Jenny Haniver Interview

Not in the kitchen
image courtesy of Not in the Kitchen Anymore

It’s no secret that the best way to rid the games industry of gender inequality and make it a fair and equal place for all is to expose just how serious and widespread the problem is, whether that’s calling out a developer for their portrayal of a female character, highlighting the negative experiences of female game developers or exposing the abuse female players experience online.

One such woman who’s keen to fight the good fight against sexism in games in a very public way is Jenny Haniver. A keen FPS player, Jenny decided to record the audio of her Call of Duty matches and publish them to her website ‘Not in the Kitchen Anymore’ in a bid to show people just how nasty and downright lewd some gamers can be towards players of the opposite gender. The website was founded in 2010 while Jenny was a college student.

”I studied art, with a 3D/sculptural focus. One of the projects was to create an installation piece about a social issue- I landed on focusing on sexism in online gaming, since it was something that affected me personally. That’s when I began recording audio clips of my weird/funny/scary interactions with other players. Once the project had wrapped up, I still had loads of audio clips and nothing to do with them… So I decided to launch the website as a way to share them with my friends. It just kind of grew from there.”

One of the main problems with this issue, and why it’s so hard to tackle, is that many women receive more abuse if they choose to speak about the negative experiences they have as female players. This has led to many women choosing to conceal their gender when playing online, avoiding games altogether or simply putting up with it as something you have to suffer through as a female gamer. It’s also affected professionals like Jade Raymond, who stepped out of the public sphere after the launch of the first Assassin’s Creed due to the sexist abuse she received while working to promote the game.

The prospect of being a target for more abuse and negative comments didn’t deter Jenny from raising awareness of the issue through her website, however, she acknowledges that it’s perhaps more difficult for women to stand up for themselves now given how serious the threats and abuse towards women became in 2014.

“I am much less active now than I used to be, and things have gotten a little scarier since GamerGate occurred. When I was actively gaming and updating regularly, I was never very concerned about being targeted more because of the website.”

Thankfully not all the reactions to people speaking out against abuse are negative and some people find it a welcome change to see someone standing up and being an advocate for change. “I get messages from people who have experienced the same sort of thing, sharing their stories and feelings about it.”

Unfortunately, of course, there is always hostility from people who see people that want change as a threat primed to ruin their hobby, or they really enjoy having a public platform to openly exhibit their sexist and misogynistic attitudes without reprimand.

“The negative reactions are a lot less frequent, and tend to be along the lines of “it happens to everyone”, “that’s just how gaming is”, “stop bitching and just play the game”. Which is funny to me, because why on earth should sexism/racism/bigotry be an accepted part of a hobby that is meant to be fun and relaxing?”

Given her love for the genre Jenny is exposed to harassment most when playing online FPS games, particularly Call of Duty, and without a doubt it’s one of the areas where female gamers receive the worst abuse. Call of Duty as a developer has taken steps towards the equal treatment of women with females having much more prominent roles in recent instalments, but as far as the attitudes of its player base go, judging by some of the audio clips Jenny has posted, there’s still a long way to go.

Gaming is a fast paced and constantly changing landscape and since started her website 7 years ago Jenny has seen positive changes for women.

“A lot more people have been talking about this issue, and I think the more education and exposure, through documentaries, articles, podcasts, etc., that takes place, the better it gets. The key is normalizing women in gaming… Gaming is such an incredibly expansive, accessible hobby at this point that it should shock absolutely no one that women enjoy gaming. Everyone can game these days. I’ve definitely noticed it becoming more normalized, attitudes improving, (albeit slowly!) and companies working to improve how they deal with players who harass other players.”

It’s an area that has already received a wide amount of coverage through spokespeople like Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian and Gamergate target Zoe Quinn. Prominent media outlets have also run features on the issue and revealing that despite outwards appearances it’s an industry that’s far from all fun and games. Last year the BBC ran a documentary entitled The Dark Side of Gaming: Women Fighting Back which spoke to females involved in the industry, such as Eurogamer’s Aoife Wilson, Yogscast streamer Hannah and Jenny herself, giving them a chance to tell their stories on a wider stage. Feature length documentary GTFO, directed by Shannon Sun-Higginson was released in 2015 discussing sexism and women in the world of video games with prominent female players and prominent professionals including Journey producer Robin Hunicke and Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett.

