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In a world dominated by tightly scripted first-person shooters, rigidly focused platformers and set-piece sandbox games, boundaries are a frequent occurrence and annoyance for the modern gamer. Arkane Studios clearly agrees, and has created a game free of the traditional boundaries and gameplay hallmarks gamers have become accustomed to, one that delivers a refreshingly exhilarating experience with all the makings of an instant classic. I speak, of course, of Dishonored.
A difficult game to pigeonhole, Dishonored is in parts a stealth game, an action game, an open-world sandbox game and a platformer, with elements of first person shooter, swordplay, a little horror and some magic thrown in for good measure. It’s not, by any stretch, a particularly new experience – portions of its gameplay are mirrored in countless games across numerous genres, but what Dishonored does so well is to unite these disparate elements into one single, breathtakingly replayable experience. Think Skyrim, mixed with the original Thief games, a bit of Bioshock, and possibly a little Mirror’s Edge, and you have a vague idea of the deft way in which Dishonored blends its genres.
The game is a joy to play, with the two-handed combat and first-person perspective lending a visceral, powerful connection that gives the player incredible control over the type of gameplay they enjoy. Favor a quiet, stealthy approach? That’s fine, use Dishonored‘s rune-based magic system and ”blink” — that is, fast jump — around the scenery, moving between shadows. Sneak up behind an enemy, and subdue them with a simple sleeper hold, stashing the body out of sight, or drop onto them from above and slip a knife into their back.
Favor the guns blazing approach? You’ll find a whole lot more to enjoy. Wield your sword and gun and hack and shoot your way through enemies, throw grenades, place traps, use scenery to your advantage and employ powerful magic, such as summoning plagues of rats — Dishonored offers a startling amount of variety when it comes to assassinating your foes. Should you sneak through side alleys, sliding between shadows, taking out targets with stealth, or possess an enemy and turn foe against foe? Do you stop time, fill a room with traps, resume time and watch the ensuing chaos through the keyhole, or lob grenades at your enemies and blink up to a high ledge to enjoy the explosions? Every scene is bursting with variety and choice, and any scripted pieces feel naturally inserted into the action, never presenting themselves as a boundary to the player’s creativity.