Dishonored Preview (Xbox360)

Bethesda are hoping for more than a sneaky sleeper hit with their upcoming first person stealth action game Dishonored.

Fortunately, developer Arkane Studios might just have the chops to make it stand out in a stealth and assassin saturated market. Joint lead producer on the project is Harvey Smith, one of the figureheads behind PC classic Deus Ex. Both himself and fellow producer Raphaël Colantonio (who is also the CEO and the creative director at Arkane) provided us with a hands-off look at the game during a recent press presentation.

The proceedings began with a screening of the recently released 'Debut' CG trailer. While there wasn't anything different or new in the trailer itself Smith did elaborate on what is already known about the game's premise. Set in a Steampunk-inspired world in the kingdom known as The Isles, you play as Corvo, a guard to the royal Empress who was framed for her assassination. His only wish is to take revenge on the one who framed him, the Lord Regent, who used the subsequent power vacuum to take control of the Empire.

Smith briefly talked for the first time about the Outsider, the shadowy figure seen talking to our hero at the beginning of the trailer. He grants Corvo supernatural powers, allowing him to escape imprisonment and to go after the Regent. Smith called him the “god and the devil rolled into one” and mentioned that he has had a hand in other historical events, lending power to those he deems important to history.

Next we were shown actual gameplay. Taking place in one of the more privileged areas of Dunwall, the Victorian-inspired city where the bulk of Dishonored is set, the player must enter the Golden Cat Bath House and assassinate two brothers.

To demonstrate how the game allows for multiple approaches we were shown the same mission twice. The first playthrough took a stealthy approach, with the player aiming to stay unseen and not make any unnecessary kills. Entering the stage discreetly through an alleyway, the player engaged in familiar stealth game mechanics in order to remain undetected such as choking foes into unconsciousness, hiding bodies and finding alternative unmonitored routes.

Our protagonist's supernatural powers came into play through possessing small creatures like rats and fish in order to gain access to areas that a human could not. Also shown was a short range teleportation ability called blink and an x-ray vision power that enabled the player see through walls, much like Detective Vision from Rocksteady's Batman games.

This playthrough concluded with the player killing his two targets in ways that made their deaths look like accidents, flooding one's room full of some sort of deadly steam and possessing the other then making him walk off a balcony.

We were then shown the same mission but played in a violent, no holds barred fashion. Approaching via the rooftops this time, the simple looking but highly visceral pistol and a sword combat was displayed, as were the grisly one-hit kill assassination moves that can be carried out on unsuspecting foes. The most prominent supernatural power shown was the ability to slow down time to both avoid incoming bullets and mark targets for your own firearm in a similar fashion to the Dead-Eye system from Red Dead Redemption. A horde of rampaging rats was also summoned to devour a group of enemy guards.

To finish up we were shown a different section of the game, set away from the rich areas of the city like the Cathouse. In the run-down open area the player fought two mechanised stilt troopers called Tall Boys. This seemed more like a boss encounter, with the player forced to use aggressive means to take these and the other on foot foes down. This part concluded with the player possessing one of the Tall Boys and using its height and ability to pass through a wall of electricity to exit the area.

The demo did a good job in outlining the different ways the game can be played but Smith and Colantonio were keen to emphasis even further the variety of options available to the player. They mentioned examples of emergent gameplay being discovered play testers that they hadn't accounted for, describing an elaborate case when a player attached an explosive mine to a rat, possessed the rat and took it into a room of enemies before detonating the mine.

There's no morality system so the game doesn't demand that you exclusively stick to either stealth or aggression. However, there will be what is called the chaos system that changes the way the game plays out depending on your actions, though Smith and Colantonio were hesitant to elaborate too much on the matter for fear of spoilers.

They also pointed out that this is not an open world game as some press outlets had misreported. While the missions themselves will be open-ended as outlined in the presentation, each will follow in a separate linear manner similar to the Hitman and Deux Ex games.

If Dishonored manages to echo even a fraction of the quality of these forebears (and early signs indicate that it will) it could end up being something rather special. Look out for it on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC sometime later this year.

Most anticipated feature: It'll be interesting to see how the story evolves given the straightforward sounding revenge plot but the sandbox approach to mission design is probably the most exciting aspect.