Every gamer has got to start somewhere and Jenny’s introduction to the virtual realms of video games was thanks to her Dad.

“We were lucky enough to have a home computer when I was a kid, and I remember playing DOS games ‘with’ my dad when I was 3-4 years old, and watching him and my older brother play through the Myst computer game. Some of my old favorites were Jill of the Jungle, Crystal Caves, Duke Nukem, and the Commander Keen series.”

Jenny’s taste in games is far from the stereotypical norm for a female player, with fast-paced FPS game being her forte. Lamenting the fact female are underrepresented and misrepresented she has a love of strong female characters. If stranded on a desert island with only one game to play interestingly she would forgo the iconic depths of Rapture and chose a Bioshock adventure in the clouds, her opinion no doubt partially swayed by its stellar female portrayal.

“I love Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite and Ellie from The Last of Us. I also have a soft spot for Lulu and Yuna from Final Fantasy X.”

A big thank you to Jenny for taking the time to talk to us and for her efforts to make gaming and the industry more welcoming and enjoyable for all.

Darksiders 3 Has Fiery Female Protagonist

The presence of highly adept female characters in games seems to be somewhat on the rise. So far this year we’ve indulged in some prehistoric pursuits with Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn and blew up all manner of robotic adversaries as 2B in Neir: Automata, to name but a few. Still to come we have the intriguing Senua, with developer Ninja Theory pushing boundaries in game’s portrayal of mental health with Hellbade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Naughty Dog giving us one last slice of Uncharted action with female duo Chloe and Nadine taking over treasure hunting duties from series star Nathan Drake in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.

And it seems that 2017 isn’t going to be the only good year for interesting and prominent female characters; THQ Nordic has just announced Darksiders 3 and in it players will take on the role of Fury. The third of the series’ Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, Fury is on a quest to hunt down and dispose of the Seven Deadly Sins. This lady’s certainly got ambition and, judging by the few screenshots that have been released, she’s got the arsenal and attitude to back it up.

DS3_Shot_03_FullHD.jpg
image courtesy of THQ Nordic

Fury is a mage who relies on a whip and magic to battle evil, restore balance to the world and prove that she’s the most powerful of the Horsemen.

The new protagonist isn’t the only thing to be excited about however, Darksiders 3 looks set to provide the same thrilling action as its predecessors in an expansive “open-ended, living, free form Earth that is dilapidated by war and decay, and overrun by nature”.

Darksiders 3 will be developed by Gunfire Games, the studio founded by members of Darksiders’ previous developer Vigil Games, who met their demise during the collapse of publisher and IP owner THQ. The series is in highly capable and experienced hands with Gunfire, who also recently remastered the first two games in the series under THQ Nordic. THQ Nordic is not related to THQ, they are the publisher previously known as Nordic Games, who bought the rights to many of THQ’s games.

Darksiders 3 is expected to storm onto PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2018.

Form more information visit darksiders.com.

[featured image courtesy of gamespress.com]

Women and Video Games Survey Results

checklist
image courtesy of pixabay.com

We frequently share our opinions on gender equality in video games here at Gamer Equality, but recently we ran a survey to find out what the general gaming public’s attitude to woman and video games really is. Here are the results…

Open to both genders, a whopping 63% of survey participants were female. This may seem strange given that more men play games (we were certainly expecting a male majority) but it goes to show just how passionate women are about the subject and judging by the answers both sexes are for change.

The majority of respondents were aged 22-30 reflecting the much-documented evidence that gaming is now no longer a pastime almost exclusively engaged in by young males. Contrary to the stereotype of the juvenile gamer, the majority who venture to virtual realms are now mature, professional people that have grown up alongside the medium. Interestingly, the lowest category was actually the under 16, what would have been the overwhelming majority just a generation ago.

