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Dishonored preview: We unmask the biggest surprise of 2012

Prep for Monday's review with our massive hands-on

This article originally appeared in PSM3 magazine. Come back on Monday 8th October to read our definitive verdict on Dishonored and get essential tips for conquering Dunwall.

You are an assassin - but you don't have to kill anyone. You can play through Dishonored without taking a single life. You might cause some deaths, but you never have to pull the trigger or swing the blade yourself.

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But some deaths are unavoidable, namely that of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. She's been assassinated, and you - Corvo Atano, a soldier whose job was to protect her - have been framed for her murder. The true killer somehow teleported away before the guards arrived, leaving only you and the bloodied corpse of the city of Dunwall's beloved leader. Worse still, they kidnapped her daughter, Emily. Moments before the attack, she teaches you the game's stealth mechanics in a game of hide and seek. One of Dishonored's many clever touches.

So Corvo has been wrongfully slung in jail for the alleged murder of the Empress, and that's where the game begins proper. It's the first mission in the game, and serves as a tutorial. At this point you have no supernatural powers - you have to use weapons and stealth to escape from prison. A mysterious benefactor has slipped you a key and a note. He says his organisation knows you're innocent, and wants to expose the sinister truth about the assassination.

We sneak through the prison, tossing bottles to distract guards, then sneaking up behind them and slitting their throats. Enemies have cones of vision, so if you stay out of their eyeline and in the shadows, you can get past them undetected. Later, a power allows you to see these cones, but for now we have to use our instincts.

Dunwall is full of violent, flesh-eating rats, and as we escape through a sewer tunnel, our only means of escape is guarded by a swarm of the plague-ridden beasts. Nearby, however, are piles of human bodies: victims of the plague that are being dumped. We pick one up and throw it, and the rats run after it to feed. We then use the distraction to slip to safety.

This is a brief, linear mission, but the rest of the game is all about freedom, creative solutions to objectives, and big, open maps. Of the two missions we played, the best is the Lady Boyle assassination. It's one of the best-designed missions we've played in a game for years, and every other journalist we talked to completed it a totally different way.

PARTY TIME

We're at a party. It's a lavish masquerade ball thrown for the city of Dunwall's wealthiest citizens, and the revellers' faces are obscured by surreal, eerie masks. One guest looks like a giant insect, another is a black-eyed porcelain doll with a twisted grin.

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We're wearing a mask too. That's why we're able to move through the party unchallenged, despite being the most wanted man in the city. As we walk through the luxurious venue - an opulent, silk-draped mansion - we hear people comment on our equally strange mask between sips of champagne. Confetti spurts from marble whale sculptures, and armed guards roam the halls.

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