Gameplay in “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2,” the latest in the long running shooter series, is the same as in previous versions.
The storyline, too, has just as much military machismo as ever. Maybe more.Or least that’s my impression from the commercials.
But honestly, I don’t care at all for “modern military” shooters.
So this year my big-budget game for the holiday season is a weird thing called “Dishonored.”
The story is of an empress bodyguard named Corvo, who demonstrates within the game’s first 10 minutes that perhaps guarding isn’t really his strong suit when the empress is killed by magically empowered assassins before he can do anything to protect her. Worse, Corvo is blamed for murdering her and is imprisoned.
Before you can say “Magic Ninja,” Corvo escapes, hooks up with the rebellion and is given a suite of magical assassin powers of his own by an enigmatic supernatural figure. It was a busy day, as I’m sure you can imagine.
The game involves a series of missions in which you’re supposed to eliminate very bad people. Maybe it’s eliminating the corrupt leader of the church who’s abusing his power, or a pair of brothers who pose a problem for the resistance in the senate. Your job is to find and then remove them from the picture.
What makes this game stand out is the structure. A level in this game isn’t just a long hallway with guards in the way; it’s a big sprawling city block. The levels are huge, with a lot of room to maneuver around.
“Dishonored” is about movement and stealth. You want to get to your targets and do it without all the bad guys knowing you’re there. For one thing, you’ll probably lose if you’re outnumbered by guards. For another, you get a happier ending if you keep the overall body count low.
The magic power you’ll end up using the most is “blink.” It lets you teleport to a chosen spot instantly. You can also possess rats, see in the dark, even slow down time. While this sounds like it would make the game incredibly easy, the smart design provides a satisfying level of challenge while still letting you have loads of fun teleporting around and knocking out guards.
I honestly can’t think of another game where just MOVING was this much fun. You can sneak, slide, jump and teleport around incredibly varied environments.
But what makes “Dishonored” really stand out is its world. Exploring the city of Dunwall is half the game’s fun. Unlike most big-budget games, “Dishonored” is set in a dark, machine-powered pseudo-Victorian world. Mysterious magic, sinister plagues and bizarre machinery.
From the moment you fill a canister with “whale oil” to power a drill, you know the place is going to be a bit strange. The world is richly realized, with short books filled with details hinting at darker and weirder things going on behind the scenes. The architecture makes Dunwall feel like a real place, with a real history.
These aspects of the game are so good they overshadow the disappointingly predictable storyline. It almost feels like someone from higher up in the company told the developers to tone down the weird.
Still, when the worst part of a game is that everything else about it is better, that’s really not much of a complaint.
“Dishonored” is a game about stepping into another world for a few hours and feeling it. The visuals are great, but even more great is how moving through a place feels like a narrative in itself.
If you’re going to buy one first-person action game that came out in the past few months, this is without a doubt the best.
Developed by Arcane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks, “Dishonored” is available for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC and retails for about $60. I recommend the PC version if your computer has the power to play it.
Noah Hinz is an art and game design enthusiast living in Walla Walla. Contact him with questions, game suggestions, playing or anything else related to games at firstname.lastname@example.org .