Developer: Arkane Studios / Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 400 MSP ($5) / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language]
On the surface, you’d have every reason to dismiss the Dunwall City Trials DLC for Dishonored. The name alone implies a series of rote, extraneous challenge maps that you’d guess are cobbled together from campaign content left on the cutting room floor late in development. However, Dunwall City Trials is an extremely inventive, challenging, and substantive extension of the Dishonored experience, even if it doesn’t extend the story or setting of the main game.
Trials’ ten challenges are loosely grouped into four categories (stealth, action, mobility, puzzle), but even challenges within the same category can be wildly different. While I relied on stealth for the campaign, I found the two stealth challenges to be the weakest. The premises for them are novel: one has you infiltrating a party and gathering randomly placed clues to deduce the identity of your assassination target, while the other tasks you with stealing as many goodies as you can from a mansion (which I hope is a direct reference to a similar mission in Thief 2).
However, while the campaign provides some safety nets for when you’re detected, these atomized challenges are much less nuanced. A bad blink or errant, clanking bottle can scuttle twenty minutes of meticulous sneaking, and that just sucks.
Conversely, the puzzle challenges accentuate Dishonored’s strongest aspects. My favorite challenge sets you outside a room stocked with enemies and a kill quota to meet. Once you enter the room, time freezes for a handful of seconds to let you set up as many death traps as possible. Not only is it a great intellectual challenge to deduce how to use your items to maximize your kill count, but watching all of your death traps spring to life the moment time resumes is a hilarious delight. It’s like a less complicated Rube Goldberg machine, only with more explosions and screaming.
Some of the challenges, rather than butt heads with unforgiving gameplay quirks, feel poorly tuned for the 360’s controls. One “action” challenge echoes Fruit Ninja by launching waves of differently colored whale oil canisters at you that trigger bonuses based on their color. All you have to do is shoot them out of the air, but the canisters move so quickly that I can’t imagine posting decent scores without the precision of a mouse (though some ridiculous leaderboard scores prove anything is possible).
Additionally, some mobility challenges are especially frustrating due to your inability to jump and look at the same time on the 360 (since you have to move your thumb off the right stick). In fact, you have to hold the A button for a while to get the double jump in Dishonored, which exacerbates the problem. Yes, these are called challenges so it’s fitting that they are challenging, but it simply feels like many were tuned for different hardware, specifically, the PC.
Regardless, I have to hand it to Arkane. Dunwall City Trials is far more enjoyable and original than I initially thought. The four or five challenges that click are easily worth the DLC’s reasonable price. However, this DLC feels similar to the time trials in Mirror’s Edge. Even though it’s quality content it simply may not be what you want or expect. However, at such a price, I encourage you to jump in and find out for yourself.