not as parent so I’m qualified to dispense advice on child-rearing, etc.

      Though here’s some adorable evidence that there are a few moral lessons to be imaprted by video-games:
      http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/114317-Adorable-3-Year-Old-Experiences-Harsh-Justice-in-Skyrim

      • Penis Van Lesbian

        Cute… beyond that, I think I’m a hypocrite. I let him play mature games, but only those that, effectively, force him to play in the same way that I do. So, FPS are “okay” because killing enemy combatants is, strangely enough, what I do when I play.

        Hmm… as a related aside, my son is always rather stunned that I can never bring myself to do anything nasty in a game.

        Vaguely curious now – I wonder what percentage of gamers carry their normal morality into a game (well, up to a point), and what percentage don’t…

        • The_Misanthrope

          I try my best to get in the head and morality of whatever character I’m playing.  Though when I’m playing fill-in-the-blank characters, I do tend to lean Chaotic Good (in D&D terminology) or Renegade (in Mass Effect terms), which may not actually be how I act in real life, but it is how I think I should act in real life.

          Thinking about the stages of moral development has gotten me thinking that moral choice systems aren’t the best way to represent morality.  If you tie morality to a direct system of rewards and punishment, you’re back-sliding into a pre-empathetic morality.  In other words, you’re avoiding murdering innocents not because you have empathy and you can internalize the pain and loss of the victim’s loved ones as if it was a death in your own family, but because some bad shit will happen to you.  If you can exploit some loophole in the system (Fallout 3 is rife with these) that will let you do bad things and still suffer negligible effects, then screw morality and murder to your heart’s content!

        • Penis Van Lesbian

          My trouble with moral choice is that I feel duty-bound to trend towards lawful good.

          Can’t really comment regarding F3 – I tried it the other day. Guy in the bar wanted me to blow up the town, so I agreed and immediately went and told the sheriff, who went to the bar and was immediately shot by the guy. So far, so good, but everyone kept ignoring the dead sheriff lying on the floor (some glitch?). I took his badge, but I had no idea whether I was the new sheriff in town, or just robbing a corpse… Sort of lost interest from that point…

        • Fluka

          I seem to only be able to be an amoral bastard on the *second* playthrough of any game.  First time through?  I’ve tried to start games by being kind of a jerk/renegade/self-serving rogue, but by about two hours in I’m back to saving puppies.  Second playthrough?  I’m leaving that puppy behind to manually trigger the bomb.

        • bknowler

          Well, I find that no matter how hard I try, I can’t be a ‘bad guy’ in gaming. I don’t know if that’s some inherent trait in me or if its a result of my career (which is a police officer,) which sometimes makes me see ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in pretty black and white terms. In my world, real bad guys have tried to stab, shoot, and otherwise do harm to me…so I’m probably a bit biased. I often find myself justifying shooting ‘bad guys’ in gaming more easily than ‘good’ or ‘neutral’ characters.

          The Fallout series if the best example I can use – no matter how many times I play F3 or F:NV, I generally find myself making the same choices over and over: disarming the bomb in Megaton, siding with NCR against Caesar, and so on. I remember even setting out before deliberately saying to myself ‘It’s time to play a prick of a character’, but within the first couple hours I found myself picking the ‘good’ dialogue options and characteristics.

          Part of that too, I think, is the fact that the characters in these games (as well as Mass Effect, Oblivion, and their ilk) are actually developed and have dialogue, backstories, and reactions to you. As opposed, to, say, GTA3, where I have taken great delight in playing a criminal and blowing up faceless, nameless police officers and soldiers who were chasing me. It’s more ‘fun’ because you are just blowing up pixels. Which is different from shooting at point blank range a character who has talked to you, perhaps given you a mission or a reward, maybe even been an ally.

          A few years ago I read a fantastic article by a gaming writer who decided that he would kill every single person he came across in the Fallout world, regardless of alignment, affiliation, or usefulness. Within a few days he was depressed and disheartened at what he was doing but he felt the need to keep slogging. He took no pleasure out of any aspect of this play-through, just saw it as an experiment.

          http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/natural-born-killer-part-3

          Morality and gaming make for strange bedfellows….

        • HobbesMkii

          I always play my first playthrough behaving in the way I feel morally okay about, which is usually pretty solidly on the “good” side of things (although, I’ll occasionally sacrifice goodness in favor of a cash reward). After I’ve done that, I feel free to be a complete bastard in subsequent playthroughs.

        • raggedrichard

          I have a very specific in-game moral compass. I always play as a minority race/class, and then play as a radical nationalist. So in Skyrim I played as a dark elf. I was generally a good guy, but anyone who said something shitty about elves got killed on the spot. This made it easy to decide to fight for the empire, since the leader of the stormcloaks was a nord supremacist. Similarly, I always play as a Mage in games that have magic. There often tends to be a lot of anti-magic prejudice in these games, and, once again, I react very badly to hearing it expressed.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

          I spent a bit of time thinking about how to “fix” the whole morality-in-games issue and I kinda came to a not-quite-elegant solution. Although, I’m always curious to hear suggestions.

          The issue is thinking of morality as a black/white, metered thing that plays in the long term, something that you “gather” and something where the decisions you face are marked as X being good and Y being bad. But moral decisions are rarely like that. Sometime, you don’t know WHAT is good or bad, and sometimes, a poor decision has long term consequences that really affect the future. SOME DO, of course, but, some don’t. Many of them matter only in the heat of the moment.

          So the idea I had was a mix of Mass Effect, Deus Ex, and the rarely played Alpha Protocol (from what I read):

          Give each character their own, individual “moral” meter, that rises and falls based on that particular character’s personality. If a character is naturally angry, killing more people would actually RAISE his moral meter than lower it (until a story moment, perhaps, changes his worldview); if a character is naturally good, then avoiding death would raise it. This moral meter is constantly in flux based on the moment in the story and previous actions, and it affects your stats (speed, stamina, accuracy, etc.)

          For example, if a badguy kills Character A’s best friend, having Character A kill him in revenge would raise his morale, and having him leave him alive would lower it – significantly. It might make the next area HARDER if you do so. Likewise, if Character B and C sees A killing said badguy, it would actually lower their morale. It would make the whole game a constant balancing act of decisions that can make characters better or worse. It would be even more significant if, let’s say, you let that badguy live, and he ended up blowing up an office building or something. It would drain morale even more!

          Sounds complicated? That’s the point. Morale becomes very fickle yet very significant. Decisions matter more than ever. It SHOULD hurt, it SHOULD bother you that killing 10 guards let you being a better fighter for the upcoming area, at the expense of other people’s morale. It would force people to make hard decisions for the main thrust of the game – to survive.

          I wrote a (even longer!) significant view of my magical, theoretical game here, if you’re curious about the details: http://www.totalmediabridge.com/my-awesome-theoretical-game-idea/

    • http://twitter.com/TheJadedJames James Alexander

      At 14 I was already playing Hitman/Thief/Deus Ex/Splinter Cell … I obviously grew up to be a serial killer but your son could be different

    • KidvanDanzig

      There are bystanders in the game that you can kill. There aren’t any “gun suppression fields” or invincible NPCs, but if you shoot or stab a plot-critical NPC (assuming they’re not a target for assassination) the game ends and loads from the last save point.

    • Mookalakai

      When I was 14, I was playing GTA and all manner of violent games, but I’m in a weird position, where if I ever had kids I don’t know that I’d want them to just blindly shoot up every street in GTA. I think it really depends on the kid, and you probably know whether or not your son is actually mature enough to know that virtual murder is completely different from real world murder. If you’re confident in his maturity, he should be smart enough to partake in open world games with some degree of restraint.

      As for Dishonored, the game has plenty of opportunities for gratuitous violence, but only a small amount on innocent civilians, most of your kill-opportunities are on wandering guards, with the occasionally street beggar. The game is also weird, in that it kind of discourages you from killing at all, and at times makes you feel really bad about it. You can play the game without killing anyone, although it’s really hard (and lame, in my opinion). But if your chief concern is whether this game will give him the opportunity to kill innocent people at will, then you might want to buy it for him, or at least open up a dialogue with him about the game. I kind of wish my parents had actually talked to me about games at some point, instead of just buying them, and looking slightly disapprovingly when they saw what games I played.

    • Penis Van Lesbian

      Thanks for the comments. I’ve looked up a few game-play vids as well – it doesn’t look *too* bad. Probably a yes, but I’ll keep an eye on it. Part of the problem – or confusion – is how keen kids are to fuck around with things. Even the FPS, he gets up to weird stuff. He and a friend once spent a whole afternoon trying to sneak past the enemy by pretending they were house painters (squatting up and down in front of a wall and saying “wow, this house really needs painting.”). It was not a successful tactic.

      I like the comment in a link someone posted further up that the little girl liked skyrim, but mainly in order to jump in and out of streams.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    “Urinating guards can either be stabbed in the back or merely knocked unconscious”

    This seems like it could be a kind a false choice. Is there an actual difference in gameplay between the two, or are they functionally identical activities that just grant you different ‘karma points’ in some non-diegetic morality system? It would be interesting if the choice to knock someone out meant they might wake back up – or might not get knocked out at all and require you to fight, or something. If you really had to weigh the moral against the practical in your decisions and so on.

    • HobbesMkii

      Maybe the option to tuck them in and zip them up, so that they might still be left with a shred of human dignity, could be included as well.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        There are no zippers in this dystopian soot-punk world.  If you’re going to stuff their mushrooms back in their trousers, it’ll take valuable buttoning time that puts you at risk of discovery.
           It’s a bit of added depth in the morality system.

        • HobbesMkii

          I can see the little “You Died” screen now: 

          “You Died!  HINT: Respecting the sanctity of the corpses of human beings, even those of your enemies, will inevitably lead to your capture and execution, you pathetic emotional weakling.”

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I’m curious about this as well. In Metal Gear Solid, knocking a guard out meant he would wake up in a few minutes and sound the alarm if his buddies wake him up first.

      But from what I’ve read of this game, the killing over maiming affects a ‘violence begets violence’ system, wherein the more guards you kill, the more guards and walkers there will be in later levels as the game’s military ups their readiness for you. I think it’s to adapt to people who are going for the stabby-stabby route over the sneaky route.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

        But if they’re out for more than a few minutes then they’re at risk of suffering permanent brain damage. Best stab them all up, it’s kinder in the long run.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

          Well, fiction in general sure loves its “a bump on the head or a strong choke can render an adult human unconscious for numerous hours with no long term consequences” rule, and Dishonored will do nothing to change that. Knock a guy out and two hours later he’ll still be out but relatively unbraindead.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I’m guessing it’s like DX:HR, where knocked-out guards could be woken up by their fellow guards but would otherwise stay unconscious. Or maybe they just wake up after a while.

    • Effigy_Power

      Personally I find it not too important how the death/knockout mechanic works in game-technical terms. Both could disable a guard in the same manner for all I care.
      What I do find interesting is what decisions the player makes all ends being equal. Obviously the “people” in games aren’t real, but if a player switches from a noise-less knife to an equally noise-less club and knocks out the guard, thereby showing mercy that is both pointless and unrewarded, I think that makes for an interesting litmus test of subconscious morality.

      • HobbesMkii

        But, but…they oppose me. They should die.

        S-Shouldn’t they?

      • GaryX

        This is similar to what I like so much about The Walking Dead game in that most of the choices seem to be illusions in terms of plot. What the game is really about is defining the moral code and larger themes of the game through the choices you make.

    • KidvanDanzig

      There is a difference. The game has a “chaos rating” that goes up when you kill people. The higher your rating, the more and tougher resistance you’ll face later. NPC “barks” (overheard dialogue and loudspeaker announcements) will also change. It’s been said that there are actually two versions of every mission, one for high chaos playthroughs and one for low chaos playthroughs, but I’m not sure how accurate that is.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    I’m interesting in this game, but at the same time something makes me hesitant to jump right in and spend 60 bucks on it, it could be because I’m strapped for cash right now and there’s plenty of other games I could be playing instead that I already own, it could also be that I should save my money for November, but either way something tells me I should wait for a Steam sale 

    • HobbesMkii

      You mean like the one that’ll probably run for two weeks in December?

      • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

        Like the one last year that had LA Noire for half the price I’d paid in store for it mere days earlier?

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I’d say wait for a steam sale. I’m pretty sure they had Skyrim in last year’s Holiday Sale, and that was closer to it’s release than it will be for this, and both are published by Bethesda. 

      I’ll unfortunately have to wait until I can get a nicer computer. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/warren.mccabey Warren McCabey

    Bastion would have been so much better if Joe Frank narrated it

  • Fluka

    Thanks to work and a large backlog, there’s no way I’m getting to play this in the next month.  However, this looks like it will fulfill the same insatiable need for sneaking through dark spaces and silently taking out guards that Deus Ex: HR revealed that I apparently have.  (And apparently I should be playing the Thief games?)  And even beyond games, I effing love the kind of neo-Victorian / mildly steampunk aesthetic that this game this presenting.  Yaay, a different setting for a change!  And so I ended up buying it for full-on $60 on Steam, because damn it, I want this thing to be successful!

    I’d be curious as to how fun doing a non-lethal run is, as the game is supposed to be playable without killing a single person.  I definitely intend on ghosting the whole game and doing full constant-save-reloading letting-guards-kill-me-when-they-see-me stealth.  But the other fun challenge of DE:HR was trying to kill as few people as possible.  *However,* the lethal options in this game look…kind really cool?  Death by raaaaaat….  Gotta play through twice, I guess.

    • http://twitter.com/rocketlindy Emily Weiland

      If you like stealth and grimy medieval/Gothic/Dickensian/fantasy/steampunkish settings, Thief should be right up your alley. I’ve only played the third game, Deadly Shadows, but it’s pretty excellent.

      • Fluka

        Hmm, and apparently Eidos Montreal is working on a fourth Thief game as well.  Must needs get myself on this bandwagon!

        (I have no idea how Disqus works in conjunction with other non-Disqus accounts.  It seems to be dark, arcane magic.  I ended up having to just jettison my AVClub account after Disqus apparently consumed it whole into this avatar.)

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

       Considering how many ways there are to murder people in this game, I almost sort of feel left out, considering my ENTIRE repertoire for dealing with guards is to teleport behind them, choke them, carry them, and teleport away before another guard comes. No ammo needed, no health potions are consumed, and no mana needs to be recharged. So I’m running around, seeing all these weapons and potions that I will never use.

      However, my commitment to completely non-lethal playthroughs is stronger, just like in DX:HR where I had a whole arsenal of guns, which was ignored in favor of punching people. Except that time when Malik was under attack, and I went full-Rambo to save her.

    • bknowler

      My goodness, yes – play the Thief games immediately!

      The first one lags a bit in the middle and has sort of a mystical/magical storyline to it, but some of the individual missions are standouts.

      The second one is awesome start to finish, with more of a steampunk feel – robots that run on steam engines that you can extinguish with fire arrows, a fake eye your character has that doubles as a remote camera, all sorts of fun. There’s one mission where you rob a heavily defended bank that is a masterpiece.

      The third opens up the world for you – the first two were somewhat linear, but in the third you can explore the city, find side missions, fence stolen goods, and just generally hang out in the shadows and be invisible.

      You can pick them up for a song at gamestores, and I believe on GOG as well. They are well worth your cash – some of my fondest memories of gaming are to be found here!

  • Effigy_Power

    I am still playing AC:Revelations, I have AC3 coming up, a lot of drawing to do and just in general a lot of games half finished or not even touched. There is no way I am buying this at launch, also because for once I’d love to play a game after the bugfixes have been applied.
    That said it looks amazing and I am not known for keeping my promises to myself. Thought I would love to invest some money to upgrade my computer a little further before I delve into this.

  • Mookalakai

    So this game unlocked on Steam at 11 PM last night, and I played it until 4 in the morning. I only got through the end of the first real mission, I reloaded and died about 30 times, and I ended up killing 26 people in the Overseer’s level. So now I feel bad about how I played a video game, which makes me feel bad more generally for feeling bad about that, and it’s a terrible shame cycle.

  • Lord Autumn-Bottom

    Man, I was really disinterested in this game until I watched that “path to revenge” trailer on YouTube a few times, and now I really want it.  Not sure I’ll be buying it before the year is out (probably gonna save all my money for the Steam sale, ‘cuz that’s the way I am), but definitely sooner or later.

  • shewea
  • tedthefed

    I completely don’t care about being given different ways to complete the same task in a game.  I just DON’T.  CARE.  Everyone flips out about it, and I… man, I don’t know, there might be something wrong with me, or something.

    Most of it is that I just don’t trust that any actual game is going to be that good if it tries to do too much.  Design me ONE awesome way in, ONE awesome boss fight, ONE awesome experience.  I want my sneaky games to specialize in sneaking and my action games to specialize in action.  This “whoaaa you can do it so many different ways!” thing just sounds like something that came out of a focus group that wants Itchy and Scratchy to be both more and less realistic at the same time.

    I think game designers confuse where the agency should be.  I should have total agency over my character, but my character should have extremely limited agency over his or her world.  Games are about reacting-to, and they’re good that way.  It’s a step backwards to give me ten different ways of reacting-to in a failed attempt to convince me I’m actually acting-on.

  • Baramos x

    I really, really want this game. It looks like the true successor to Thief (sorry, Thief 4…I mean Thi4f) that we’ve been waiting for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

    Wow this game is good but short. Bit too easy on normal as well. Also, the no kill ‘Clean Hands’ achievement seems to not work, making my last couple of evenings redo games worthless. I built you computer, now acknowledge how good I am.