Evil Twin: Hitman Absolution/Dishonored
January 21, 2013 Leave a comment
Two brothers, separated at birth. [this is not a fanfic]
Dishonored and Hitman: Absolution are both games in the stealth-assassination genre, but they go about it in different ways.
Let me tell you a story of twin brothers.
Game Mechanics – Stealth
You have multiple ways to be stealthy, being unseen is but one weapon in your arsenal. Disguising yourself and seamlessly blending with your environment is often more satisfying than crawling through ducts and “pacifying” your opponents. Hitman reminds you of this by deducting score whenever you kill or knock someone out.
Hitman wants you to be a ghost, always visible but never recognizable. The game wants you to play a master assassin of a different kind, one that uses subterfuge not acrobatics and avoidance.
To aid you in this, the player gets a cheat, he can use “Instinct” to see people through walls and blend with enemies to reduce suspicion. As long as you are holding down the Instinct button, you are, effectively, invisible.
Instinct is a resource to be managed, however other, less stealthy moves, like killing, will restore parts of your instinct meter making Hitman: Absolution a drive-by-assassination simulator.
You blend in the crowd, approach your target, kill it, and blend back into the gray mass of copy-pasta NPCs.
The safest place in Hitman: Absolution. A crowd.
Dishonored is a different beast, here stealth is achieved by movement, visibility and careful planning.
Line of sight, sound and lighting conditions all determine how well you are visible while the teleport (blink) spell lets you traverse large distances without being seen.
Dishonored’s mechanics encourage more methodical play. Kills are severely punished with the “chaos system” where too many kills will make future levels harder to complete and possibly produce the “bad ending”.
Dishonored wants you to play a shadow, nobody is supposed to even so much as catch a glimpse of you as this might result in combat, and casualties are unwelcome.
Hitman: Absolution relies more on an reactionary approach to stealth.
You blend when you are detected, you move from disguise to disguise when your first one was blown. Hitman is flexible, it will throw you the tools, scatter some more in the level and expect you to create a path that suits you, as the player.
Dishonored plays a more conservative game, it wants you to observe first, think and then execute a perfect string of events that will lead to your target. It has a more linear flow and less branching opportunities once you have locked into a path. This doesn’t mean there is only -one- right way to do things, but rather that certain approaches will require you to execute one solution once you decided to play the stealth game.
Patrol paths of enemies in dishonored are meticulously timed and will only open an opening once, and the player is supposed to spot this opening and move (on foot or by the use of blink). Hitman always has the free-out-of-jail card of Instinct that will always -create- openings even if there are no other distractions available. This of course has the down-side that some challenges become ridiculously easy as long as you are full on instinct.
Dishonored sports the more conservative mechanics while Hitman relies of flexibility, even if that means making some areas ridiculously easy and broken. Hitman is not afraid of giving all control to the player.
Game Mechanics – Combat
Hitman sports a wide variety of disposing your foes when push comes to shove.
From quick-time based melee mechanics, over your standard 3rd person cover-based shooting to Red Dead Redemption style DeadEye executions.
The combat in Hitman flows, and while not encouraged, it adds a layer of interesting options if you really have to go at it for one reason or another. The third person perspective offers a cinematic view of the surroundings and sometimes, rarely, things happen that could have been scripted, but in reality aren’t.
Hitman makes you feel like the titular badass assassin legend, Agent 47 without becoming too ridiculous.
See Agent 47 is on the run, he sold his signature weapons, the silenced Silverballers, and starts every mission without guns or ammunition. Of course later on you get those weapons back, but by that time you are roughly 2/3rds through the game. Up until then, only non-silenced weapons are available, scavenged from enemies, and environmental melee weapons (bricks, bottles, wrenches, etc). You have to improvise your combat, be flexible.
Dishonored’s mechanics are again more conservative.
The combat itself is rather basic. You have two ranged weapons, a crossbow and a single-shot pistol, as well as your sword.
Melee combat is attack and parry. Parrying at the right time will trigger a brief opening for a riposte and an instant kill. Ranged combat is point and click with a slim variety of specialized ammo like tranquilizer bolts.
