The heritage behind Dishonored
Dishonored is a unique stroll through a steampunk universe, but it does draw inspiration from past masters…
Dishonored is a game that's wears its influences on its tattered Steampunk sleeve, following in the footsteps of some incredible games and series, while adding its own unique vision and style to the web of familiar mechanics it so expertly weaves. It's fitting that a game that creates such a robust universe should draw on nearly twenty years of gaming history, bringing with it a heritage of inspiration and influence that matches the grandeur and squalor of Dunwall, the city where the game takes place. Here are some of the games that Dishonored draws on, both in terms of its mechanics, and the novel and exciting atmosphere that permeates every pore of the game.
The Chaos Engine
The Bitmap Brother's top down run and gunner might seem like an odd influence for a AAA first person action game, but it's not the gameplay we're talking about here, it's the setting. The Chaos Engine draws heavily on The Difference Engine, a novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling that effectively created the Steampunk genre of fiction. Its tale of an alternate Victorian age run by steam-powered computers is one of the most striking visions of modern science fiction, and it still resonates today. The Chaos Engine was the first video game to draw on that imagined past, when the Victorian aesthetic was invaded by steam spewing contraptions analogous to our own. And you can see its influence throughout Dishonored, drawn more widely than 16-bit processors allowed in The Chaos Engine, but the grimy streets of Dunwall mimic the Victorian London handed down to us through films and books, with the added injection of robots, super powers and gadgets that feel both out of time and a perfect fit.
The original Deus Ex is still rightly hailed as a masterpiece, and one of the reasons for that is the way it lets you make your own way through its missions. If you want to be stealthy, getting up close and personal before you make your kills you can; maybe you'd prefer to kill from a distance, sniping your foes before swooping in to take down any stragglers you might have missed; or perhaps you prefer to run in with a rocket launcher and leave nothing behind but a pile of smouldering corpses. Deus Ex lets you play the way you want to play, with its augmentation system letting you build a character that suits you're favourite way to progress. Dishonored is very much in the same vein, presenting you with a target in a small sandbox of possible routes and obstacles, then letting you figure out how you're going to get rid of them. Of course, the world around you is decidedly different, but you can feel Deus Ex's influence with every stealthy move, or every headlong charge into danger. The RPG elements that thread through Deus Ex's cyberpunk heart, which let you add new abilities and strengths to your character, are present in Dishonored too. Deus Ex was and is a monumental achievement, so it's fair to say that any game mentioned in the same breath is going to be something a bit special.
One of the best examples of world building that this console generation has seen, the way that BioShock walks you through the crumbling halls of Rapture, weaving its physical setting into the narrative of the game is truly a sight to behold. And that's something Dishonored does with Dunwell, taking you to different and disparate parts of the city, each distinct from the last, each populated with sinister figures infected with some sort of plague. The persistent drip of sea water making its way through the cracks might have gone, but it's replaced with the chitter of plague carrying rats, who can also be used to your advantage if you've got the right skills. Setting is just as important in modern games as story, there are only so many times you can visit the same brown looking desert to kill non-descript enemies of the peace, and Dishonored has clearly learned that lesson from one of the finest teachers of them all. As well as that, Dishonored uses BioShock's familiar two handed combat mechanics, where one of your arms controls the supernatural powers you're wielding, leaving the other free to focus on more realistic forms of fire power and weaponry.
Dishonored is about making your way to a target, and making sure they're disposed of quickly and quietly. Sounds a lot like the premise behind Ubisoft's stealthy parkour stab 'em up Assassin's Creed. Of course, the two games approach their assassinations from completely different angles, and in completely different worlds, but meticulous planning, and making sure you stay one step ahead of the city guard, plays a huge part in both of the games. The way Assassin's Creed focuses you on one part of its world at once is present too, as Dishonored's story leads you through different sections of the city as you try and uncover what's been going on, and who you need to kill to set things right.
It's fair to say then that there are threads of this generation's best games running through Dishonored, as well as plenty of influences from games that have long since faded from the memory. We could mention The Elder Scrolls style first person melee combat, or talk about the visual style and atmosphere of the Thief series that Dishonored occasionally calls on to great effect.
More than that though, Dishonored blends together all of these inspirations and influences to build something entirely unique, a world unlike any other you've ever set foot in. For all of its heritage, this is a game that feels new and fresh, from the ever present decay of Dunwall, to the powers and attributes you learn as you sneak or smash your way through the game. Dishonored is more than an amalgam of its influences, it's a living, breathing creation in its own right, and one that in the future is going to be just as influential as the games that have inspired it.