The emerging art style in pop culture is called steampunk. It combines three gothic art fetishes in one universe - Victorian England; the Industrial Revolution; and doomsday sci-fi.
Such retro-futurism has existed in various forms for decades in the tales of H.G. Wells, and in such gray-steel films as “Dark City” (awesome) and “Sucker Punch” (awful).
Now, the 30-hour steampunk game “Dishonored” features people wearing frilly Victorian shirts to fancy parties - but they are saddled with a rat plague during a war waged by men in mechanized armor.
And the steampunk hero can teleport and do other sci-fi magic - even though his era’s main energy source is measly old whale oil.
Plot: I portray the hero guard who protects an empress. She gets killed. I stand falsely accused. So I fight scumbags to clear my name while saving the gilded empire from squeaky rats.
I can play this action-adventure one of three ways - as a shooter/sword swinger where I slay everyone; or as a stealth game where I sneak past henchmen without murdering them; or as a combination of both.
That game play reminds me of the assassin series “Hitman” (which I love), but with these steampunk visuals and supernatural powers (teleporting, pausing time, and spirit-possessing humans).
“Dishonored” is so good, because its priorities are correct. Let’s break them down by importance.
1. The first-person game play is fluid, intuitive and fun.
2. As the game progresses, I earn new superpowers to keep me interested in fighting and sneaking around, which gets harder but not imposingly difficult.
3. Missions are interesting, and characters talk a lot. On the other hand, I wish my own character talked. It’s weird he doesn’t.
4. I found no software bugs or frustrating quitting moments.
5. Good maps. That is, good environments. There’s a potential downside in that I must double-back to locations, but it’s OK, because doubling-back is quick, and not the long slog we find in other games.
6. The world of “Dishonored” feels like a creepy vacation to a weird place, and that leads to cool exploration, since steampunk visuals are still a fresh trend in games.
One quibble: Despite the steampunk originality, the graphics look low-fi. Faces and environments do not appear as finely detailed as most epics. Another quibble: I don’t love the layout of the action buttons.
But that’s fine, because the narrative structure and game fluidity are so good, I forgot about these quirks fast.
This is a moral game. It judges us. I played “Dishonored” as a stealth quest, trying not to kill henchmen if I could avoid it. I received a happy ending. If I had killed everyone, the game would have given me a gloomier finale.
But that’s me. I like to pretend I’m a benevolent guy when I’m defeating malevolent people, because I have the same motto as Speed Racer: You have to change the game. You can’t let the game change you.
(“Dishonored” by Bethesda retails for $60 for Xbox 360, PS 3 and PC - Plays very fun. Looks good. Challenging. Rated “M” for blood, gore, intense violence, sexual themes and strong language. Four out of four stars.)
Doug Elfman is an entertainment writer for the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal. Contact him at DElfman@reviewjournal.com