Other supplementary weapons are focused on traps and their creative application like putting explosive traps on rats and making guards step on them, etc. Dishonored is about control here, about planning and execution. Even a completely combat-focused run will rely on smart trap placement as ammunition is hard to come by and melee targets can only be engaged one at a time.
Combat in Hitman is satisfying and enjoyable. It’s of course not a hyper-stylized shooter or Ninja Gaiden, but when it comes to combat, you feel ridiculously badass. Every mission can be completed by barging in the front door with a stolen shotgun and it feels satisfying. In comparison Dishonored’s combat is tedious and restrictive. I would not -want- to fight all those enemies, even if I didn’t care about the consequences of “high chaos”.
Hitman has just the more satisfying combat compared to Dishonored and the combat is never tied to any strings beyond your immediate consequences. There is no looming threat of crossing the “high chaos” rating and getting a bad ending or screwing yourself over in the next level.
Game Mechanics – Assassinations
Hitman features many ways to dispose of targets, some are more scripted and some just involve you, a garrote and the throat of your victim, but the variety is appreciated. Environmental or “creative” assassinations, like wiring a generator to a fence and letting the victim pee on it, are fun but never the only option.
Dishonored features multiple ways to take out your opponents with scripted events, help or straight up murder.
It also features the non-lethal way, this usually involves doing something for someone else or giving something to someone in a side-quest.
Yes, Corvo is painted far more sympathetically as the “good guy” in Dishonored, but he still has a questionable morality. If he takes a life, or not, is not an indicator for this.
The game can be completed as a “pacifist” (there is even an achievement) but Corvo isn’t a “good guy” in any of these scenarios. The Pendeltons will be enslaved and mutilated by Slackjaw for the “non-lethal” option and Lady Boyle will be abducted and possibly raped by a stranger, just as an example.
Non-lethal, doesn’t mean “good”.
Hitman just features more fitting and flowing combat to a game about assassinations. Especially, Corvo, being a supernatural assassin with magical powers, seems to have little utility to really go crazy with his abilities.
Dishonored actively discourages killing, I understand this is a statement by design, but it simply doesn’t make much sense in universe and looking at the actions of the protagonist. Not only that, but it actually makes the game seem to force this choice on the player, not let it be a choice freely taken. If morality is a big deal in the game, then it should reflect that in the actions of the player of his own volition, not because the combat mechanics were boring or he didn’t find enough bullets to shoot people with.
Hitman on the other side embraces this side of Agent 47. It, again, is not afraid of giving the player control.
Acid, poison, fire, black magic. Sometimes a regular old sword sword is fine too.
Game Mechanics – Consequences
Hitmans consequences are localized to the players current location. If an enemy finds a body, they will start searching for you and grow suspicious quicker, if you fail to blend, the enemies are alerted and a shootout might start unless you dispose of the suspicious person in a quiet spot.
Longer lasting consequences are only reflected in your score for the current mission. Should you do “unstealthy” things, like killing, you will get score deduced from the action. However Hitman almost always gives you score, unless the kill is particularly shoddy, so racking up a good score is not impossible even with some thrown in kills.
In Dishonored the consequences are more severe, the “chaos rating” makes sure of that.
For every mission you get a rating assigned how much “chaos” you caused. This includes kills, found bodies, kills by rigged devices and other things like failing to help civilians. The chaos rating tracks all those actions, in secret, and then presents you with either high or low chaos ratings at the end of a mission. Should you have high chaos, your next mission will be harder (more patrols, more weepers, etc.) and you add to your global chaos rating that will decide the outcome of the game.
Hitman uses both a positive and negative feedback system to reward players.
Killing things isn’t good, but its not entirely bad either. You get score for Clean Kills, and even though then you get score deduced for a Non-target Kill, it doesn’t feel so bad, as the slap on the wrist is almost unnoticeable. Also who cares about score anyways, right?
