Stealth is a bit of a niche genre. Like, say, survival horror it doesn’t quite have the same mass appeal of FPS games or platformers. The number of players who seek escapism or a challenge through online battles or puzzles, dwarfs those who enjoy a game that requires them to hide in a laundry basket for minutes at a time.
The players it does attract, however, are a very committed bunch. The investment in a game like Splinter Cell: Blacklist or the more recent (and utterly superb) Hitman require patience, timing and more than a little luck if players want to enjoy the stealth-based delights they have to offer.
If players slip up and draw attention to themselves, modern stealth games usually offer them some options; they can go loud with gunfire or escape, regroup and try again. But developers also know their audiences crave the satisfaction of ghosting a level – sneak in, accomplish the objective and sneak out, leaving no trace they were ever there to begin with.
The concept behind the ‘Clean Hands’ Trophy…
The Dishonored series rewards the commitment to stealth more than most. Alongside offering Trophies for ghosting entire levels, Arkane Studios placed a Trophy in both of its games called ‘Clean Hands’. Players earn this if they manage to complete either game without killing a single NPC. Given the fact that the protagonist is an assassin armed with one of the most enjoyable kill-boxes in gaming, Clean Hands almost seems counterintuitive.
“Sneaking mechanics were always a part of Dishonored,” says Dinga Bakaba, Lead Designer at Arkane Studios. “Part of the thinking behind Clean Hands was, ‘if I can sneak from one end of this map to the other without killing anyone, why shouldn’t I be able to express this aesthetic throughout the entire game?’.
“If this option is available in a segment of one level, why shouldn’t it be available elsewhere?”
The idea behind the Clean Hands Trophy was aimed at taking the breaks off what is and isn’t possible in the Dishonored games. Even though Dishonored is billed as a stealth franchise, anyone who has played it knows it’s a mix of FPS mechanics. Players can choose to go loud and gank every NPC they come across – this naturally ratchets up the game’s overall Chaos rating – and they can choose to go completely silent and aim to ghost every level (even go for the Clean Hands Trophy if they so desire). There’s a ton of optional gameplay in between.
…and the fates worse than death it brought the game’s NPCs
Clean Hands was aimed awarding those players who committed to a certain aesthetic: quiet, non-lethal and above all else, patient. Given the fact that the missions in both Dishonored games centre around dispatching targets the players is tasked with assassinating, the decision to include this Trophy led to a few headaches on the development side of things.
“At first we were thinking of including this sort of gameplay as an Easter egg, making it super obscure and hidden,” says Bakaba. “But at some point our play-testers started noticing the potential for [completing the game without killing any NPCs] and they expressed an interest.
“So we thought ‘why not? Let’s see how far we can push this. Let’s see if we can support this urge for the entire game’. So we started thinking of ways the player could indirectly get rid of their targets.
“Some of them I’d say are worse than death,” he laughs. “Some are really creepy.”
Bakaba isn’t kidding. In the first Dishonored players are given the option of killing a rich female socialite at a masked ball or drugging her and allowing an obsessed suitor to spirit her away to a place “where she’ll never been seen again”. Which is more humane? In the eyes of a player with their focus on the Clean Hands Trophy, it’s probably the latter.
“That was our way of not allowing players to put themselves on the moral high ground,” says Bakaba. “Yeah, sure, you’re not actually killing anyone but that doesn’t mean that in the end you’re not getting your hands dirty.
“We didn’t want to give players a choice where they can take it and go ‘well, everyone’s happy now’. No one is a good guy in Dishonored. The shades go from grey to very dark. There’s no white.”
Clean Hands is a rare Trophy in that a very small minority of the franchise’s players have bothered pursuing it. According to Bakaba only 6 per cent of players have unlocked it. It takes time, patience and above all else, commitment. If one NPC dies in a game that last 12+ hours, everything’s ruined and those players after this Trophy have to start all over again.
“You have to think about every move you make in the game,” says Bakaba. “And I like the idea of a character that is all powerful but still shows restraint.
“It’s like you’re a superhero that has a code. I don’t know why I like that, but I do; the idea that a killing machine is willing to restrain itself. It’s cool if a player can do that.”
Dinga Bakaba’s tips to obtain the Trophy
- Save very often (if you aren’t playing Iron Mode, that is); and check your “killed” stats regularly from the pause menu when in doubt whether a character is dead or not
- Clean Hands isn’t the same as Ghost, so it is compatible with an improvisation/action playthrough. Being detected, there are various ways to get rid of enemies non-lethally: flee until things calm down, combat choke, air and slide takedown, gadgets like the Burning Venom darts, powers like Mesmerize or Bend time; use environmental objects like hot steam, chloroform bottles, knocking out unsuspecting enemies by throwing empty bottles at the back of their head ….
- You can try to focus your build on the nonlethal path by selecting the proper upgrades and bone charms, allowing you to perform devastating and spectacular combos. An upgraded non-lethal Shadow Walk combined with Domino, for instance, can empty a room in seconds.Placing an Arc Mine that is upgraded to shoot three times on the back of a Bloodfly, and then Possessing the Bloodfly, allows you to strategically put enemies to sleep from the air. Some Bonecharms, like Strong Arms, help a lot when their effect is stacked with the Trait Synergy crafting upgrade. Get creative.
- Look in the environment, read important notes and listen to conversations to hear about the alternative approaches to eliminate the main targets. There is always a way.
- Every now and then, blow off some steam by making a quicksave, slaughtering a bunch of guards, and quickloading. No, really, that helps (if you aren’t playing Iron Mode, that is).
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider launched on PS4 this week. Pick up the standalone adventure now from PlayStation Store.