This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dishonored.
You know what I'm getting a bit sick of? Silent protagonists! I can see the point in a game like Call of Duty where at all times, there's at least two people shouting at you to stop lazing about and commit more war crimes so another voice would have only confused matters. But otherwise it just makes you look like an arsehole who climbs on other people's furniture, pockets the silverware and blankly stares at people when they ask you to stop. It's even weirder when the silent protagonist has a name and an existing reputation with other characters in the world because he must have spoken at some point to introduce himself, unless he constantly wears his name emblazoned on his chest.
But if that's the case, how do we even know that the main character in Half-Life is Gordon Freeman and not just someone borrowing Gordon Freeman's T-shirt? And how does this work when dialogue choices come up? Are we somehow transmitting the lines telepathically or putting on different T-shirts accordingly? Yes, I know it's supposed to help us project ourselves onto the protagonist, but I don't find myself terribly engaging as a character; I'm quite the bellend.
In Dishonored, you play as Corvo Something, silent protagonist by royal appointment who works as a bodyguard for the Empress and her daughter, and one has to wonder how he got the job when the Empress is stabbed five minutes in. And what an inconvenience that silent protagonism turns out to be over the course of the intro when Corvo could have been saying things like "No I didn't stab the Empress" instead of becoming a fugitive, or later on when his erstwhile allies are saying, "Hey Corvo, we're sending you straight out on another suicide mission, say nothing if you're cool with that!"
Dishonored is a rather grim, stealthy assasination game set in what Victoria London might have looked like if it had been invaded by a zombie apocalypse on one front and the Combine on the other, a spiritual descendent to games like BioShock, Deus Ex and above all Thief, a game that you'll note could easily have had a silent protagonist but which gained endless personality by having the main character occasionally turn to the audience and complain about being surrounded by more pricks than the receptionist at the hedgehog nymphomania clinic.
Personality is the word of the day because I like stealth and I like the stealth in this, but like a dolphin on strike, the game just wasn't clicking for me and eventually I realized that was because it was entirely populated by herring-powered androids with faulty tubes in their emotion cores. <robotic monotone>"Hello, Corvo, you stabbed a bloke very efficiently, now you must go and stab another one, beep boop, lovely oil for my hinges please." </robotic monotone> Having to go back to the loyalist HQ between every mission and muddle around getting beep-booped at by cardboard flap sandwiches kills the game's pacing for me, but even in the missions, the baddies were all going "We are very evil guards, beep boop, sanctity of human life, ha ha humour deployed, beep boop, I hope no-one interfaces a dagger with my neck-mounted USB port."
It's a game in which dialogue is treated as a perfectly straight street path connecting one stabaganza to the next rather than an opportunity for characterization or levity. For a game that puts a lot of effort into world building where the characters have great visual personality and ressemble political cartoons of someone the cartoonist didn't like, it strikes me as a bit of a waste, like hiring Patrick Stewart to read the minutes of last week's PTA meeting.
But as I said, I like the stealth and that shit's a core mechanic. Dish-Honour-Red might still get a nice comfortable thumb shoved right up into the end of this. It does play quite a bit like Thief, even disregarding the suspiciously similar Victorian industrial electropunk fantasy setting that also cribs slightly off BioShock presumably as some kind of legal defense. You explore big open-ended levels trying to scuttle about unnoticed, picking up other people's pocket change and sometimes their entire pockets. Ideally you knock out guards from behind but if you fuck up, it's just a case of Errol Flynn-ing your way to a nearby hiding place until everyone concludes that the desperate murderous renegade with nothing to lose has lost interest and gone home to rethink his life.
Dish-On-A-Red's addition of a short range blink teleport adds a lot to the formula. It means the action can keep a nice fast skillful pace where Thief can be a bit slow and methodical with lots of creeping up on patroling guards at only slightly faster than their walking pace like a surprise hate-conga. Things get a bit easy towards the end when you spend enough skill points to teleport across chasms and see through walls, but what's a stealth game supposed to do, not have token RPG elements? Don't answer that.
But I must say that I left Soap-On-A-Rope disappointed. Not angry, disappointed, like if someone I respected forgot which part of the body piss comes out of, mainly because it has a fucking moral choice aspect! "Ooh we do not," the game will sputter. "You wanna cuddle the guards to sleep? You wanna slight throats like your wife left you for a jugular vein? We won't judge you." Except you do, don't ya, 'cause there's a good ending or a bad ending.
And when I realized that because a loading screen told me so, I immediately thought "Right, I'm shooting for the good ending then" and rigidly stuck to non-lethal methods for that reason alone and not because of what I wanted to do or what made sense to do or what the little man who sits next my ear told me to do late at night, and then every time I was spotted, I'd sigh and lower my sword like Ben Kenobi's fucking death scene rather than try to organically escape the situation 'cause I was afraid of jeopardizing all that effort. And then the ending was disappointing because the story having to keep both the nice Corvo and the naughty Corvo plates spinning results only in one big ol' bland Corvo, because this is what binary moral choice always does and developers should fucking pack it in.
But then I played the first mission again, slitting everything even remotely neck-shaped and the catharsis made that a barrel of slightly gurgly laughs. So I recommend playing two simultaneous games, so you can do each missions once as Pope Beneficent the First and then again as Slitpipes McGee. This will have the added bonus of giving the game a decent length 'cause otherwise it's a wee bit stumpy. Nine missions in all and small buildings at that, compared to some of the levels in say, Thief II. If Thief II had an erection and turned around too fast, it would knock out everyone in the bloody room and we've been stepping backwards since then.
After all that, I'm not sure I would recommend Cat-On-A-Hot-Tin-Roof. It's fun at the very core but otherwise kind of creaky. Every time it seems to be building a decent speed, it has to stop for a rest and cough something up. It's like someone took a box of Ferrero Rochers and randomly distributed them throughout a spherical mass of damp toilet paper; not a painful experience but it just makes more sense to get Ferrero Rochers from a different sweet shop.
Never had much of it to begin with: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Maybe before you refer to neck stabbing through the whole video you should check whether your characters actually have necks first
Why are you all so bad at spelling 'honour'
Extra: Jam and Mogworld Audiobook
My second novel, Jam, is now out! You can order it now from your prefered literature distribution facility and while you're waiting, why not download the audiobook version of Mogworld from iTunes or audible. Now you can listen to me talk for thirteen hours without the expense of getting me coked up!