Dishonored 2, A Dangerous Direction in Stealth


What makes a stealth game a stealth game? Many would argue that the act of sneaking around, and staying undetected, however the truth is that a proper stealth game relies on a lot of interweaving design choices to fully capture the stealth experience. Skyrim allows you to sneak, but it is not a stealth game. Xcom 2 allows your troops to remain undetected, but is not a stealth game. Dishonored 2 gives the player tools to stay out of sight, but is not a stealth game.


To emphasise this point, it becomes necessary to compare Dishonored 2 to a proper, similar stealth game. The most recent first-person stealth game would be the 2014 reboot of Thief. As flawed as this game might be, an obvious emphasis was put on the basic act of sneaking around, and it gets right what Dishonored gets wrong in a lot of areas.


The biggest question in any stealth game ever made is: “Can they see me?”, but Dishonored 2 seems to have a lot of issues answering this question.


Thief’s stealth system can be broken down into three main sections: Sound, Sight and Shadow. An NPC can detect you either by hearing you or if you enter their line of sight, but you can mitigate how likely you are to be seen by staying in shadow and removing light sources. The visibility gem even gives you a clear indication as to whether you’re properly concealed by a shadow. Guards may still spot you if they come too close, or if (god forbid) one of them is carrying a torch. Thief’s tensest moments come from stepping on broken glass, then diving into a shadowy corner and praying for mercy as three angry mobsters start searching the place.


Dishonored 2 doesn’t utilise light in its stealth, instead reducing it back to just sight and sound. By failing to replace the shadow mechanic, it loses any indication as to whether or not you are visible. Being instantly seen despite being under desks or in overhead pot-plants is common, because there’s no way to determine whether you’ll be visible or not when an NPC looks in your direction. Compounding this issue is a strange mechanic wherein guards may be near or farsighted, because it’s often impossible to determine when you’re far enough away from someone so as to not be seen by them as you sneak across an open rooftop.


Tying into knowing when you are and aren’t hidden, one of the things that needs to be balanced and polished as much as possible is the simple act of getting caught. When you open a door and bump into a servant, or dive under a table as a group of guards pass, you need to know what kind of leeway you have before you need to start sprinting and necking health potions.


Thief gives you a brief window to escape. Under normal circumstances enemies aren’t going to notice you instantaneously, and you always have the option of diving into the nearest hiding spot. Dishonoured 2 on the other hand has a nasty habit of having guards alerted the instant they turn in your direction, alerting everything in the vicinity. Even when they don’t notice you immediately, diving into a hiding spot is difficult since you’re never entirely clear on what is and is not hidden.


Thief and Dishonored 2 subscribe to different philosophies when it comes to enemies, most often guards, and this difference ripples through all the aspects of the respective games. In Thief, guards are obstacles to be circumnavigated. In Dishonored 2, guards are targets to be eliminated. This is emphasised in guard layout, actions, and level design.


In Thief, the guards are distributed relatively sparsely, and are programmed to wander in set routes than can be observed. This allows the player to memorise the routes from a hiding spot, and move only when the coast is clear, slipping between sight-lines and into the next set of shadows.


In Dishonored 2 the guards are far more numerous, which combines with the fast notice time and the lack of awareness of your visibility. It’s ridiculously difficult to circumnavigate guards without eliminating them. Though many guards are set to move, they spend long periods in single spots, ready for when you sneak up and incapacitate them. Others are set in single locations, often leaning on ledges with their backs conveniently towards you.


This emphasis on the removal of guards directly harms the pure stealth experience. The developers, despite the supposed emphasis on player choice, tailor their game around their own expectations of the player. You are expected to remove guards, but for the stealth-game aficionado, removing a guard might as well be a failure state.

Pictured: Failure

So, once you get caught, and you’re leading a conga-line of angry guards across a rooftop, what happens?


Thief would shrug and ask whether you wanted to load the game now or when you get the game over screen. Garret is a weak, scrawny chap that can’t handle more than one sword in the stomach at a time and has no place being in a fight. It’s possible to run, and several of your items facilitate a quick beeline in the opposite direction, but the most important thing is that you don’t try and fight more than zero people at a time. This emphasis on character frailty enhances the stealth, and encourages the player to take the slower, more careful approach.