Most participants responded that they engage with games every day or almost every day, given the female majority taking the survey it’s hard to support the assumption that women don’t participate in gaming as often as men do.

When asked about the types of games that they play Adventure and RPGs had the clear majority with over three-quarters of participants claiming to engage with those genres. Action followed close behind with 62.63% of the vote. Puzzle and Casual games were next with over 50%. This reflects the already established data that women traditionally tend to enjoy more casual mobile experiences, but the popularity of other genres indicates that that’s far from all that they enjoy.

6% of those surveyed said they frequently witnessed or personally experienced, harassment based on gender during online sessions. 13% noted this behaviour occasionally. Encouragingly 23% said they never witness or receive this kind of abuse online and a quarter of the people survey said it only happened rarely. Of course in reality, statistics are likely to be higher given that 32% of people asked said that they don’t play online.

There’s a clear call for more female players, with 74% saying they’d like to see more women taking up gaming as a hobby and it turns out female developers are even more in demand. 79% admitted that they think more women should be employed in the industry. Female game characters are also wanted, with 61% saying they’d like more games to starring the fairer sex. And that’s not surprising given that 58% of those surveyed tend to play as a female when given the choice. There’s a clear demand for revolution regarding the portrayal of those female characters however, with 74% of respondents claiming that they think females are over-sexualised or portrayed inappropriately. Only 10% prefer female characters to be sexy and scantily clad rather than strong and serious, meaning both men and women alike want to see more playable Aloy and Lara types rather than secondary eye-candy characters.

A worrying 43% avoid disclosing their gender during online matches out of fear of receiving abuse. 6% admitted to exhibiting negative behaviour towards female players in the past, while only 2% agreed that they dislike playing with female players. 3% of those surveyed said that they didn’t think that women were as competent as men at games while a much larger 20% said that they feel many women fake their interest in games just to get attention.

A big thank you to all who participated in the survey, it’s reassuring to see the high demand for participation that it received showing that it’s an area that gamers are interested in. The mostly positive responses show that although there are issues of intolerance, the majority of gamers are an accepting and friendly bunch who want gaming to be inclusive for everyone. Through raising awareness and changing the out-dated attitudes in both women’s treatment and portrayal we can achieve just that.

 

Game Developer Spotlight – Brenda Romero

Brenda_Romero
image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Games industry veteran Brenda Romero was presented with the Special Award at this year’s British Academy Games Awards. The BAFTA Special Award recognises individuals for their creative contribution to the games industry. For her endless talent and tireless passion and dedication to the medium Brenda is a more than worthy recipient and it’s heartening to see her work in the games industry celebrated in such a way. With that, let’s take a look back at her career and celebrate one of gaming’s most prominent and gifted females.

Formally known as Brenda Brathwaite, before her marriage to Doom creator John Romero in 2012, her lofty career in video games spans back to 1981. She has been credited as the longest-serving female game developer in the business and in that time has contributed her talents to an impressive 49 game titles. Brenda started out as a tester and manual writer for the Wizardry series before going on to become a fully-fledged games writer, penning Jagged Alliance 2 and Wizardry 8. She then progressed to designer roles, acting as lead designer on Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes and more recently was the director and lead designer on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Commander. It’s an impressive resume, we think you’ll agree.

Brenda is also widely recognised for her non-digital series of games collectively known as The Mechanic is the Message. This series attempts to express difficult emotions through game mechanics. Just how difficult these emotions are is no more apparent than in the game Train. A deliberately obscure game where players blindly follow instructions and try to complete their objective, only to discover their goal is to deliver the train’s passengers to Auschwitz. This alone shows not only Brenda’s acute creativity but her bravery in tackling such sensitive and controversial issues.

