Game: Dishonored: Dunwall City Trials
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Finishing Dishonored‘s main campaign might only take you 10 or 12 hours, but Arkane Studios’ stealth masterpiece is a game that takes a great deal of patience, perseverance and skill to fully master. Anyone can messily annihilate a room full of burly guards when armed with Corvo’s ridiculously over-powered arsenal, but to clear the same room with no weapons or magical abilities while avoiding detection is a different matter. Applying it to the full game, as a handful of achievements require, is close to actual masochism. But such are the tools and options available to you that, once you start to look at Dishonored’s levels less as scary challenges and more as macabre sandboxes, you’ll have a lot more fun.
It certainly appears to be thinking along this line that led Arkane Studios to develop the Dunwall City Trials pack, a collection of 10 unique challenges designed to test your skills, brains and reflexes in equal measure. You begin the trials by selecting them from the Missions menu, handily sidestepping the need to faff around travelling anywhere in-game. The challenges are divided into four categories: Stealth, Combat, Puzzle and Mobility and, as you may expect, they make for a well-shuffled deck – but unfortunately one that contains slightly more Jokers than Aces.
The reason its challenges are so hit and miss is obvious from the outset. Dishonored’s greatest strength, and the main reason it has garnered such acclaim, is that at no point does it point you at an objective and say “This is what you must do, and this is how you must do it”. Instead, it points you in the vague direction of an objective and says, “Go nuts”. It’s this wonderful freedom that makes Dishonored’s campaign so effortlessly playable, and it’s the thing that’s missing entirely from the Trials.
For example, one of the Combat challenges, Assassin’s Run, asks you to steam through an area as fast as possible and kill every guard with your crossbow. There’s zero freedom offered, and even if you’d ordinarily take your time planning and preparing for such a run, the Dunwall City Trials drop a massive roadblock on such whims immediately. It doesn’t stop with the Combat challenges either: Bonfires is a simple checkpoint run, while Mystery Foe (one of the best trials) puts you in a mansion and gives you a target – only you must first find four clues to work out who the target is. Unfortunately, if you’re spotted or detected even once, or if you kill the wrong target, it’s game over. As standalone challenges they work (although Bonfires is perhaps the weakest alongside the straightforward shooting gallery that is Oil Drop), but there’s not one Trial that asks you to take everything you’ve learned and everything Corvo can do and, say, clear an area within a time limit or with the most flare a la Batman: Arkham City.
It’s a shame, because in controlling you so strictly the Trials suppress the fun you can have, and mean that you’ll likely play all 10 only once and then pick your favourite 2 or 3 for the rest of your life. Luckily, though, some of the Trials are excellent. Kill Cascade is a favourite, as you’re transported to a course in the Outsider’s dimension and tasked with travelling from the highest point to the lowest, performing drop-assassinations on guards and Tall Boys all the way down. It calls for perfection to maximise your score, and is ridiculously compelling as a result.
Despite Kill Chain’s fast pace as you link murders together with blades, tools, magic and the environment, the obstacles thrown in your way (mostly groaning Weepers) become more an outright frustration than a challenge, and Back Alley Brawl’s Horde-mode style wave combat is fun at first but ultimately becomes as tedious as Train Runner, a challenge that simply wants you to run to a finish line as swiftly as you can. The pure stealth thrills of Burglar are closer in spirit to Dishonored’s campaign highlights, while the absolute cherry on the cake is Bend Time Massacre. You start on one side of a pane of glass separating you from a bunch of potential victims, and breaking the glass activates Bend Time for a limited period during which you go murder-crazy, killing as many people as possible as creatively as you can. Between each round is a bonus challenge with unique conditions such as killing only Overseers or stabbing 10 people inside 20 seconds. It’s a great puzzle Trial that really does force you to use your brain to earn a 3-star score.
The Dunwall City Trials are hard, make no mistake about it. Only seasoned players will maximise their scores in all 10 challenges, but the sad thing is that besides unlockable artwork and 10 new achievements/trophies, there isn’t much incentive to go hell for leather on the stars apart from Leaderboard bragging rights.
VERDICT: Although the Dunwall City Trials pack adds absolutely nothing to Dishonored’s story campaign, it does bring a welcome dose of competitive fun to the table. Arguably, such challenges go against the grain of what Dishonored is all about, and yet the internet is so full of speed run videos and creative kill compilations that the method behind Arkane Studios’ madness is very clear.
Because the Trials stages are so naturally distanced from the main game, you’re missing nothing by avoiding them and waiting for the campaign DLC due in 2013, but the low price (400 MS or £3.99) is enticing in itself. Ultimately, though, your decision of whether or not to purchase the Trials pack should come down to why you love Dishonored in the first place. If you’re all about the story and the freedom and the rich gameworld, you may be left wanting by the stripped-out, no-nonsense challenges; if, however, you simply fancy yourself as something of a master assassin and want to test your mettle against the rest of the world, then the Dunwall City Trials pack is the perfect way to do so.