Dishonored 2… Well I think this is best illustrated by my playthrough of the second mission, the Addermire Institute, wherein I would sprint from room to room, trailing a platoon of angry guards, using my tentacle to jump over them and occasionally downing a health potion when one of them hit me. I was moving so quickly that I kept losing my little entourage, but I’d find them again shortly afterwards and the fun would begin again. Dishonored 2 had no mechanical incentives or limits as to keep me stealthy. I played the rest of the missions stealthily not because I needed to, but because I chose to implement another self-imposed limitation.


Emphasising the difference in character vulnerability is the way each game handles the physicality of interactable objects.


Thief requires that Garret pick up every object by hand, that he takes a few precious moments to reach out and open a drawer, and physically take whatever is inside. Paintings are removed with a beautiful but horrifically tense animation of slicing it from the frame, as you pray that the guard in the next room stays in there for just long enough for you to get back into cover.


Dishonored 2 again takes an entirely opposite approach. The characters in Dishonored 2 are apparently telekinetic, able to make objects fly at their face without any apparent interaction. Additionally, Dishonored 2 allows the player to manipulate levers, switches and doors from positions that shouldn’t be possible. While this feeds into Dishonored 2’s faster, more action-based design, it detracts from the feeling of vulnerability that stealth games need.


Is Dishonored 2 an inherently bad game? No, it’s well made and does exactly what it needs to do. What it is however, is a bad stealth game, and we should stop pretending otherwise. Dishonored 2 is an assassination game, emphasising target elimination and fast movement. Holding it up as some kind of stealth exemplar because you can crouch only hurts the game and the industry, as stealth fans will find it boring and frustrating, and stealth game devs will pivot towards this stealth-lite form of gameplay because it’s suddenly popular.


The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Review

The Walking Dead Season Three is both an improvement, and a deterioration, compared to Season Two.


Telltale has been doing this for a while now, and they’ve gotten good at making the player care about at least some of their characters, and I’m fairly sure I was supposed to hate those other two. The game immediately made me invested in the survival of the main group, diverging that Season Two never managed. The complex personalities of Javi, his family, and the people they come across are varied, interesting and well-characterised.

Interacting with these characters turns out to be fairly difficult. Season Three has an extreme issue in its dialogue system that I don’t remember in previous games: The dialogue options can vary significantly from what it makes your character say. One example that comes to mind is in episode four, wherein I attempt to protect a character that overreacted and resulted in an avoidable conflict, which got the main character stabbed in the shoulder. I choose the “I messed up and got stabbed” option, only to blame the other character anyway.

There are many other examples of this, and it results in the player geeling as much as vulnerable to the poor dialogue system as to the vast undead hordes.

The Walking Dead has never been a series that’s been big on gameplay,, but somehow Season Three has managed to reduce this even further. I am not exaggerating when I say that each chapter consists of cinematics with quick-time-events during the action scenes. The slower scenes of walking around an environment, exploring and solving puzzles, are still present, but they have been shortened and are far less frequent.

This robs the game of it’s pacing, as it now lacks any significant down-time. There are still luls, but since they take place in cutscenes the player must stay alert for quick time events.

The Walking Dead Season Three is an enjoyable addition to the series, but its poorly defined dialogue options, and it’s reduction of what was already sparse gameplay, makes it far weaker that it deserved to be.

Layers of Fear: Completely Fearless

I hear a lot of people online boasting about their apparent immunity to horror games. They load up any game from Silent Hill 2 to Amnesia: Dark Descent, and spend the entire game in a state of meh-faced passivity, or they laugh at the jump-scares and teabag the monsters, all the time basking in their perceived superiority.

I feel that this inherently misses the point of the horror genre. There will always be a certain amount of distance between the audience and the actions on-screen, and you need to put in a little effort in order to close that distance and open yourself up to the experience. You have to want to be scared.

