We seem to be entering into a new era of first-person shooter.  Gone are the old days of simply picking up a rifle and going to town on enemies that appear in front of you.  Instead, you have objectives to complete, worlds to explore, and strange new themes to discover, with a stylish approach that probably wasn’t even fathomed when the genre first got its start in the 90’s.  I’m talking about stuff like Bioshock, which remains an unmatched classic to this very day, as well as the upcoming Bioshock Infinite and, in some ways, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, with its riveting new storyline.

But one game we definitely shouldn’t take for granted is Dishonored.  First revealed a few months back in an issue of Game Informer Magazine, this is the latest effort from Arkane Studios, the team behind Arx Fatalis and the much under-appreciated Bioshock 2.  You can tell there’s a bit of Bioshock-esque essence in this first-person action game, but that serves to its advantage, as the developer has its own exquisite tale to tell here.

Dishonored takes place in a twisted future, one that definitely seems very Steampunk influenced.  Part of the surroundings look like they take place in around 18th century London, while there are also robots and high-tech freaks running about, keeping things in order.  You play Corvo, a loyal bodyguard to the empress of Dunwall, the city you’re dwelling in.  Out of nowhere, she’s murdered by a deadly assassin, though the frame-up makes it look like your character was responsible.  On the run and infuriated by what transpired, Corvo sets out to make things right by digging into the conspiracy theory and punishing those responsible.

Along with abundant strength, cat-like reflexes that rival those of the killers in Assassins Creed and plenty of life-taking abilities, Corvo is also able to use supernatural abilities on occasion.  These include Blink (allowing your character to teleport); Possession (taking control of certain animals and, when you’re strong enough, human beings), Rat Swarm (where you can call upon a group of rodents to devour certain types – think Ben, but a little bit nastier), Slow Time (where you can slow down time and kill multiple unprepared enemies in one shot) and others.  Think of them as a variation to the Plasmids, but without the need to inject yourself with EVE.  (On the other hand, you’ll need to make sure your mana is replenished, because when you run out, you’re just ordinary again.)

In addition to superhuman abilities, you also have various weapons that you can pick up over the course of the game, including blades, handguns and better firepower that provides you with an advantage over Dunwall’s forces.  But shooting enemies is just part of the fun, as there are variations that you can use over the course of the game to dispatch them.  At one point, we even used possession to force someone off a ledge, teleporting back out of them before they hit the ground.  Now that, folks, is concentration at its best.

What’s cool about Dishonored is that it isn’t necessarily the same game twice.  Yes, you’re completing objectives through the same world, but the way you do it is quite remarkable, as new paths open up and bonus rewards become available depending on how you do.  Some missions even require you to snag certain targets and keep them alive, like a doctor named Solokov.  It’s tricky enough just knocking him out without using any lethality, but then you have to carry him around everywhere while dispatching of his forces and activating doors and elevators to get you back down to the boat.

Along with various ways to get through a stage and excellent gameplay, Dishonored also has another vital asset – terrific graphics.  Even though we only had a short amount of time with the hands-on demo, the world of Dunwall looks very inspired, surrounded by classy décor and plenty of dangerous enemies as Corvo scrambles to stay alive.  The frame rate throughout the battles is smooth, and the way you can dispatch of some enemies, though overly bloody, is quite satisfactory.  In fact, you might be surprised just how much you call upon the rats to do your dirty work.

There are still some questions left to be answered, such as if we could expect any downloadable content to expand the game, or what kind of multiplayer might be included with the final release.  Sadly, Bethesda didn’t have those details just yet.  But we’re certainly not disappointed with what we saw from Dishonored.  Arkane Studios has one of their best efforts to date here, if not their very best, and it certainly paves the way for better first-person shooter experiences to come.  Bioshock Infinite might even have some competition next year.  MIGHT.

Look for Dishonored on October 9th for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC!