“Dishonored” review

Watch out for tallboys. They’ll spot you from a mile away.

 It’s raining. He’s been standing on the stone wall for at least three minutes watching the guard patrol, waiting for the right moment to teleport behind him, subdue him and hide the body.

He’ll have to be quick though, that gun tower is going to spot Corvo if he stays too long in the open. Thankfully, the bone charm will help him knock the guard out in half a second.

He’s stopped now. He’s…peeing. Ew.

Now’s Corvo’s chance. He Blinks behind him, wraps his arms around the man’s neck and knocks him out. Possessing one of the plague rats by the wall, Corvo sneaks into one of the drain grates and breaches the walls of the previously impenetrable stronghold.

Will he slaughter the men within using his sword and gun? Or will stealth rule with a crossbow and sleep darts?

That’s “Dishonored” in a nutshell. The game blends stealth, tactical combat and investigative puzzle solving in a delightfully sinful revenge story.

After playing the game at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo, I was a little worried because the demo was so overwhelming that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Thankfully, the game itself is so rewarding that I’m pleased to announce it is as good as it looks. But, it really is an acquired taste and requires a lot of patience.

The story of “Dishonored” sees Corvo, the bodyguard of the Empress and the character that players take control of, framed for a murder that he was powerless to stop, as well as the kidnapping of the Empress’s daughter, Lady Emily. Corvo must clear his name, find Emily and take his revenge on those who used him as their patsy. All the while, the kingdom is in turmoil due to a deadly plague that threatens to overtake the capital city.

Because there’s a lot of game here, I’ll focus more on gameplay because the story is actually pretty good and I’m afraid I might give away important plot points if I talk about it too much. Suffice it to say, though, that I will make some comments on certain gameplay elements that might tell you how certain missions could end, but I will try and be as vague as possible.

That is a creepy mask.

The trailers love to show all of the blood and gore that can cascade across your screen in a symphony of screams and chilling expressions from Corvo’s victims.

Using a duel wielding system, the game allows you to have a power or ranged weapon in Corvo’s off-hand, and his sword in the right.

Similar to “Assassin’s Creed,” the crossbow can be used for stealthy ranged kills, and his pistol for loud and satisfying blasts of death. Of course, the crossbow can be fitted with non-lethal darts which can incapacitate rather than kill if you’re encountering a lot of innocent bystanders who might give away your position. Or if you’re not into the whole, “slaughter everything that moves” mind-set.

His powers include teleportation, slowing down time and even possessing small animals and people like a ghost. I found that the most useful power allowed me to see through walls and locate living beings up to a certain distance as well as their lines of sight -a necessary power when playing the stealthy route. There’s also a uniquely satisfying power that summons swarms of ravenous rats which devour your foes in seconds. It’s also really gross to watch.

Bone charms, small collectible items found throughout the ruins and safes of “Dishonored,” grant small stat boosts. I find these extremely helpful and like to tweak the ones I have for my specific play style.

Of course, that means the other four dozen charms are utterly useless to me. Why would I want one that grants me mana if I drink from faucets when I have one that gives me increased mana regeneration when using potions? Well, I might run out of potions but that’s beside the point.

The Runes that Corvo finds scattered around the game world similarly allow him to level up his powers and make them more effective or powerful.

These runes and bone charms provide a basic leveling system without actually leveling up. What’s interesting is that, apparently, you can play the entire game without taking any more powers than the one you’re forced to have due to a plot device.

I think it’s interesting that the developers actually give you the option to make Corvo a mystical assassin or a man who relies on his own physical prowess. Not only that, but it appears you can go the entire game without killing a single person.

Um, OW!

How is this possible when you’re supposed to get revenge on those who wronged you? Well by finding the non-lethal solutions to every assassination, of course. These courses of action are longer and much more complicated than outright killing the target, but who wants to fight through hordes of guards or ruin a perfectly good masked ball when you can get some poetic justice instead?

The non-lethal methods really change the game from a tale of bloody revenge into “The Count of Monte Cristo” with magic and plague and less treasure chests full of gold.

You can upgrade Corvo’s arsenal and tools by spending the cash you find toward the technical genius of the awkwardly-perverted Piero. I call him perverted because I saw him peeking through a keyhole at a chick taking a bath. No joke, you can find him doing that.

While he might be weird and creepy, Piero can upgrade your boots to make them less noisy for sneaking, amplify the range of your weapons, and even up your carrying capacity of certain ammunition.

The real impressive stuff in “Dishonored” is the multitude of ways you can go about accomplishing your missions and reaching your objectives. Seriously, it’s mind boggling. I’d go halfway through a mission before I saw a place that a rat could fit through if I possessed it and would have made my whole journey that much easier if I just looked down.

During the mission I played at PAX, it took me a few minutes to get into the target’s greenhouse on his roof. When I played it at home, I teleported to the roof, then just bypassed the guards on the ground and inside the house and was in and out with the target in a manner of seconds. Seriously, I was astonished at how the game changed now that I knew what I was doing.

Graphically, the game is fun to look at. “Dishonored” looks like City 17 from “Half-Life 2” had a baby with Albion from “Fable 3.” Honestly, if anyone else can think of a better comparison than that, I demand to hear it.

Some of the textures leave a bit to be desired and you can often see the game trying to play catch-up while rendering, but nothing’s perfect.

The facial expressions on the people are actually pretty impressive, but I’ve seen better looking character models.

Honestly, the game is good looking, but that’s not the point. The game itself is more about the gameplay than how it looks.

I haven’t run into any bugs, no crashes or anything, but often times you’ll see someone’s sword go through a wall when they turn or an NPC not know how to walk around something rather than in to it. Again, nothing’s perfect.

This is just a really mean way to kill someone.

My biggest gripe with the game is one of the same ones that I had with “Deus Ex: Human Revolution.” I often get a little overwhelmed by the amount of choice you’ll have in regards to paths and stealth routes.

I sometimes spend an hour trying to do something a certain way, only to find on the way out that there was a freaking door just out of sight that would have taken me right where I wanted to go.

Also, the first-person perspective took some getting used to with all of the climbing and jumping. I often found myself trying to climb a ledge and be right under it and bump into it rather than climb it. Just a little frustrating.

Combat is simple for a first-person game with Bethesda’s focus on precision when it comes to melee weapons. People who aren’t familiar with “Fallout” or an “Elder Scrolls” title will struggle a little.

All-in-all, I give the game a 9 out of 10. It’s not perfect, but I really, really like it. I think I was expecting more exploration and a little more “umph.” It is also disappointingly short. I’m not sure if I expected such a long game because of what Bethesda produces so often, but about 9 missions is a little too few for my taste here. The game delivers well, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s gone the distance.