I preface this article with the above because I want to emphasise that I was actively trying to be scared by Layers of Fear, and it just couldn’t manage it.

Horror is subtle. It’s a quiet, creeping thing that works so slowly that you never quite realise when it was that you started shaking in your seat. Horror is a trickle, not a torrent.

Layers of Fear starts with a waterfall and just keeps turning things up. The only area that even hints at a true, proper horror game is the open area at the very start of the game, which consists of maybe five rooms. Once you start the game proper, it immediately hits you with doors that keep changing where they lead to.

This choice results in multiple layers of failure (:D). Firstly, it signals to the player that this entire game is not grounded in reality: it’s a dream, or a hallucination, or a world based on the character’s broken mind. All of these are great settings for horror games; Silent Hill 2 is a classic of the genre that takes place entirely within a setting based on the main character’s psyche, but note that we don’t know that for much of the game.

Horror requires a grounding in reality. It needs us to believe that what we’re seeing has weight and meaning. Without reality, why be scared? How can we be unnerved by the subtle irregularities in a world that the game has established as unreal? Why be concerned about danger and consequence in a dream?

Secondly, the moving-door trope is best served to disorientate and unnerve the player once they’ve learned the geography of an area. By introducing it so early, and so often, the player knows to never bother learning the layout, as it’ll just be taken away again. I feel that the developers took a powerful tool and had no idea what to do with it, so they just kept using it and hoping it would be effective.  Though taking great ideas and completely mistreating them is something that Layers of Fear just keeps doing.

Much of Layers of Fear is walking into a room, watching the “spooky” thing happen, then walking out of the room through the same door but into a new area. By the 45-minute mark I started playing the “what generic spooky thing is going to happen in this room” game. Is something going to fly across the room? Will objects spawn in? Will they fade away? Will a filter be applied to the screen? Though probably the paintings will just melt, again.


Each of these in and of themselves are not bad ideas, and I’ve been scared by all of them before. To be fair, the first couple of times they appeared in Layers of Fear they were effective, but the repetition eventually robs them of any impact and poisons anything new, because you know you’ll see it a hundred times before the end of the game.

Even as the game progresses and the world becomes more and more surreal, it doesn’t turn up the fear. It turns up the blood, the spooky events, the twisting of the world etc, but since the game never took the time to ground itself in reality, it doesn’t have nearly the impact it should.

On the topic of ridiculously overdone; around two-thirds of the way through the game, it develops an intense, but thankfully temporary, fetish for dolls. Everything is dolls. Teleporting dolls! Running dolls! Laughing dolls! Floating dolls! Black abysses filled with the disembodied heads of dolls!

As you might have guessed, this became more boring than scary very quickly. An extended period of the aforementioned baby-head abyss had me checking my phone and responding to messages.

Layers of Fear tries to convey a sense of danger to the player by adding in a rarely-seen but incredibly generic ghost-lady that I have to assume is supposed to be your wife. She pops up a few times throughout the game, sometimes in scripted sequences. She ambiguously kills(?) you and then leaves. For some reason, this is the only aspect of itself that Layers of Fear uses sparingly. In a game that sorely needs to give its spooky goings-on a sense of danger, they hold back on the ghost-lady.

For a better example of how to properly utilise your ghost-lady, we need only turn to the game that Layers of Fear was based on: PT, Playable Teaser. The ghost lady in PT attacks you, sure, but she also laughs at you, appears in mirrors, glares at you from balconies. My point is, an effectively-used ghost lady can be more than just a direct physical threat.

The game hints at a second monster, that leaves paint behind it. By which I mean the game occasionally makes thumping sounds and puts paint-marks on the ground. This is, of course, the opposite problem of the ghost-lady. The paint-monster never presents as an actual threat, and only appears a handful of times as noises and paint-trails, which are unsurprisingly difficult to find threatening.


The final nail in the coffin comes in the form of something that Layers of Fear got right. Layers of Fear has fairly good jump-scares, with satisfying sound cues in case you need to be reminded when to be scared. This is the main role of ghost-lady, but it can also be handled by doll-heads and light-switches, so she better not get too cocky.

