Dishonored’s Writer Thinks That Gordon Freeman Is Creepy As Hell

Dishonored’s Writer Thinks That Gordon Freeman Is Creepy As Hell

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 2is 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. 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.


  • Never had a problem with silent protagonists, never will.
    (Disclaimer: This is not to say that the ‘silent protagonist’ can’t be done poorly, of course anything can be done poorly)

    • Yup you are never going to have the issue where you hate the main character because he has a shitty VA. Or he doesn’t represent the way you imagine the character. That’s one of my biggest issues with DA2. In DA:O my character never vocalised so when I selected something for them to say it didn’t come out differently to what I expected.

      As opposed to VA where the simplest way to do it is give a set of brief options and then have a VA voice them. Which results in a response that you thought might mean one thing, instead leading your character to then suddenly flip their shit because the VA associated with that isn’t what you thought it was.

      • Opposite here, after playing DA2 first the silent protagonist of DA:O annoyed the hell out of me, like driving a mannequin around the world instead of being part of it.

  • I always liked Gordon’s silence, sometimes being able to put your own back story on things makes them better (unless you have no imagination at all of course)

    There was enough story going on to elude to things that he may have been involved with, but without telling you “this is how things are”

    As someone who used to to role playing as a kid, i love this.

  • I sort of agree with him. I never liked Gordon. He’s not even a character. He has no personality, no backstory and no interaction with the world. Playing the Half Life games feels like playing as a ghost. He’s the silent protagonist done wrong.

    You also have Portal’s Chell, and I think she’s slightly better done that Gordon. She feels slightly more like a character. Slightly more like she belongs. The reason for that isn’t because of anything to do with the character but because of the supporting cast. Chell, like Gordon, is a nobody, but GLaDOS and Wheatly have enough personality to make up for that. They can fill the void and help make Chell feel more real. Half Life didn’t have that.

    From the sounds of it, Dishonored’s protagonist is actually going to have a character, a personality. He’s going to be silent, but he’s still going to be someone. Hopefully this approach works out well.

    • Thats kind of funny, I played for about 3 hours last night, as much as they try make you invested with the close relationships, i felt very much like Gordon Freeman… you only talk in the odd yes or no capacity so far, and its not voiced… at least so far.. text choices.
      The game is great tho, the feel is very much a “HL2/bioshock/Deus Ex:HR” feel, and teh first time you decapitate someone or kill them in a new way its very satisfying, i replayed the second scene like 3 times, just too see how many ways i could do things, and even with only a sword at that stage still very open..

  • I think that’s kind of the point with Gordon Freeman, Valve made him silent in order to emphasise the point that he was just a guy, and could be anybody. The fact that he was silent also helped players project onto him, making them feel like they were Gordon Freeman and it was their actions, not Gordon’s that lead to the uprising against the combine.

    That was their point, to make it seem like anyone and everyone has the power to rise in the face of oppression. I don’t disagree with Grossman, I just think he’s missed the point of Gordon being a silent protagonist.

  • I always thought the idea behind Gordon and his silence was to inject the player in his place. You are Gordon, the words you mutter and the swearing and cursing is meant to be Gordon’s (although sadly they never make into the game world). You become the right man in the wrong place. You go through the motions because that’s what you are told to do. You have no idea what is going on because you are experiencing the world as both Gordon and yourself.

  • Lets not lose sight of the fact that Half Life started in the era of the silent protagonist — Easier to code.

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