Dishonored is poking its wee assassin's face stealthily around the release schedule corner. It's looking at me, and trying to work out whether it's going to throttle me unconscious or stick a dagger up my chin.
Since going to Arkane Studio's HQ in Lyon a year ago, I've been quietly pumped for it. It's an optimism that seems reflected in the comments threads - everyone is curious, impressed, and piqued by the game. Everyone I speak to seems to think it could be something genuinely special. But there's that doubt in the air, too. This is, after all, the company that made Dark Messiah, an "options-based" first-person fighter that relied more on spike beds dotted unusually around a city.
Dunwall has none of the curious design decisions of Dark Messiah, though. Many developers will say "gameplay is king", which usually translates into "yes, we know it doesn't make sense, just shut up about it". But Arkane seem dedicated to an equal partnership between the player's actions and the world.
This leads to a world that is amazing - the concept art I saw on that first day has been transformed into a filthy, diseased sinkhole of poverty and quarantine, and an equally perverse world of decadent aristocratic opulence. It has clockwork items, but to call it Steampunk seems dismissive. Like calling it a zombie game, because there are plague-frenzied Weepers who come lunging at you.
All games say that "your actions will have consequences". Of course they do. If my actions didn't have consequences, I'd be watching a movie. But Dishonored runs the gamut of consequences, from the huge and obvious - which ending you'll get - to the subtle and poignant, like what guards yell at you as they kill you. The posters on the densely packed walls. Whether a strange, artefact-strewn cave you walk through will be the location of a battle, or empty. It all depends on what you've done.
If anything defines Dishonored, it's how brilliantly unnecessary it all is. The maps are chewed-up knuckles of snarled pathways, but you'll only need to uncover a small percentage to complete your objectives. Sometimes, that's because you're being offered multiple paths. But there are whole buildings that are unnecessary. That are there for flavour, as locations for money, power-unlocking runes, or perk-bestowing bone charms.
I think this is the first game where I have watched a man record an audio log, before killing him and listening to it. That felt good. It felt creepy. It felt greepy.
Dishonored might not have the largest maps, but they're so dense with information, they feel huge. Some of the close-up textures are a bit Vaseline-smeared, but that just gets me thinking how brilliant the next one will look, on the next generation. And there had better be a sequel.
I want everyone to get excited about Dishonored, because I'm worried it'll sink, and people like Rafael Colantonio will be discouraged from building more completely new worlds. I'm worried that Viktor Antonov, the surly but passionate genius behind Dunwall and City 17, will extend his negative assessment of the games industry's taste for originality to gamers, and pack it up in a huff. And I'm worried that Harvey Smith will be forced to get a job as an advertising executive, or something equally perverted.
Borderlands 2 is getting the billboards at the moment. That makes sense. Borderlands 1 generated huge amounts of word-of-mouth goodwill without any kind of media blitz. If the sequel is as popular as it deserves to be, then the world is full of justice. But maybe spare a little bit of justice for Dishonored, which feels very much like it could be the masterpiece that Arkane have been threatening to make for over a decade.