Good horror is hard. I can’t emphasise that enough. For every good horror game or movie there are ten that wallow in deserved obscurity. The issue here is that Layers of Fear doesn’t. While I understand that fear isn’t something we can quantify, there is no denying that Layers of Fear fails on several, fundamental levels.

We need to hold our horror games to higher standards. We should not be satisfied with this.

E3 is Still Terrible

Every year E3 comes around and every year it’s a complete fucking disgrace. An event bloated with the most horrible and deceitful business practices you can imagine. This year there were three stand-out performances. Let’s get started:

Fuck EA

EA did not fuck up as hard as they could this year. The games they announced were entirely mediocre, with two yearly sport titles, a DLC, a Need for Speed game, and a decent-looking co-op prison-escape sim. I’d rail against these yearly sports titles, but I unironically look forward to every yearly Pokémon game.

Where EA faltered is in its baffling use of completely inept and unqualified YouTube personalities. You can practically taste the awkwardness in the air when people that are used to creating scripted and heavily-edited content are forced to perform live. Perfectly illustrating this is the Need for Speed: Payback demonstration, when Hipster Supreme has to be rescued from a nigh-lethal case of stage fright by some guy that worked on the game and obviously spent the time rehearsing his lines.

Though our salmon-shirted friend can probably take solace that he was not the worst act that EA had hired that day. That prestigious honour went to two football pundits that sped through their jokes almost fast enough to distract you from the fact that nobody was laughing.


Fuck Microsoft

Now to start with, Microsoft did bring the games. They actually brought the games pretty damn hard, with a good mixture of high-profile games and smaller independent titles. A huge variety of titles from racing games to JRPG’s to old-school platformers. Nobody can say that Microsoft didn’t bring the games to E3 2017.

They also brought a car.


Yeah, the Porche 911 was announced at E3. In fact, it was live on stage for about three and a half minutes. I desperately want to know which company was desperate enough to pay for that car to appear on stage for less time than it takes for Americans to recover from hearing the numbers nine-eleven.

Now onto the fun stuff: the Xbox One X or, as savvy people have noted, the XboneX. With the name of this console, Microsoft have successfully circled around and become an edgy 13yo Xbox fanboy.

Name aside however, and it’s the most powerful console ever created, able to run games better than ever before… kinda, sorta, probably not really. Four games have already been confirmed to only run at 30fps, a framerate that hasn’t been acceptable since the PS2, but hey, at least it’ll look really pretty… in screenshots.

Secondly, Microsoft used a shitty marketing practice that’s only popped up in the past couple of years, and has been used by games like Rainbow Six in 2014. It’s the act of using professional voice actors to speak over your multiplayer footage, as if they’re playing the game and communicating through the in-game voice chat. Coined as “The Mic Trick” by some fat guy with a red tie, it’s an insidious and deceitful tactic to make the game look a lot more interesting and co-operative than it is.

Microsoft used this trick in the Anthem Gameplay Trailer, a damn good-looking game in my opinion, but one that I’ve been permanently soured on because of the manipulation they tried to pull.

If you listen closely to the voices, they’ve even been slightly distorted to make it sound like they’re communicating over short-range radios. I honestly thought I was listening to the characters until one of them started talking about their loot pickup. If you want a more realistic representation of what the game will be like, re-watch that video on mute, and put any call-of-duty match in the background. Yes, there will be exactly that many racial slurs in this game too.

Now onto the big one. Microsofts way of sticking the middle fingers up at us while kicking our dog and insulting our collective mums. This bullshit:

Yes. Microsoft, in its magnanimity, deems we pathetic mortals worthy to give it money for games that haven’t even come out yet. There was applause for that. People applauded the idea that you can give your money to a company in exchange for games that we can’t be sure won’t be cancelled in a month. Hell, they specifically highlighted digital preorders. What is the point of preordering something digitally? Do you think the digital store is going to run out of downloads? Stop giving your money away to these greedy, unapologetic fucks!

Fuck Bethesda

Well paid mods are back. Except they’re not mods. They’re awesome new content made by Bethesda! And anyone Bethesda gives the ok. And you pay for them. And the modify the game.

