I have trouble focusing. This is a problem larger than just stealth games, obviously -- but let's keep the focus off my failing marriage and sinking career to talk about video games (which, incidentally, is exactly what my wife and boss keep asking me to stop doing). Due to my admittedly tragic and debilitating lack of focus, any open-world game will find my character meandering from rooftop to rooftop, staring at in-game posters and jumping up and down on rocks -- only occasionally, accidentally tripping over a quest line and falling face-first into a big steaming pile of plot.
In Dishonored, distractions abound. One of the magic powers lets you take control of a rat, or a fish, or, at higher levels, even a person. Obviously that's the end of the game, if you're anything like me. You just stopped trying to unravel a world of steampunk intrigue, and now you're playing an American Tail simulator, or a particularly gritty reboot of Finding Nemo.
Dory is ... slightly less adorable in this version.
Another power is a kind of biomechanical heart-thing ... that beats at power-ups, I guess? I don't really know what Bethesda's trying to say with that, aside from that Japan doesn't have a lock on RPG weirdness. But if you press another button, the "heart" will tell you random, tangentially related stories about whatever you're pointing it at. Sometimes this adds to the story, sometimes it doesn't, but any mildly obsessive, easily distracted player will end up just like I did: stalking the dirty alleyways for hours at a time, pointing a disembodied organ at a dumpster to see if the dumpster has any compelling secrets (hint: it doesn't. It's a dumpster).
That might effectively destroy the atmosphere of a serious steampunk assassin game, but in all fairness, it does make for a very compelling crazy hobo simulator.
The whole point of a stealth game is to blend strategy with action, with a little more emphasis on the strategy aspect. Ideally, once the player has identified the approach and method, he executes a careful attack and takes out a room full of guards without a single one ever noticing. When it works, you feel like a complete badass: You are ninja. You are the bat. None may stand against you.
When it doesn't work, you're Jerry fucking Lewis, all sticking your biomechanical boots of silence into a bucket of fish and tripping into a wall of vaporizing light as the befuddled guards laugh and record your twitching with their steam-powered iPhones so they can upload this shit to Dunwall's Funniest Home Videographs later. As the player, you're supposed to learn lessons from these mistakes, and hone your next approach accordingly. After you've screwed up a few times and refined the perfect attack, you become that seamless blur of death again.
"Hey! It's OH SHI-"
That is not what I do.
If I miss a jump and fall down a trash chute while the sentries chuckle at my ineptitude, I'll immediately reload and charge in there to just stab them all in the neck. See, a stealth game can't just leave you helpless if stealth fails. They have to give you an out if you're discovered, so they almost always build in a combat mechanic as well. The problem is, once you learn that combat mechanic, it's way easier to run into Murderham Palace and start cutting Victorian bitches in the face than it is to orchestrate a series of perfect assassinations.
And so a typical game of mine involves a pair of guards carefully whispering to each other about the master assassin who may be stalking the very night around them, only to be interrupted by a raging psychopath sprinting right down the middle of the street, hurling explosive whale fat and frantically hopping about while firing off an electric blunderbuss. That's how every level in Dishonored ends for me: I slowly, carefully sneak around, hiding bodies and laying traps, until I accidentally hit the wrong button and fall off a building. Then I think "Fuck it, I'll just suicide next mission," only to find that, when the smoke has cleared, the high clergymen whose wine I was supposed to discreetly poison to "make it look like an accident" got drop-kicked to death in the ensuing melee and I'm too lazy to reload and do it right.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Brockway, check out 5 Reasons GTA IV Is The Worst Great Game Ever Made and 5 Real Skills Video Games Have Secretly Been Teaching Us.