Lots of reviews have compared Dishonored to Valve's classic Half-Life 2. Both titles enjoy richly-drawn gameworlds with play mechanics that let you get creative. And they've both got lead characters who don't talk. So, you'd figure that Gordon Freeman served as a model for Dishonored's Corvo, right? Not exactly.
"I hate what Valve does with the silent protagonist," said Austin Grossman, who served as writer on Arkane's action/stealth hybrid. "I find it incredibly awkward and really creepy. I find Gordon Freeman creepy as hell. The difference between Dishonored and how it works in Half-Life 2 is that it's a lot more personal. I think you get that involvement because the character has personal relationships with people from the beginning. And it's very clear that people have fucked with you in a very personal way."
Grossman offered these opinions to me when I spoke to him over the phone last week, and he made it clear that he was speaking solely for himself and not for either developer Arkane or publisher Bethesda. When I noted that Valve's crowbar-wielding hero gets a lot of people talking at him, Grossman agreed and took it a bit further. "It's people talking at him, about him and sometimes even for him. He just happens to be in the middle of this whole thing."
"I'm biased, of course, but I think Dishonored grips you much more viscerally, more emotionally. And that's on purpose. Corvo doesn't talk and I think it works because everybody knows what Corvo would have to say," Grossman continued. "His actions form a sort of speech, something like "If I could kill the people who screwed with me… And if that includes you, then I'm going to kill you right now."
Grosman may have a point when comparing Corvo to Gordon. To be fair, more is shown of Corvo's relationships in Dunwall than of Freeman's in his backstory. But you could also argue Corvo's quest for vengeance is a much more personal motivator than Gordon Freeman's guilt. Part of the reason why one silence feels so different from the other might lie in the protagonist's backstories, too. If Freeman's muteness carries an element of cold detachment, it might be because he's a scientist who's been shifted through time and space. And Corvo's quiet could seem like it contains more menace because we're told he's an assassin. Still, silence is golden in each instance, even if each game finds its shine a different way.