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Dishonored

Dishonored is a 2013 stealth assassin game by Bethesda and others. In it, you play a previous bodyguard who utterly failed his job when his queen was assassinated. He then got framed for the murder and stripped of all his honor, which is where the title comes in, and then has to exact revenge on those who framed him and later those who double-crossed him in a variety of fun, inventive and different ways. There are guns (for boring people), magic powers, thousands of routes through different levels, moral choices and dead whales. Most importantly here, though: The city of Dunwall has a tram system.

Trains

Dishonored lives in a weird alternate universe, where the industrial revolution is running on whale oil, and so the designers felt the need to invent odd fantasy equivalents of our normal modern-day technology. That explains a lot of things that don’t make sense, but sadly, it’s not enough to explain the tram system. The only explanation that I can think of is that the Dunwall City Railroad was chaired by an insane madman, and a giant failed investment. The citizens are now trying to make the best of it.

Infrastructure

It starts seemingly harmless, with the rails that have not two, but four rails per track:

Two sets of tracks run into the distance, each with four rails. They end at what looks like a Half-Life 2 Combine wall.

The reason for this is very simple: The trains have two different track gauges. Each train car has two trucks, with one wheel set wide and the other wheel set narrow.

A train truck with the front wheels narrow and the rear wheels wide.

Now, careful, this requires maths: Four tracks cost twice as much as two of them. It makes no sense to install four tracks where two would suffice. If you want to be nice, you can say that it spreads the weight a bit more, but usually, you use various forms of ties for that (trams have them too, just hidden below the road pavement). And the oddities don’t end there.

First of all, as you could already see, the track appears to be one solid block with a groove. Similarly, the wheels have an extrusion that fits into the groove. That arrangement is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a real railroad, but it could certainly work. There is a distinct advantage to this approach: You can fit the tracks flush with the road surface.

Sadly, the insane chairman of the Dunwall City Railroad didn’t do that. The tracks reach a few centimeters above ground and are a perfect trip hazard. Thank god video game characters never trip over things, otherwise Dunwall would have one of the most dangerous public transportation systems ever.

The system is a tram system, and as such, it has some extremely tight curves. It also has a few switches, where you can change from one track to another.

A switch, with a train car parked right behind.

If you look closely, you’ll see that you can’t, actually, since the rails just overlap. Also, there’s no mechanism to switch. Finally, all the signage that even tram switches usually have is missing. I could get very mad about this, but then, I’ve never seen any game (including train simulators) that did get any of this right.

My verdict: The tracks are weird, but there are no grave mistakes here. For those, we have to look at the cars.

Rolling stock

There is a variety of trains working the lines, but none really tram like. There are freight cars and what appear to be personal luxury cars, but nothing to bring the working masses from their desolate homes to their soul-crushing factory jobs. But social issues are boring. Technology is interesting. Where to start?

Who’s driving this train!?

Best start at the front, at the driver’s seat. Which does not exist.

A car from the front. There is no driver's seat or control equipment of any kind.

Huh. This isn’t the kind of game where automated robots roam the streets, but apparently the trains do their job on their own. Not that it matters much, because for the most part, you don’t see these trains actually driving, and especially not around curves. That also makes sense if you consider their trucks again:

A train truck with the front wheels narrow and the rear wheels wide.

And yes, that is the same image as before. As you see, the trucks are really, really long. One of the basic rules of railroading is: To get around tight corners, you want a short wheelbase. That’s just a function of the geometry. Putting the wheels on different tracks doesn’t change that. These trucks will never get around the corners in Dunwall. Was Insane Bob, chairman of the Dunwall City Railroad, responsible for this himself, or did he fall prey to scoundrels that sold him worthless trains?

Without drivers and no way to get around curves, the system is already in the deep red. But it gets worse: There’s no power. You can clearly see the lack of overhead lines. An important rule in Dishonored is that everything that isn’t powered through cables is powered through whale oil canisters (and every cable ends at a whale oil canister sooner or later). It’s magic whale oil, so let’s not get hung up on that part. What matters is that the trains don’t have them.

Getting power through the tracks, like a model railroad, would be possible. The game implies that it’s done in some sections, where the trains run suspended in the air. This section is less than fifty meters long, and touching the electrified rails means instant death, so clearly that was just an incomplete test.

A lot of these things can be explained by assuming that there are seperate whale-oil powered locomotives that are, for some reason or other, not currently available. Dunwall does have a bit of a rat and plague problem, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that the rats ate the locomotives. Well, it is a bit unreasonable, but I certainly didn’t find a better explanation.

The Game

Notice: This section is not relevant for the final rating.

Clearly Dishonored is not a good train simulator. It never claimed to be, but then, a game with hideously deformed people wouldn’t get away with saying it’s not a people simulator. Still, the rest of the game is excellent.

The game is focused around missions. You have to track down someone, typically someone who is or aided evil, and then either kill them or find a non-lethal (but always very unfriendly) way of getting rid of them. It is very open ended. The game just puts you somewhere, gives you a marker for your target, and says “have fun!”. You can kill everything in sight, or slowly make your way without being seen. Various power upgrades await you, and they make real differences in what you can do and how.

The story behind it is rather boring; the only big question is which of the three heads of the revolution you’re working for will betray you at the halfway point. But the story isn’t the point here.

The graphics aren’t the point either, but they are amazing. While there aren’t any big technological revolutions, it still looks amazing.

A sunset shines through the harbor.

Light direction is great, and all surfaces look not real, but painted, giving a very nice stylized effect. What you will notice, though, is that the game takes very heavy influence from Half-Life 2. Dunwall is arguably a steampunk City 17 in most respects. Of course, this also applies to the trains, which seem to be the urban brother of HL2’s Razor train.

Conclusion

I don’t feel good ripping too much into the Dunwall tram system, because clearly someone thought long about it, unlike e.g. in Tomb Raider Legend. But the end result still doesn’t even begin to make sense. So I have no choice but to say that the trains in this game are bad. You should still play it, but don’t pay attention to anything related to rails.