This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dishonored 2.
So what happened to all that speckled guff about female characters in gaming? Seems like it wasn't that long ago that people kept going "More female protagonists! Female gamers need characters they can identify with and look up to! 'Cos it's not like themes of adversity and the human condition are fairly universal, no, I can only possibly relate to a character with whom I share some circumstantial physical characteristics, because I'm fucking psychotic." And then the developers said, "Well, okay then, and we'd better dress them up in outfits that show off those circumstantial physical characteristics as much as possible since they're apparently so important" and that if anything made things worse. But you know, I totally agree with this sentiment. After all, I have to have a whiteboard marker on hand when I play Tomb Raider so that I can draw a little moustache and beard on Lara Croft and start giving a shit about her problems, but unless you let the player pick their gender then you're going to have to alienate someone. We should thank Dishonored 2 then for doing just that and postponing the inevitable apocalyptic gender war for another week.
In Dishonored 2, you can choose the protagonist closest to yourself and avoid being alienated by the thought of having to lug a pair of unwanted ovaries / gormless gonads around. You can be Empress Emily Kaldwin, if you're a girl murderer, or you can be previous Dishonored protagonist Corvo Attano, if you're a boy murderer with absolutely zero sense of narrative structure. For you see, I went with Emily, despite my personal tit deficiency, because that was the better story. After having been a child and amazing human Maguffin in the first game who Corvo had to save and re-save over and over again like an expensive cheese that never gets fully eaten no matter how often we bring it out for guests, Emily is now Empress of Dunwall and ruling it about as well as could be expected from someone who was raised by an authority in throat stabbing and little else, that is to say, she's fully bent over shitting things right up the flagpole, so to speak. She's promptly overthrown in a coup orchestrated by a pair of Disney villains and must prove she has the will to fight for what was originally handed to her on a silver platter and rescue the man who once rescued her. Classic passing of the torch sort of sequel plot.
Meanwhile, play as Corvo and you get to go through basically the same motions as last time with a bloke with no need for character growth as long as he remembers which end of a knife goes into what squashy bits, so that in the end he can rescue Emily again and resume his position as Royal Arse Wiper General. Still, you might pick him if you want to take a nice hot soapy bath in Stephen Russell's Garrett voice again, which was to my mind a slightly manipulative bit of casting. "Aw, did the Thief reboot piss in your eyes, fans of the Thief series?" it seems to say. "Come over here and let us lick your face clean for a while." Obviously I will, Dishonored 2, but what else are you bringing to the table besides face licking and protagonist with optional number of testicles? "What do you mean, what else? You need more?"
Yes, besides the evil rats now having been replaced by evil wasps and moving from fantasy Steampunk London to fantasy steampunk Calais, there's probably a Brexit reference in here somewhere, Dishonored 2 is more of Dishonored 1, albeit a bit shorter and without that third act twist I could've seen coming from the International Space Station. More roof-hopping mission-based stealth fun and the tone of the ending depends on whether you solve your problems with artful character assassination or the boring old regular kind. '' Which is not to say there aren't a couple of gimmicks sprinkled hither and thither. In fact, I'm a little bit weirded out by the fact I have played two games in quick succession, this and Titanfall 2, both of which introduce out of nowhere a gadget that lets you switch between two different time periods which you can use for precisely one mission before it disappears down the game's butthole forever. I think you boys had better see me after class, someone has clearly been copying somebody's homework. It's funny how they both do it for only one mission, too. Normally an innovative mechanic like that would have a game entirely based around it first that earns some critical acclaim before bigger studios start ripping it off for one-mission gimmicks like a huge stupid jock trying to memorise one poem to impress the girl he likes but we appear to have entirely skipped that step. Nice to see that the march of progress has brought us new horizons in the field of uncreative hackery if nothing else.
Otherwise, if you played Dishonored 1 you should already know what to expect; stealth gameplay made fairly uniquely efficient by the addition of a short-range teleport power that can pull you out of sticky situations. Which is only fair because half the time it's the thing that put you in the sticky situation in the first place. I think I must have accidentally condemned the teleport power to twenty years in the Chateau D'If at some point because its revenge was elaborate and well-planned. "You can trust me! I will totally teleport you safely onto that fifth-floor window ledge across the street. A ha! Vengeance is mine! Have fun escaping those ninety-seven police officers with your shin bones sticking out of your armpits, motherfucker!" The stealth is rather unforgiving, get spotted by a police chihuahua and every fucko in a two block radius instantly knows your location and your least favorite place to be stabbed, and getting into combat with any number of fuckos greater than one is like being a hamster trying to navigate its way out of a powered waste disposal unit.
So I did the non-lethal playthrough first as Emily for the challenge and ending that actually feels like an ending rather than a finger-wagging chastisement to a bad dog who ate all the biscuits, and figured I'd then quickly do a murdery playthrough as Corvo for the fun and to see how things changed. Except two missions into that I stopped, because I wasn't having fun and I felt like I already knew what would change - largely bugger all except my NPC friends would say slightly disapproving things with the neutral expression and monotone voice with which they expressed their undying admiration last time around.
See, Dishonored 2 doesn't fix the major problem I had with Dishonored 1, which is that the dialogue is about as lively as that of the adults in the Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. The world building's fine, there's lengthy books on every shelf that the writers clearly put a lot of work into, but there's something so lifeless about most of the characters and their line deliveries, it's like the Borg put on a production of Hamlet. When the guards close in for combat their taunts and threats sound like they're your dentist examining your gum line, and I'm pretty sure every single one of them has the exact same voice, so when you've alerted a bunch and they're all closing in for the kill you get this very surreal experience where they're all drably taunting over each other, it's like hearing a snatch of the voice actor's internal monologue as someone offers him a second piece of cheesecake. Just kills my whole investment in the plot.
You can have all the passably entertaining gameplay in the world but I find it hard to give a shit when no-one around me seems to. Sort of the opposite of the problem I have with public bathrooms.
- By royal appointment: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The only game I ever truly related to was LocoRoco, because I, too, am yellowish, blob-like and have a good singing voice.
- There's a hole in my larynx, dear Liza, dear Liza