17.5.13

Redbox Review - Dishonored PS3

Hello all. Strormer here with the Redbox Review for Dishonored. A little background on myself before I begin. I love stealth games. That is to say, I love having the option to stealth my way through an entire mission, either silently slaying all in my path or moving unnoticed through my foes without harming a one. I used to spend hours perfecting my runs through Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven (one of the most obnoxiously named games I've ever played) back in my old PS2 days. On occasion, I still dust off the old slim and play a couple of my favorite maps. Now, I've always known that the game had an impressive array of flaws, but the only one that always bothered me was that there was inevitably a fight or two in each level that forced you to come out of hiding, announce your presence, and then attempt to fight toe to toe when you had spent the entire rest of the mission leaping from shadow to shadow avoiding that exact situation. Often, the whole stepping out and announcing yourself part happened during a cutscene, leaving me with the strange feeling that the game was somehow attempting to apologize for all that stealth and put a nice Jet Li combat sequence in to let me know that the game was really all about the action. I hated this. I wanted a game where, if I so chose, I could go through the entire mission without ever being seen or confronting a soul. 

Now, other games have allowed me to use stealth in ways that old ninja-it-up could never have offered, and I have found that Bethesda has quite the soft spot for stealth-based characters. In fact, in Skyrim my stealth archer assassin was so stupidly invincible that I had to make a new character that was more vulnerable just to keep having fun. 

Bringing all this back around, I am pleased to say that Dishonored tickled that same old stealth bone that had gone unloved since the PS2. In fact, in many ways it's the exact game I've been waiting for. I always have the choice. If I want to make my way through the levels undetected, even by the “boss” at the end, that's my call. Moreover, the mechanic that allows me to render foes unconscious without killing them makes the overall effect of the stealth gameplay better. Of course, when I would mess up and get spotted, thus ruining my perfectly good score for that level, I found some truly sadistic pleasure in escaping, hiding, returning and knocking out the jackass that spotted me, just so I could carry his body away and toss it into a swarm of hungry rats. Now yes, this does point out one particularity of my experience with this game that will color this entire review. I replayed missions over and over until I managed to go through without killing a single foe or being seen even once. Needless to say, this took a bit of time, especially in the beginning, and I've only got the game for 24 hours during which I also have real-world responsibilities. Just keep that in mind as we move forward.

Now, aesthetically the game isn't what I would call gorgeous, or even moderately attractive. This game is a wallflower; not particularly attractive, but not hideous by any means. What this game does well, and very well at that, is keeping everything tied together nicely. Nothing in the levels felt out of place and everything fit so nicely with the mood that they were trying to set that I found myself enthralled in what amounts to just another in a long line of turn-of-the-century inspired steampunk distopias. This is nothing we haven't seen before, but I'd be hard pressed to say that it doesn't bring its own je ne sais quoi to the mixture. Leaving aside the seeming obsession the game has with whaling, the feel of the game almost makes me think that this world could be the distant, industrialized future of a world like that of The Elder Scrolls games. It's rich and brooding and feels like it's stepped out of a Doyle story with a ever so light sprinkling of Lovecraft. As a side note, it took me a bit to get accustomed to the menu and I can't say I'm a great fan of the control scheme, but all that is forgivable and, with a little practice, easily enough ignored. 

As for the story, the meat and potatoes of this gritty drama. Well, it's not awful. That said, it really wants to be awful. As far as I could get with my OCD-esque replaying of levels, nothing really jumped out at me that I haven't seen done before and in many cases better. There's just not much to say here. Without giving away any more than the trailer, a good man sees his liege and obvious love interest murdered before his eyes and her daughter kidnapped, then he is framed for the murder by some very generic and similar looking villains before he is led to escape by a group of rebels who want to overthrow the usurper and restore the kidnapped girl as rightful heir, and blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I know this story, it's old hat. Now, for the gameplay and a few genuinely entertaining characters, it's certainly no deal breaker, and I can always hold out hope for a less trite ending, but I honestly don't expect anything more. It's like a J.J. Abrams film. You go in, you get exactly what you're expecting with no real surprises or anything that rises above mediocrity, and then you go home, temporarily satiated, but not truly satisfied. The story is held together only by the detail to which the world has been crafted around it, making the exploration experience all the more satisfying, if still leaving you trying to remember why exactly you cared about the whole MUST HAVE REVENGE plot that attempts to be the driving theme of the game. 

Overall, I would recommend it, but I would say, if this is your kind of game, go ahead and buy it. It's enjoyable for the long-haul, and I see myself keeping this one around the same way I do Tenchu, never fully replaying the game, but occasionally going back and running a favorite mission or two and then putting the memories to rest. It's dark and brooding and it does stealth in a really great way, but if you're here for the deep storyline, you might keep looking. That said, for any who, like me, love their stealth games, buy this now! There is so little in the market today that really feeds that stealth niche and the developers should be rewarded for turning their sights to an audience that isn't interested in assault rifles and chest-high walls. As a quick rental, though, I think you'll find yourself either frustrated that you didn't get as far as you'd like, or be wholly disappointed with the whole experience because you don't have the time to truly invest in the experience. 

In either case, I hope the delay wasn't too terrible and I look forward to reviewing for you again soon. I'm considering Bioshock Infinite, but I feel that ground has been rather thoroughly trod, not that TR and Dishonored weren't, so if anyone has a suggestion that is currently living in a Redbox, I'd be happy to look it up and see if I can't seek it out. As always, please read, respond, and return.

Game well, my friends.
-Strormer

15.5.13

Re: The JC Penny's Effect

Hello all. Sorry for the long wait, but as usual real life has butted into my internet time. Today's post is actually a transcription of an e-mail sent to the folks down at Extra Credits in response to their most recent episode. Just felt like sharing. I'll have a new redbox review up soon for Dishonored. Until then, enjoy. I have always found something more rewarding about crafting gear than about collecting random loot. Still, I think a hybrid of this system might be the best possible option. I would propose keeping the component drop system, but add specific quests/marks that would result in special "legendary" items. In this way, you can continue building your own arsenal, but the idea that if I work hard enough I can acquire something so incredible, it doesn't happen every time I play. I say this because I've ended up playing tons of rpg's where I would collect a disgusting amount of loot that was either not of interest to me, or completely useless for my character. In times like this, I found that I wouldn't even look at most of the loot I gathered and would instead just sell off my lootsac and buy whatever I wanted. This is why I was so pleased when crafting systems started becoming more prevalent. By building my own gear, I felt like I'd put something personal into my creation. The only thing I would emphasize for a system centered around crafting is to make sure that the crafting options allow for a great deal of customization with each build. Take Skyrim as an example, yes not an mmo, but still valid. In Skyrim the crafting options were nice and fit well into the game, but in the end, I was only making the same stuff that I could find out in the world. Now, if I could've crafted (without modding) a suit of daedric armor that was tinted green rather than red, or a suit of mail with a unique surcoat over it, that would've made it feel so much more personal. This is important to players. It's why we spend so much time playing with the character creation screens of our favorite rpg's and get so upset when the dozens of sliders barely alter anything at all on screen, knowing full well that we'll most likely be covering up all of that work with the first helmet that we find. Taking the time to make the crafting system highly customization focused is perhaps the best way I know of to transform a system where the player thinks "all I got was this stupid ore" into one where she thinks "oh yeah, now I'm going to make that golden armor with the giant horns on it just like I pictured!" In either case, I haven't studied this position, but I am a gamer and an anthropologist so this is my somewhat informed opinion. YMMV. Thanks for the chance to add some input to your study, guys, and for always having a great insight for us every week. Game well, -Strormer