Here's what is quite possibly the best game of the year - though that depends heavily on what sort of gamer you are. Enjoy stealthing about, taking out enemies unseen, scouring the environment for clues, secrets and sights? You're going to love it, and it's going to last you ages. Enjoy rushing around with a gun mowing down everything that moves? Well, you can do that and the game does very much support it, but you'll be missing out on a good 75% of the game and thus will find it disappointingly short.
With that proviso said, here's what Dishonored is. You could just about squeeze it into the first-person shooter bracket, as it plays from a first-person perspective and has shooting, but it offers a far wider range of possibilities and interactions than trying to lodge a bullet in a man's skull. Set in an alternate-history world where whale oil is the primary fuel source, grimy Victoriana and empire mentality never went away and at least one dark god pulls the strings of destiny, you play an assassin framed for a crime he didn't commit. As the unseen, silent Corvo, you hunt and neutralise those responsible for your unfair downfall across huge, spectacular levels with multiple paths, plenty of secrets and even options to take out your targets non-lethally.
Corvo's blessed with a set of otherwordly powers, most pertinently the short-range teleportation known as Blink, which enables him to reach otherwise inaccessible rooftops, to evade danger in an instant or to reach and take out enemies undetected. He's also able to possess first animals and then later (if you choose that upgrade) humans as another means of getting around in secret.
Or he can go for the all-out violence route: the Windblast power that can slam men into walls with bone-crunching force, or perhaps summon a horde of rats that will devour enemy guards alive, or he can freeze time to dispatch foes without opposition. Or, far more likely, some combination or all or any of these to suit your own tastes.
On top of that are weapons: a gun, of course, but more satisfyingly a sword that requires a spot of parrying and fluid movement to master, a crossbow for stealth kills or, if you're feeling merciful, stun darts, plus grenades, razor mines and incendiary bolts for more open carnage. How you choose to play has a dramatic effect both on your experience - i.e. a fast game or a slow one, one with sustained action or a stealthy hunt - and on the events of Dishonored's vengeance quest. The outcome will be altered if you're more violent, but so too will the contents of the levels - you'll see foes construct a different kind of response to you if you've caused open chaos, while side quests open up or close of depending on your actions
Again, DIshonored won't last you as long if you blitz your way through, killing everything in sight and heading straight for the objective marker. It's ok to play it like that, but if you want something more substantial we'd advise turning off the objective marker in the game's options and exploring your way around the levels. Or, better still, play the game through both ways. You'll see and experience different stuff.
As well as this multi-path play, DIshonored also offers one of the most eye-catching art styles of the year. It has a hand-crafted look to it, and the combination of 10th century stylings and sci-fi elements such as guards patrolling on armoured stilts, plus a dash of the occult, makes it highly distinctive where the glut of military-themed games it's technically in the company of do not.
Working against it somewhat is a slightly unsatisfying narrative, with a sometimes tricky to distinguish supporting cast who seem more there to convey an awful lot of information than they are to be memorable . But there are some gems in there amidst the panto villains and interchangeable military men - you'll encounter evidently lost souls with fascinating stories to tell in a world turned to civil war and plague, and even if Dishonored doesn't manage to pull at the heartstrings it's very successful at creating a mood.
Dishonored is a triumph, then, and doubly so for slightly older gamers who grew up with Deus Ex and Thief rather than Call of Duty and Gears of War. Sprawling, imaginative and begging to be replayed multiple times, it's very much what big budget action gaming needed right now.