They’re paid fucking mods. You tried this bullshit before and I hope it burns you twice as hard and three times as long. It’s not as if you need the money, you’re releasing Skyrim for another damn platform and it’s already the tenth best-selling game of all time.

Bethesda long ago shed all of its talent, ethics and integrity. This is just more proof that they aren’t worth dealing with any more.

Let this be the final straw. Let Bethesda die. Let them sell Fallout and Elder Scrolls to a better developer.

What are Obsidian doing these days?

Take-Two and The Shitty Thing They Did

Take-Two Interactive is the publisher of the highly beloved Grand Theft Auto series. A series that glorifies the breaking of pretty much every law that keeps our society together, so it was almost funny that Take-Two decided to send legal threats to the developers of OpenIV, a program that allows users to install mods to GTAV.

In a Cease-and-Desist letter described as “illiterate both technically and grammatically”, the company claims that the program allows allow third parties to defeat security features of its software and modify that software in violation Take-Two’s rights.

Basically, Take-Two is claiming that the OpenIV program can alter the multiplayer aspect of the game.

But it can’t. OpenIV and all the mods it supports are purely single player. Attempting to even launch the multiplayer mode of the game with OpenIV installed leads to this:


While a Cease-and-Desist can be fought in court, it’s unlikely that a small independent group of modders could stand up to a team of professional corporate lawyers. Even if they won, the OpenIV devs would have to fight for months and be hit with large legal fees. I don’t think anybody can fault them for their decision to just give into the ludicrous demands.

It should be noted that OpenIV has been around for over ten years without incident. Take-Two and Rockstar have been aware of it for that long. There have been no recent changes that could make the program a threat, and no evidence that it could ever impact the multiplayer aspect of the game. Take-Two have simply targeted it alongside actual cheating mods, as they use an axe to do the job of a scalpel.

Thankfully, the gaming community has decUntitled.pngided to show their disapproval in one of the few ways that big publishers listen to. They attacked the product. As of time of writing, GTAV has an “Overwhelmingly Negative” score on the recent Steam reviews, which has brought its overall score down to “mixed”.

Hopefully this will scare Take-Two into submission.

Dishonored 2 and the Lack of Female Protagonists


Dishonored 2 begins with the grand entrance of a mostly dull villain. She attacks the palace with magic and clockwork soldiers. Halfway through this coup you can choose the character you’ll play as for the entire rest of the game, and if you choose Corvo then you are very wrong.

I’m all for self-expression and choice in video games, and I understand that the Dishonored series is all about playing the game “your way”, but the inclusion of Corvo as an optional protagonist isn’t choice, it’s fear. Fear that a game with a female lead will fall victim to the eternal swirling pit of misogyny that is the games industry.

There can be no arguing that Dishonored 2 is anything but Emily’s story. The tutorial has Emily learning from her father, the story involves her losing her throne and being exiled, the main villain is her aunt. The game is very obviously a story about Emily coming into her own as both a person and a ruler, stepping out from under the protection of her father.Dishonored-2-5.jpg

Emily has been forced to share the spotlight with Corvo, not for artistic or narrative reasons, but to mollify the kind of froth-mouthed wretch that can’t properly operate a controller unless the protagonist has the same genital configuration as him.

Let’s take things from the other direction: If you choose to play as Corvo then Emily is frozen in her throne room, becoming a non-entity for the rest of the game. If you choose Corvo, you reduce Emily to a plot-point, a driving force, and a fragile flower in need of saving. This is the same purpose she played in the first game, when she was a child. Corvo on the other hand becomes the daring saviour, essentially repeating his actions from the first game to protect a young girl that is, as always, in over her head.

It’s hard to believe that this game was ever actually intended to have Corvo as the protagonist again. Corvo’s had his time; he’s proven that he’s a magical, stealthy baddass in the first game. All things end, all parents have to step aside and let the next generation take over. What’s the progression here? Will a 65-yo Corvo be called back into action to save his granddaughter?

