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Dishonored 2's ingenious A Crack In The Slab mission shows Arkane at their best

The Time Traveller's Knife

A hunched man appears in shards of glass, surrounded by plush ballroom scenery in Dishonored 2
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

Dishonored 2 is an immersive sim stealth 'em up by Arkane and it's been in my brain a lot more than usual. Partly due to this year's RPS 100, but also because of the mess that was Redfall. Arkane swung at the live service hero shooter and missed, with some comments writing off my sadness in the review as an inevitability. Sure, there's definitely truth to Arkane having changed over the years, of course it has. But I don't think there's anything wrong with being hopeful.

I think of Dishonored 2's A Crack In The Slab mission as both a beacon of Arkane's past pedigree and a symbol of their situation in the present. While I can't look into the future, I still think there's worth in turning to an all-time classic of a stealth level.

This GameSpot video is a great chat with the devs about how they put together such an ambitious level.Watch on YouTube

No doubt Arkane has changed since Dishonored, what with studio heads leaving and the Microsoft acquisition. People come and go as time marches on, it's just the way of things. And I acknowledge the stories that emerged in Bloomberg's investigation about Redfall's development. All the mismanagement and miscommunication that led to that game's messy arrival is yet another example of the games industry's deeper issues. I just find it a bit irksome whenever anyone says, "Well, what did you expect?", as if my disappointment in a game is a result of an error in how I picture one of my favourite studios. Not to mention, a complete disregard for the talented people in those studios who work really damn hard. I might not have anywhere near the full downlow on how they're operating at any one time, sure, but am I wrong for having faith in a studio whose two branches have collectively put out Deathloop, Prey and Dishonored 2? Not to mention an all-timer of a stealth level that is A Crack In The Slab?

A Crack In The Slab (which I will henceforth refer to as CSlab) is what it feels like to discover a ruined building's provenance as you twirl a knife around in your hands. The building in question is Aramis Stilton's manor, which lies crumbling and empty thanks to a mysterious occult event that happened three years ago. Your job is to figure out what happened on that day, and to do so a supernatural lad called the Outsider grants you the ability to flit between past and present with a special timepiece. At the press of a button, it transports you from crumbled carcass to spotless suites and back again. Press another button and the timepiece flips up shards of glass, windows that allow you to see what's happening in the opposite timeline.

Amaris Stilton sits hunched on a piano stool in Dishonored 2
If you garrotte, pacify, or leave Stilton alone in the past it'll actually affect the present. Mindboggling stuff. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

CSlab isn't only genius because you're able to move between past and present seamlessly, it's because you're forced to stealth in an entirely different manner. All of your powers - the ability to teleport, to grab stuff with dark tendrils, to warp into a fish and swim through tiny tunnels as just a small sample - are stripped from you, so you're entirely reliant on tracking timelines. Instead of slipping around corridors and crouching in dark corners, you often hide in plain sight, checking your watch for brief windows in time where you're able to flit from the safety of the present's empty corridors into the busy past, then back again.

A stately home interior, showing a guard in shards of glass from another timeline in Dishonored 2
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

Of course there's the whole cause and effect thing, too. A safe might be locked in the past, but in the present it lies splayed open, combination on show. Pull a lever in the past and you might raise a chandelier just enough so you can hop to it in the present. You start to see obstacles - literally - through the lens of someone who can't always manipulate the make-up of a map, but can slip into a timeline where the passage of time has taken care of it for you. Eventually, you start rubbing your hands at the sight of fallen pillars or ruptured ceilings, like you're some weird celebrant of decay.

Stealth in CSlab is an active way of unravelling and sometimes changing Stilton Manor's provenance, fulfilling the fantasy of those moments where you pass a painting or an abandoned spot and think, "What's the story behind this?". And in a way, I think it's an interesting time capsule of a past Arkane at their absolute peak, able to execute on their ambitions. It's a reminder of their pedigree in the here and now, where the present simultaneously shows Stilton's Manor and the barren lands of Redfall. One thing I can't do is flit to the future, but if I had a timepiece, I'd like to think I could whip it open and see Arkane come back swinging: between those shards of glass, an all-new immersive sim with the swagger of the past.

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