Dishonored is entirely about negative feedback. There is rarely a situation where the game rewards you for anything, bar maybe with collectibles or (abundant) skill-runes and bone-charms. It seems that at every corner failure is reinforced more than the reward and that makes sometimes for a dull experience.
Adding to that the dubious “chaos rating” system that entirely rules over the narrative, it becomes a game about “what not to do”.
Hitman is a gorgeous looking game on PC. It’s not just the fidelity of the technicals but rather the atmosphere the game builds in both its cutscenes and the live environments. The cinematography is superb and the visual style a refined Man On Fire/Max Payne 3 without the corrosive influence of chromatic aberration and digital noise. VA is well picked and the dialogue delivered solidly across all characters. Ambient noise is nothing to write home about however and I found myself listening to a few very annoying looping sound effects when in cover (radio loops, repeated NPC dialogue, etc.)
If a game deserves the brand of “cinematic” for its visuals, its Hitman, the Sound Direction could have been stronger however.
“End Of The Road” Mission, my favorite part, the part where you shoot the bad-guy’s kid in the head, or not, your choice.
Dishonored features far less impressive graphical fidelity but makes that up in its unique art design. The whole game looks like a painting with this distinct paintbrush look and exaggerated/twisted character design. The music is good, non-intrusive but I have to say, not memorable, with the exception of “What shall we do with the drunken Whaler” which only features briefly in the game (and its trailer).
In this aspect both games are almost equal with Hitman having a slight edge because the player can actually “feel” the world through its richness and interaction, whereas Dishonored’s world/city seems very disjointed and segregated by design.
Of course its easier for Hitman to perform this, as the game switches venues frequently and no one environment overstays its welcome while Dishonored takes place in one (reasonably varied) city. Nevertheless Dishonored is plagued with a certain emptiness, maybe by design even. In the lack of interaction or visualization of the citizens, beyond a select few, the game feels a bit more “plastic” than it should, given its excellent art style.
Dishonored’s style is superb, however there is rarely the time to look at it and take it all in, as you are being ushered through the level with little respite.
Hitman retreads familiar ground with its story and narrative delivery. Frequent cutscenes force players into outcomes they never anticipated, taking away control from the player to deliver the next push of story. Still, Hitman manages to characterize its cast well, with villains you will love to hate.
Dishonored does a competent job with its story, however most of its intrigue, plot and connections have to be discovered by the player while scavenging the houses on a mission. This means that the player will likely not “get” the whole picture till one or even two playthroughs later. The characters suffer the same fate and are largely characterized “off-screen” through notes, books and other collectibles.
It is a pity that Dishonored failed to think slightly ahead with its narrative design and include some more characterization through interaction instead of notes. Certain characters are very underdeveloped and I could see the game trying to compensate for this in the last third, where an NPC essentially gives the player a straight 5 minute info-dump to bring them up to speed.
Without that, the characters seem to be flat, their motives an enigma.
Hitman doesn’t necessarily have stronger characterization but rather visible characterization that is not hidden behind shelves in abandoned buildings or overheard “be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time” dialogue.
Conclusion – TL;DR
What if Hitman: Absolution and Dishonored were people and twin brothers?
Hitman would be the energetic, social, outgoing type, the guy you want to invite over to play some vidya with or watch kung-fu flicks and drink beers.
Dishonored would be his uptight brother, always concerned about everything others do and if they do it right, obviously highly intelligent, but just sort of a downer and not someone you want to hang out with.
When I played Dishonored I couldn’t get any enjoyment out of it, the game seemed to chastise me for every move. It was this situation where I did something and the game yelled at me “You’re doing it wrong!”, I didn’t feel the freedom of gameplay these games are supposed to have.
Believe it or not, with Hitman I had f- fffff- ffffuuu-, fuck it, let me rephrase that.
I experienced stimuli that were not entirely negative. Sure, Hitman has its share of frustrations and bad design, mostly centering around the Instinct mechanic, but it is just a so much tighter experience.
Maybe I’m getting old.
Am I required to like Dishonored to not be a casual?
I’m asking because I don’t want my snob club-card taken away. I get discounts at Blockbuster with it, you know.