Hitman: Absolution Hands-On Preview
It’s been several years since gamers last had the chance to take control of a certain bald-headed assassin with a penchant for sharp suits, but the wait is almost over for fans of IO Interactive’s Hitman series to take Agent 47 through his paces once more.
Developer IO Interactive, and publisher Square Enix, had already garnered a significant amount of discussion prior to E3, mainly due to an innovative pre-order offer (which saw gamer’s who pre-ordered Hitman: Absolution receive a spin-off title, Hitman: Sniper Challenge, for free, months before the game’s release), as well as a certain trailer. Whilst Sniper Challenge was well received, the question remained as to how the core game would actually play, and whether the numerous changes that had been brought to the series would hinder or evolve the gameplay.
I managed to get some hands-on time with one level of the upcoming Hitman: Absolution, and suffice to say I came away from it rather impressed.
The level took place in the Chinatown area of the game’s main locale, Chicago. Agent 47’s task was simple; eliminate a target residing in the district, and then escape the area before being arrested by the men in blue. However, what initially seems like a rather mundane task is helped by the fact that there are a multitude of ways in which Agent 47 can accomplish his mission, ranging from an all-out assault on the target’s pagoda, to a more stealthy approach.
Upon first entering the Chinatown district, you are immediately struck by the sheer mass and volume of people residing in the small square. There hardly appears to be any room to breathe, let alone carry out an assassination without anyone noticing. The people are constantly hustling and bustling, with street chefs peddling their wares creating a wave of noise that crashes down upon you. The design on show here is striking; it seems as though each individual citizen is their own unique person, yet when you are moving effortlessly through the masses they appear to be as one. The team has certainly captured the feeling of being part of a crowd, and the game suffers no obvious slowdown even though there appears to be hundreds of people in a very small area.
As you guide 47 around the central pagoda and through the various small alleyways and crevices of the square, you are prompted to use your Instinct; in essence a simplified version of Batman’s Detective Mode. The idea is that by using Instinct you are able to se the world through the eyes of an assassin, to convey the fact that 47 is a trained killer, and therefore sees things that the common person may not.
Whilst in Instinct mode your target is highlighted in a golden hue, whilst the various guards and adversaries glow an ominous red. A glance down at the floor, and a guards patrol path is marked out by a flaming red line. Instinct has replaced the mini-map of old, and it certainly helps the flow of the game by avoiding having to constantly pause the action to see where enemies are located or heading.
47’s Instinct also highlights several potentially interesting objects, and gives tantalising clues as to how they can be utilised. As you walk past a fish merchant, your Instinct tells you that one particular fish is rather poisonous if applied in a certain way. It may also tell you that a certain structure is weak, or that the target has an affinity for a particular car. Rather than telling you out and out how to go about your task, Instinct rather provides hints as to possible methods you can utilise. The fact that it is meter based prevents players from overusing it, and its various applications (for example blending in with guards wearing the same uniform) go beyond simply highlighting a guard’s patrol route.
I decided to employ a more traditional method. I notice that my target is regularly visited by what appears to be a drug dealer, whom I discover, by using my Instinct, resides in a flat overlooking the pagoda. I wait until he vacates his property, and then distract the guard blocking the only way in by severing the power to the overhead lights. This increases my level score; subtle actions such as this will be rewarded, whilst overtly violent acts, such as opening fire blindly into a crowd, will detract from my overall total and prevent me gaining a Silent Assassin rating. The fact that each level can be converted to a numerical quantifier, as well as the implementation of leaderboards, will surely give the game some longevity and replay value.
I enter the dealers apartment, and notice a conveniently placed sniper rifle. Before using it however, I quickly check my surroundings using Instinct. I notice the dealer is returning to his flat, and so I quickly hide in a nearby wardrobe. The dealer enters and heads to the window, at which point I quietly let myself out and incapacitate the fellow. My cover intact, I pick up the rifle, head to the window, and quickly dispatch my target.
Commotion fills the square, as the people run from the sound of the gun and the fact that a man has just been shot. I quickly swap clothes with the indisposed dealer, hide his body in a large trunk, and make my way towards the exit. The guards don’t even take a second look at me as I walk past them.
Hitman: Absolution is currently set to be released on November 20th, 2012 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC and OnLive.