Pre-E3 2012: Hitman: Absolution Hands-On Preview – Where There’s a Kill, There’s a Way
Written Friday, June 01, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” You only have to punch a combination of those words into Google and you’ll be hit with one of a thousand combinations of the well-known idiom. It’s a saying that rings true in video games in particular – unless you’re an ardent Mass Effect fan, baddumtish – and if there’s one franchise that exudes that mantra from its core, it’s the Hitman franchise. With its action-orientated hands-off presentation at E3 last year, fans of the franchise were worried – and rightfully so – that the title was taking a new direction. We headed into London recently to get an early hands-on with IO Interactive’s E3 build ahead of the year’s biggest trade show to see whether the latest build of Hitman: Absolution had what it takes to overpower the wavering faith of its fan-base.
How you get from A to B is the whole point of the Hitman franchise and it’s what it separates it from the competition – planning the kill and executing it has always been the Hitman trademark. Absolution is no different. The linear and action-orientated debut showing at last year’s E3 didn’t really demonstrate that, but after going hands-on with the second chapter of the game recently, it’s clear that the game’s structure hasn’t really been changed all too much. What’s changed is the complexity of the game.
“The King of Chinatown” mission that we went hands-on with is a standard Hitman hit mission in the traditional sense, but rather than doing a hit for the ICA this time – Hitman is hunted by his former employees in Absolution – Agent 47 is doing hits for all types of nefarious underworld folk in exchange for information. You have a sandbox environment, in this instance, Chinatown; a target, the King; and plenty of tools at your disposal. This is very much Hitman.
Unfortunately for us, the fact that we completed Act II in a matter of minutes on our first run was a disappointing start – pushing the King down an open manhole cover near the target’s stop at a local food stall in extra quick time. That said, had IO Interactive not run us through the level prior to our hands-on, we're fairly sure we wouldn’t have stumbled across such a quick out, so we’re not letting that disparage our first hands-on. Where the game came into its own was on multiple playthroughs, exploring different ways to take out the target and getting to grips with the mechanics.
The Chinatown environment is a hustling, bustling environment full of small market stalls, crowds of people, neon lights, Chinese lanterns, back alleys galore, with a pagoda as a focal point in the middle of the map. As soon as we picked up the pad, it felt intimately familiar. The way Agent 47 moved, the way he changed disguises, the way he fires his Silverballers, the way he crouches, everything, it’s very much a Hitman game in this respect too. He can even do brutal close combat melee now, which is a handy tool.
Long-time Hitman fans – I should know, I am one – thrive on one thing though. Something that Hitman: Absolution has in abundance: choice. There are tons of different ways to tackle this mission in particular and being able to get a good chance to experiment with them was what took the hands-on from underwhelming to promising.
Players can break a circuit board to create a distraction for a nearby guard which allows them to sneak into the den of the local drug dealer; from there they can assume the identity of the drug dealer, poison the drugs with the Kugu Fish from the market, use the sniper rifle to shoot the King in the pagoda, as well as stealing the surveillance tape in case you’ve been seen, and more. Players can rig explosives to the King’s executive car sat in a nearby alley way and then attract attention by setting off its alarm. They can poison the King’s coffee, poison a local stash of drugs that the dealer will deliver to the King, they can bring down suspended objects over the King when he least expects it and make it seem like an accident. The choice is there for all to see, and those are just a few, not all, of the ways the mission can be tackled.
With more realistic crowd reactions, being able to steal a wide array of costumes, being able to gain mission information from listening into other people’s conversations, as well as being able to store bodies in lockers and dumpsters, it feels very much like a Hitman game… and then some. Even the new ‘Instinct’ elements – that allow you to see your target as a glowing red blob, and more – don’t ruin the balance all too much. Just be careful of being seen – or having a blood pool seen – as these guys you’re taking on don’t mess around. Sure, you can go in guns blazing, but every time we did, we got completely wasted.
New to the franchise is the game’s challenges, offering players incentives and rewards for completing the mission a certain way or doing a certain thing i.e. killing the King with the poisoned Kugu Fish, shooting both the drug dealer and the King with one bullet, wearing four different costumes, and so on. Honestly though, while these are a great addition, they do give too many clues away as to how the mission can be completed – hit start and you can see the many ways to complete the level. The whole point of Hitman is discovering the perfect hit on your own, but it seems to be lost with this new addition. Hopefully IO can do something to fix that before its November launch. Having a more tangible score this time as well will no doubt mean that it’s going to spawn a lot of competition between friends, with takedowns, the amount of times you’re seen and how many guards you alert all negatively affecting your score. The quieter, the better.
In all though, despite the hands-on not kicking off quite how we’d liked, when we had a chance to explore Chinatown and experiment with a whole host of different ways to take down the King, Hitman: Absolution came into its own. Despite the action-orientated and rather linear demo from E3 2011, this year’s showing puts the emphasis back on choice and the game’s sandbox gameplay shines through as a result. Like Hitman games of yesteryear have played out though, the environments and levels get more elaborate and rewarding as you go on, which, seeing as this was only the second mission, makes us excited to see how ambitious IO Interactive has become in its long-time away from the franchise. Roll on the next hands-on, I say.
Hitman: Absolution is scheduled for a November 20th and November 23rd release in North America and Europe respectively.