Her work as lead designer on Playboy: The Mansion inspired Brenda to explore the topic of adult content in video games and she has penned a book on the subject entitled Sex in Video Games. Today she is an advocate for gender equality and frequently openly criticises sexist and misogynistic content in video games. She has since regretted her contribution to the game and has admitted it is not something she would make now. Speaking to Kotaku she said:

“I understand that posing the human body to capture its beauty can be beautiful. But that’s quite different to reducing an entire gender into an ornament for pleasure.”

Her current focus is on educating and inspiring a new generation of games developers. She currently resides in Limerick, Ireland, where she is the Program Director of the Master of Science program in Game Design and Development at the University of Limerick.

The BAFTA Special Award is, of course, far from the first time Brenda Romero has been recognised for her significant contribution to the industry. Among her previous accolades is the Ambassador Award, presented to her at the 2015 Game Developer’s conference in 2015. She was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the GDC Women in Gaming Awards in 2013. Next Generation named her on of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Game Industry, while in 2008 Gamasutra included her in its list of the Top 20 Women in Games.

Speaking about being presented with the BAFTA Special Award, Brenda said:

“I am first and foremost grateful to BAFTA for recognising the artistic potential and power of games. This recognition is culturally critical for games overall. So for that, I am profoundly thankful.”

Congratulations Brenda. You’re an inspiration.

Liverpool Girl Geeks’ Quest to Get More Women into the Tech Industry

Peer behind the bright visuals and impressive tech of video games, a pastime designed to entertain and delight its audience and you’ll see an industry crippled with misogyny and sexism. For being the most advanced entertainment art form on the planet, the industry’s opinion on how women should be treated is planted firmly in the Stone Age. One of the main reasons the industry alienates females is due to the sheer lack of women working in it. Instead, it is a male dominated industry making products targeted almost exclusively at men, reinforcing the idea that women shouldn’t play them and women shouldn’t make them.

Fortunately, organisations like Liverpool Girl Geeks are spreading the message that being in possession of lady parts doesn’t mean that you can’t also pursue a career in video games or the wider technology industry. LGG head up  technology-focused courses, workshops, and events for females of all ages to educate and inspire. They run academies spanning 8 weeks that teach specific skills, like coding for girls aged 14-17, tech-based bootcamps and a free club for 11-17 year old that offer young ladies the opportunity to try out tech and as well as offering field trips to places like the engineering lads of Liverpool University and local digital companies.

Jo Morfee, director at Liverpool Girl Geeks, said:

“We believe that our teen programmes are an essential part of the longer term strategy to tackle the current gender imbalance and skills gap in the technology sector. The digital and tech sector is continuously evolving and as a result, there are so many fantastic job opportunities out there. These girls are the future of tech and it is so rewarding to be able to work with them closely to inspire and support them into the industry. ”

For women interested, or already involved, in the technology industry, there are also free monthly meetups and low-cost courses.

It’s not only Liverpool Girl Geeks that feel the tech sector would benefit from a woman’s touch, this year PlayStation have shown their support for the endeavour by sponsoring the organisations second Bootcamp. Launched on February 28 and running for six weeks the course teaches skills like website building and coding and gives girls the chance to meet other girls keen to get their geek on.

Speaking about the sponsorship, Michelle Tilley, Senior Release Manager at PlayStation, said:

“There is a gender imbalance within our technology sector and we need to take action now to ensure a more balanced and inclusive industry for the future. The Games Industry is an amazing place to work so we should actively encourage young women to join it by inspiring, championing and empowering them to achieve their dreams. I believe by supporting Liverpool Girl Geeks we are working towards this culture change.”

The endeavour is indeed a commendable one, but the lack of places means that only a small number of applicants actually get to participate in the Bootcamps. Last year, of the 90 applicants the programme only had the means to offer a place to 15 girls, traveling from as far as Llandudno to participate. This kind of programme could see wide benefits from expansion to the rest of the United Kingdom and hopefully, we’ll see more organisations like this one spring up to really make an impact on a number of females joining the tech sector and particularly the games industry, where their treatment has been particularly hostile.

