There are moments in any game where it's clear that the approach about to be employed is likely to fail miserably.
The frequency of these moments can be increased dramatically by employing a captive audience, offering up a controller and handing out some good, old-fashioned peer pressure.
"You know how to play this game, don't you?", states Bethesda's immaculately presented PR representative.
Twenty seconds later, as protagonist Corvo Attano lies in a pool of blood with ten angry guards leering over his corpse, it's pretty bloody obvious that I don't.
Apparently, the mistake here is to treat Dishonored as an average first-person action game, because it is anything but. By attempting to take down many large, burly men in succession with the type of bladed weapon more at home in a dessert buffet, Dishonored will reward the player with fairly instantaneous death, even on normal difficulty. Three stabs into the action and the guards will club Corvo into the soft-packed dirt of Dunwall's city streets without missing a step, which is probably the wrong approach.
"That was probably the wrong approach", continues Bethesda's rep. "The full frontal attack is pretty hard here. Let me show you another way."
Using Dishonored's possession mechanic, which we've covered before, our hero is squashed into the confines of a rat, and effortlessly propelled along an adjacent alleyway towards the destination. Rumour has it that developer Arkane used remote-controlled camera-mounted vehicles to get the perspective right for this endearing gameplay quirk – whatever the case may be, it's a lot of fun.
In contrast to previous footage released by Arkane, the goal of this mission – entitled "Kaldwin's Bridge" – is to keep the target alive. Anton Sokolov is the Royal Physician, and curiously enough, shares a surname with a character from Metal Gear Solid 3. His knowledge of medicine required to keep the Rat Plague at bay has rendered him a suitable target for kidnapping, which must be facilitated by stealthily infiltrating his workshop.
It's a tried and tested UI system, but the rotating wheel containing all the necessary spells proves pleasingly easy to use. By bringing up the wheel, combat is paused and an appropriate attack can be selected. This proves doubly useful as anyone spooked by the sight of Corvo won't stop until they're either victorious in stopping him, or dead in defeat, and the more time afforded to the player to select the most appropriate spell, the better.
Once again, by using a combination of Blink to move swiftly from doorway to doorway, Wind Rush to throw guards out of the way and Possess to inhabit the body of a guard and move through electrical defenses that would have otherwise fried Corvo, it's possible to stealthily make progress through the Victorian-themed brick building. By a happy coincidence, Sokolov favours himself as somewhat of an artist, and the internal decoration reveals his fascination with The Outsider, another character that has yet to be fully revealed by Arkane.
There's nothing particularly different about Dishonored's fundamental control system. Any number of other games feature the same kind of movement and weapon selection setup, meaning that gamers will quickly perfect the necessary movement required in any given situation. What sets Dishonored apart – at least at this stage of the development cycle – is its vicious level of difficulty. Again, even on normal, my experience was one of abject failure of the highest order. Ham-fisted ability swapping and poor stealth, coupled with a spectacular lack of talent ensured that the demonstration was rounded out by our smirk-supressing Bethesda rep.
Sokolov, once discovered at the top of the building, must be sedated and whisked away to a waiting river boat before anyone notices the rapidly growing pile of corpses in his workshop. Merely instinctively executing him (a hugely tempting possibility given how hard it was to get to the end of the level in the first place) will reset the mission and provoke much swearing. Happily, with the expert guidance of Bethesda, Sokolov is captured and the mission ends satisfactorily.
It's another short window into the development of a title that has prompted a great deal of speculation and excitement over the past few months. Not only is it an entirely new IP, it's backed by some hefty credentials, with many a comparison to BioShock, Thief, Deus Ex and other such highly successful franchises. It is slightly worrying that both playthroughs offered to press thus far have firm objectives in order to satisfy mission criteria however. There's no suggestion that merely killing one of the Pendleton Twins, or executing rather than capturing Sokolov can open a divergent path to another place in the story, which would indicate that the world may be more linear than many are predicting.
Still, given the quality of the carefully designed art theme, the entertaining stealth attributes, the higher level of skill required to approach each situation – and even just the possession mechanic alone, Dishonored can easily be considered one of the best titles on offer at E3 this year.