Still Playing: Dishonored

I like going to the toilet in Dishonored.

Not like that, of course, although I was pleased to see the guards and watchmen of Dunwall produce something more than just an audio stream when they unbutton their fly. What I mean, however, is that the sight of a fully functioning toilet cubicle in Arkane’s game is one guaranteed to bring me joy. It’s the toilets that mark the game (and others like it) apart. They often lead nowhere, and have nothing of interest in them, but just by being there they help build a more complete, more cohesive world.

Whatever you make of Dishonored’s setting (it’s either a hotchpotch of half-baked influences or beautifully realised steampunk with a techno-fascist edge, according to taste), it’s a world that benefits from the sheer amount of time the player is invited to spend poking around it. Stealth titles demand patience, and require multiple routes, while side-quests necessitate closed-off little cul-de-sacs of level and mission design. There’s more to Dunwall than the critical path, in other words. On a grand scale this manifests in the form of areas like the distillery (pictured above), or the the many abandoned dwellings that Corvo can rifle through (all with incidental dialogue to eavesdrop on and diaries to read) but on a smaller scale it takes the form of more subtle, extraneous detail – like loos with interactive toilet seats. The sheer redundancy of the space helps build the illusion that the world exists for more than just the benefit of players.

The secret to Dunwall’s dunnies, of course, is that they aren’t extraneous at all. This is a game of choices, and the intimate privacy of a toilet cubicle is as useful as you want it to be. Toilets are excellent places to hide, allowing you to spy on the comings and going of Dunwall’s guards without much risk of being disturbed. And if a guard does seem to be headed your way, well, they’re excellent places to stash bodies too. If you’re very cruel they can be turned into blackly comic booby traps: I’ve taken out one or two enemies with the aid of spring razors placed in front of the cistern, though I haven’t quite managed to perfect the art of getting them to crumple headfirst into the bowl.

Linear action titles can’t trust the player to make use of ostensibly redundant space, and that’s why Call Of Duty rarely needs to go to the loo. Sure, you might pass through the occasional gents in Infinity Ward and Treyarch’s games, but you’re more likely to blow your way out of the back of it than turn back around. They appear as part of the series’ relentlessly scripted march, in other words, while it’s the incidental, uncontrived nature of Dishonored’s conveniences that makes, I think, for a more believable world.

There’s more to Dunwall than plumbing, however, but it’s this absence of contrivance (or less obvious instances of it, at any rate) that make it so engrossing to explore. After the toilets, my second favourite sight in Dunwall was an arc pylon behind a shut door. Arc pylons, for the uninitiated, are the tesla-flavoured automated gun turrets of Dishonored, and what I liked about this particular example was the remarkably sensible nature of its placement. You open the door and get zapped. Intruders don’t stand a chance. Intruders who can’t see through walls and freeze time, anyway.

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