More women working in the games industry would likely entice more women into playing games. It doesn’t mean that every well-known franchise would suddenly turn into a dress-up game, dating sim or restaurant management title, despite popular opinion there are actually a significant number of females who enjoy traditional gaming experiences like witnessing the cranium of a zombie explode with a well-placed headshot or taking on a mighty fire-breathing dragon. What we would likely see is a better representation of women in games with more realistic female characters playing significant roles and a decrease in tropes that alienate female players.

The treatment that women receive through being the minority and the stereotype that tech is a man’s world is enough to put most females off even entertaining the idea of a career in the tech sector. However, the reality is that the more women that do pursue a career in the industry the more the situation will improve and it’s through associations like Liverpool Girl Geeks that equality can become a reality. A larger percentage of women in the games industry would send the message to young girls that it’s perfectly acceptable to be interested in and pursue a career in this traditionally male pursuit. Who knows? Among the Girl Geek recruits could be the next Jade Raymond or Kim Swift.

(featured image courtesy of pixabay.com)

Horizon Zero Dawn – Guide to Getting Started

Horizon Zero Dawn is not only a fantastic game, it also tells the story of Aloy, one of the most intriguing and capable female protagonists to grace games this generation. With global game sales for Horizon in excess of 2.6 million for its first two weeks on sale and widespread acclaim from critics and players, this feisty new heroine has undoubtedly proved herself worthy of a place in the PlayStation hall of fame.

In order to help you get to grips with Aloy’s adventure, I’ve compiled a guide containing all you need to know when first stepping foot in this sprawling prehistoric-style land, as well as tips for taking on its fearsome mechanical inhabitants with ease.

Use a variety of weapons

Not all robotic dinosaur beings are made equal and so you’re going to have to utilise a variety of weapons and tactics in order to bring them down. While a well-placed arrow to the face of a Watcher may do the trick, better firepower and a carefully thought-out strategy are needed for the bigger, tougher enemies that soon show up. Luckily merchants are stocked with a diverse supply of death-dealing instruments suitable for every kind of encounter. The Rattler, for example, is fast firing but lacks power, rendering it largely ineffective against machines, but perfect for human targets. The Ropecaster pins small yet quick enemies like Scrapper’s in place, leaving them open to powerful melee strikes. Heavy firepower, like the Tripcaster loaded with blast darts, is ideal for inflicting massive damage on more hardened adversaries such as the mighty Sawtooth.

Complete weapon tutorials for extra XP

When you obtain a new weapon, check the tutorial section of your quest list to find an optional objective pertaining to that weapon. Usually requiring you to take down a certain number of enemies, these quests not only provide a means of learning how to use the device, they also grant a generous amount of experience upon completion, helping you level up faster in the game’s early stages. A means of levelling up quickly is essential to keeping Aloy alive as it grants her a health boost as well as valuable skill points used to gain access to new and useful skills. In order to complete a weapon quest you must have it set as your active quest, otherwise kills made with that weapon won’t count towards the quest’s completion.

Don’t forget about your Focus

Scattered throughout the landscape are collectibles that grant an insight into the ancient technology-obsessed world. These can be found and activated using Aloy’s Focus. This strange mechanical earpiece not only gives information but can also be used effectively in combat. Using the Focus allows Aloy to target enemies and tag them, pinpointing their location even if they’re no longer in sight. This helps with tracking enemies, especially if you want to edge in for a stealthy takedown. If all out action is more your approach, the Focus can be used to briefly highlight weak points on enemies which can be targeted for maximum damage.

Continually scavenge for resources

Downed enemies offer a bounty of useful items for crafting ammo and items as well as storage upgrades. They also regularly drop modifications to helpfully enhance weapons and armour. It’s not only mechanical creatures that can be scavenged, the environment also yields a wealth of useful resources. With no regenerating health system, you’ll have to rely on healing herbs scattered throughout the land for survival. Collecting branches ensures that you have a healthy supply of arrows and the meat from small creatures allows you to craft fast travel kits for instant navigation, helpful for when you’re tired of wandering the wilds and would rather speed up the action.

