The protagonist of Dishonored is an assassin, and plenty of blood gets spilled, no matter how stealthy you are. But there are benefits to being merciful -- for one, fewer corpses means fewer rats infesting your beloved city.
It's thrilling to play a game that rewards you for not doing the things so many other games mindlessly encourage. You can play as a more ruthless assassin, but what's the fun of that?
Dishonored is set in Dunwall, a city with a passing resemblance to London during the Industrial Revolution. Your character, Corvo, is bodyguard to the Empress, and you become the prime suspect when she is murdered. Fortunately, a team of loyalists thinks you're innocent, so they help you break out of jail and set you on the path to vengeance.
The world of Dishonored looks both familiar and alien. There's a steampunk aesthetic (although, since Dunwall runs on whale oil, "oilpunk" is probably more appropriate) that infuses every location, from pathetic hovels to decadent mansions.
The game is a delight, in part because of a few things it doesn't have: There's no multiplayer mode, which would be ridiculous in a game about a lone-wolf assassin. And there are none of the bombastic boss battles that nearly derailed last year's otherwise excellent Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
RATING M for Mature
PLOT You're an assassin, but you don't need to kill everyone
DETAILS Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $60
BOTTOM LINE One of the year's finest games