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Dishonored: the return of true stealth

Dishonored goes back to a time where stealth games were awesome. VG247's Dave Cook looks at why sneaking brings out the best in us.

Picture this: you're playing as some cloaked hero, slinking across the slate rooftops of a heavily-guarded compound. It's raining heavily as you peer through the dark of night, down into a courtyard below.

You see them there, the guards going about their nightly patrols, completely unaware that you could have them killed at a moment's notice and no one would be any the wiser. Right now, you're a god. And it feels good.

Suddenly, you see a break in the chain of command, a momentary lapse in one of the guard's concentration, and like a rocket you're off. Darting across the slates, you leap down, landing softly on the soil without a sound.

The tension is reaching breaking point as you slowly walk on your haunches, inching closer to the guard, and you know that one wrong move or sound will cause him to turn, meaning detection, and, almost certainly, death.

But it's a flawlessly executed kill, a true piece of grizzly art as your knife slides across the guard's throat, spilling blood across the paved walkway of the courtyard. Like a flash you're gone, disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. And it feels really, really good.

Dishonored isn't just a good game, it's testament that new IP can still flourish in these cookie-cutter times. It's a triumph, pure and simple.

This is why stealth games are brilliant when done well, and Arkane Studio's Dishonored, releasing this week, captures this tension and a feeling of true empowerment brilliantly. It recalls classic games like Deus Ex, Thief and the Tenchu, and that's high praise indeed. Arkane's Harvey Smith - Deus Ex, System Shock - has his dabs all over it.

Stealth can be brilliant when it makes you feel powerful. You're Batman, essentially, emerging from the shadows to incapacitate enemies, create confusion among their ranks and to instil fear in the hearts of the wicked.

Deus Ex is a great comparison to Dishonored. The first time you play it, you feel weak and confused. It's not an easy game. The stealth mechanic is tough to master and the enemies aren't stupid. It treats you like an adult.

In Deus Ex your enemies can see you from miles away. If they do, it's open season on your foolish ass for letting yourself get caught. But once you retry many times, and finally complete levels with perfect stealth, the gratification is second to none.

This need for perfection and to complete stages without being detected, even once, is the key to a solid stealth game. I spent a stupid amount of hours on Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven trying to get Master Ninja rank on every stage, every difficulty and every guard layout.

I eventually did it - and probably should have done more with my time - but it felt brilliant. It makes you feel badass in the way gunning down hundreds of enemies with balletic flair and an ice-cool one liner cannot.

Perhaps it's because success in stealth games requires real discipline, patience and outright smarts to achieve. You need to be clever, act on the fly and know when not to proceed. It's about restraint, rather than offensive tactics.

You also have those amazingly chilling moments where you stop dead in your tracks because you think an enemy has spotted you – or is very close to seeing you.

It's tense as all hell, and the feeling that comes with averting chaos by hiding, or simply having the guard walk by and not seeing you is also powerful. Pacifism can be just as powerful as the blade.

Dishonored encompasses all of these things, as do all of the other games I've mentioned here. If it's so powerful, why aren't more games doing this? Hell, even Call of Duty 4's All Ghillied Up mission had some really tense stealth moments that stick in the mind.

Perhaps it's because the notion of the popcorn-blockbuster, bang-bang shoot 'em up spectacle is still what focus-tests highly these days, or maybe it's just an industry-wide thought process that will subside one day.

Let's not forget that the original Metal Gear Solid triggered a raft of stealth titles in Tenchu, Syphon Filter and Splinter Cell back in the day, so maybe we'll see Dishonored having a knock-on effect too.

If, like me, you enjoy stealth, that is a promising prospect indeed.

Oh, and buy Dishonored. It's the shit.

About the Author

Dave Cook avatar

Dave Cook


Living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Writing a game called Jettison and a book called Seventh Circle. Loves spicy food.

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