Choose skills wisely

As mentioned, Aloy acquires skill points as she levels up, giving her access to new skills that improve her performance in a variety of ways. Some of these skills are more useful than others and choosing the right skills rather than wasting points on unnecessary ones makes for an easier and altogether more enjoyable experience. The machines in Horizon are worthy adversaries and Aloy can’t withstand any more than a couple of hits from these ferocious robotic beasts. It’s therefore highly advisable that you spend points that allow Aloy to carry more herbs which she can scoff if the battle goes ill. Boosting the Concentration skill is essential as it lengthens the duration of slow motion while aiming, allowing for easier and more effective targeting with the bow. Critical Hit also proves invaluable as it allows for high impact hits on downed enemies. Skills, like dropping silently from a height and shooting from a tightrope, aren’t all that useful and should only be considered when you’ve bought up the more beneficial ones.

Take the time to explore

Not only are the side quests in Horizon Zero Dawn an effective was of obtaining XP, supplies, and special items, they’re also worth doing for what they add to the narrative. Venturing off the beaten path leads to encounters involving interesting characters in all manner of dire straits. Side quests and areas of interest don’t instantaneously pop up on your map so you’ll have to do some exploring if you want to discover these optional objectives. Make sure to always venture to areas outside of the path required for the main story and keep an eye out for green exclamation marks that pop up when you near the location of a side quest. Scaling the world’s mighty Tallnecks allows you to uncover more of the world map and for those keen to discover everything, treasure maps that handily pinpoint the location of secrets and collectibles can be purchased from traders.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a huge adventure with lots more to discover on your journey from outcast to seasoned adventurer. These tips should prove helpful during your first few hours in the wilds. Happy hunting!

Dishonored 2 – Review

Dishonored somewhat broke the mould upon release back in 2012, flying in the face of AAA games that increasingly value visual spectacle over gameplay. With its lack of set pieces and Hollywood-esque theatrics, Arkane’s stealth action series scaled things back and focused on crafting a game that was simple in concept yet clever in design and massively capitalised on what is a game’s unique and defining quality – the freedom for the player to experiment and craft their own experience.

Those that have played through the original will be familiar with masked assassin Corvo Attano and his daughter Emily Kaldwin. Taking place 15 years after the original, we’re introduced to a grown-up Emily. Now Empress, she is disillusioned and discontent with palace life – while endless royal ceremonies may be a drag, she could show a little more enthusiasm given all poor Corvo went through in the original game to put her there! Things start to unravel when antagonist Delilah shows up claiming to be the late empress’ older sister and rightful heir to the throne. She proceeds to overthrow Emily in the game’s opening moments and from here players are given to  go about settings things right as either Emily or Corvo. Whoever they don’t choose gets turned to stone by Delilah’s witchcraft and doesn’t feature in the game.

Delilah isn’t a nobody who’s suddenly swanned in and made her theatrically evil self at home, she’s actually a key character in both chapters of the original’s story DLC – The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. While it’s fine to have recurring characters, introducing such a major character through additional content leaves those that only played through the main game at something of a loss. The game follows the same path whichever character is chosen, with differences occurring in the narrative and the abilities at the player’s disposal.

Dishonored_2_Delilah_PAX_1473066087.png

For many, the original Dishonored was the definite stealth action experience thanks to those nifty powers that could be used to violently eradicate or cunningly bypass enemies. Playing as Emily offers a completely new set of powers this time around. Using Far Reach Emily can propel herself across long distances or grab enemies and items. Others, like Domino, allow Emily to link multiple enemies together and wipe them out simultaneously. Shadow sees her to transform into super stealthy demon form to whisk around levels unseen or sneak up and enact some arcane-infused justice. Abilities can be upgraded adding extra benefits and new ones are unlocked using Runes. These are found scattered throughout each level making exploration essential to building your power collection and increasing your odds of survival. You can also tackle the game completely stripped of your powers if you’re feeling brave, or particularly masochistic.