I feel that this is the same issue that relegated Elizabeth to Bioshock Infinite’s back cover, and tried to do the same with Ellie in The Last of Us. The same issue that made Dontnod have to fight to put a female protagonist in Remember Me. Female protagonists are seen as a risk. To spend millions on a game with a female protagonist is adding extra risk on those millions that many publishers don’t want to take.

Behold, the more interesting character segregated to the back of the box in favour of guns and machismo.

The worst part is that this position is understandable, but it has to change.

There is this horrible, pervading, and very vocal subgroup of gamers that automatically see female protagonists as some kind of political statement, which is a troubling line of thought. Life is Strange and Virginia both received a horrifying amount of bile for their more diverse casts (though the amount that came due to race or sexuality is a completely different but equally saddening discussion.)

When your culture, and more importantly your consumer base, is dominated by that kind of person, it makes sense to make certain decisions that cater to them. When the people willing to give you their money have a fear of apples, it might be best not to set the game in an orchard.

But the data is wrong. The most vocal people are rarely the most numerous. In an industry of intense and constant focus-testing, the focus testing involves no women, because women don’t buy these games, so why put them in the focus groups? This cycle is complicit in allowing female gamers to remain as invisible as they’ve been trained to be.

Women are attacked in online games, ignored by developers, and basically made to feel completely unwanted in a culture that is comprised of 48% women. Most female gamers hide, either avoiding the community entirely or hiding behind agender pseudonyms to avoid the endless torrents of bile.

There is a huge and underserved market which wants more than the old-guard women like Lara Croft and Samus, and the hyper-sexualised newcomers like Bayonetta and 2B. So when a game like Dishonored 2 comes out, with the female main protagonist sitting as an option next to a completely superfluous male character put in just to make the gaming crybabies happy, it feels somehow worse than just putting another male character in the lead role. We shouldn’t be coddling the type of people that make half of our community feel unsafe and unwanted. We need to make the correct moral and financial decision to commit to good stories, told well, and lead by characters that we’re willing to stand by.


Steven Universe: Attack the Light

It’s hard to deny that Steven Universe is one of the truly good things in the world, as is its video game.


Let me start by saying that if you’re not on the Steven Universe bandwagon then this game is not for you. You’ll be able to play it fine, but Attack the Light wasn’t made to bring in new fans, it’s made to give the old fans something to enjoy during this horrifying hiatus.

The plot is simple enough: Steven accidently unleashes seven coloured monster types from a crystal and the Gems need to track them down and reimprison them, hijinks and touchscreen battles ensue.


Fights are turn-based, which is the best decision for a touch screen. The Gems use star points to use their various abilities and attacks, you can use them all up in a single turn on save some for extra actions on your next turn. When you launch an attack, or an enemy attacks you, stars will flash up. If you tap the screen when a star appears you can increase the power of your attacks or decrease the strength of enemy blows. This becomes more necessary as the game progresses and enemies become strong enough to wipe out a character in just one or two attacks.

Almost every item is a reference, it actually gets a little silly. Cookie Cat is your standard healing potion, Together Breakfast fully heals your entire party, Rose’s Tear revives a Gem, and Bagel Sandwiches distract foes. It’s a fun joke, but it wears thin quickly.

You also get special badges, which the gems can equip, to give you stat bonuses and other effects. It’s a great way to customise your team and prepare you for the specific challenges you’re facing.


The biggest issue with the game is that it’s easy, but that’s a minor complaint. This game was made for kids, not twenty-two year old RPG veterans. It piles on healing items and bonus star points at every opportunity, but it’s only doing that to give younger and less experienced players a safety net if they mess up the combat.

It’s also not very long, but for around £2 you shouldn’t expect it to be. I completed the main story in maybe three hours, but the extras and secrets added a couple of hours onto the end.

The art style is cute and cartoony. It’s similar enough to the show to be fun, but simplified to make creating game assets easier.

Steven Universe: Attack the Light isn’t anything new, but it’s a solid example of good touchscreen gameplay. There’s enough variety and depth to keep you interested long after the main story is finished, and the various nods and references will keep fans entertained.