The addition of both characters is disconcerting; one the one hand it’s great to have the option of playing as either male or female, one the other hand it’s hard not to wonder if Arkane’s choice of also having Corvo as a playable character was a lack of faith that Emily could carry the title on her own. It makes more sense from a narrative perspective to have Emily restore her honour -much like Corvo did in the first – rather than have her Daddy swooping in to save her yet again. Also, Corvo’s repertoire of powers remains largely unchanged from the original, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – teleporting through environments using the Blink ability or unleashing Devouring Swarm to subject your enemies to some ravenous rats is as fun as ever – but an overhaul of his skill set would have better warranted his role as a playable character. Instead he feels like an unnecessary inclusion, added simply to ensure the game didn’t succumb to the decline in sales that sadly befalls many games featuring a solo female lead.

emily_trailer_still_1434319206

The level of freedom offered here goes beyond combat and gender as there are multiple ways to approach just about every situation and obstacle in the game. Dishonored 2 transports players from the darkened Victorian streets of Dunwall to the vibrant and robust southern city of Karnaca. Dubbed ‘The Jewel of the South’, this sunny setting showcases expansive areas which offer remarkable detail and depth. The intuitive level design allows for objectives to be reached in a number of ways. Need to get through a locked door? You can take the thorough approach, carefully checking guard’s desks and pockets, or a more adventurous route by scaling rooftops to find an open window. This freedom also cleverly lends itself to the game’s bosses. There’s always the opportunity to attack key figures from behind the shadows, exploring levels to find the means to negate their power. It’s clever, intuitive and entirely optional as you can always boldly attack them head on if that’s more your style.

A word of caution for those that enjoy a deadly approach however, like the first Dishonored 2 will punish players for pursuing the violent path with what it describes as a ‘cynical ending’. It’s not unreasonable to want a good ending for characters you’ve spent considerable time and effort aiding, but following the low chaos route – rendering enemies unconscious or avoiding them completely – means missing out on some of the game’s best powers. Powers and choice are what sets Dishonored apart from other stealth action series so it’s disappointing to see Arkane chastising players who opt for a lethal approach. The lethal or non-lethal element should serve exclusively as a gameplay mechanic, but instead it’s a banal attempt to introduce some sort of morality aspect that’s completely absent from the rest of the narrative.

Dishonored_2_Mesmerize_GamesCom_1471271828.png

Unfortunately granting players the choice of customising the game to their own playstyle inevitably comes with its own drawbacks. No more so is this evident than in the game’s difficulty balancing. Levels are littered with legions of guards with very little indication of their whereabouts until it’s too late, meaning playing stealthy can often turn into a monotonous game of trial and error. They also react to the presence of your character with inhuman reflexes and pursue relentlessly – the limited view afforded by the first person view doing little to help spot them or execute an efficient escape. But of course, the game needs lots of enemies with quick reactions because it’s also an action game. Fortunately, this is only a pressing issue for the early missions of the game, before you have helpful abilities – like being able to light enemies up like Christmas trees – to aid in stealth tactics. However, unlocking these powers does involve a rather time consuming hunt for Runes in each of the game’s levels, meaning those that don’t put the time into finding them will find their combat choices rather stunted throughout.

That said the game’s issues don’t wildly deter from its intelligence and often elaborate brilliance. Cleverly combining powers to escape or eradicate foes is thrilling and exploration is a joy thanks to the game’s exquisitely detailed levels rich with character and history. Few games in recent memory offer the lavish intricacy of master inventor Kirin Jindosh’s mansion, patrolled by the intriguing yet deadly Clockwork Soldiers, or the technical brilliance of the Timepiece – a gadget that allows you to instantly flip the entire level between the past and present at will. Dishonored 2 successfully builds on the foundations of the first, providing a stealth action experience that’s memorable, strategic and satisfying, with the kind of freedom that liberates the player more than any of those expansive, yet painfully dull, open words that seem almost obligatory in today’s AAA releases.

8/10

(all images courtesy of press.bethsoft.com)