While sitting down to play the first couple of hours of Hitman: Absolution, I forgot how to play a Hitman game. Buried with shooters that make you go guns blazing, I quickly was overwhelmed by the stealth elements that the Hitman series has arguably perfected. I first played a level set in Chinatown, eliminating the “King of Chinatown” was the goal. As I was controlling Agent 47 through the crowded marketplace, instead of searching every area for ways to “accidentally” kill the target, I was looking for ways to impatiently storm up to him and pop a few rounds off, as un-Hitman like as that sounds.
Luckily for myself and fellow fans of the series, after I shot the king in the face, there was no way in hell I was getting out alive (probably due to the fact I was playing on hard, because I’m hardcore). This game follows the Hitman formula perfectly. After I finally remembered how to play a Hitman game, I was stalking the area for ways to kill my target. I spotted remote explosives, a sniper nest, I observed the king eating food and snorting cocaine, both of which could easily be poisoned. He also took a walk near an open shaft that he might “accidentally” fall into. I ended up luring the king to a secluded area by setting his car alarm off. When he entered the area, I snuck up behind him in my disguise and slashed his throat with a knife I picked up. I then disposed of his remains in a garbage dumpster, changed back into my suit and walked out.
For those new to the Hitman series, the game has an in-game challenge mode. The challenge mode is full of different methods to kill your target and rewards you with points for completing them. It offers new players the chance to play Hitman properly, and eventually learn more techniques. But for experienced players it promotes replayability. The negative of this mode is that it takes away the process of finding all the methods yourself. While you’re not forced to open the challenge menu or even complete them, it definitely takes away the challenge of finding different and interesting methods.
As I was sitting down to play more than just one mission, I got to see that Hitman: Absolution changes the way that it presents itself. With previous Hitman games such as Blood Money and Contracts, the game is presented in separate missions. After a short cutscene, you are loaded into a level with one or more objectives and then tasked with exiting the level. Hitman: Absolution changes this.
During one level where Agent 47 is framed for a murder, he has to escape a burning hotel. The exit of the level is to reach a train station, after you’ve gotten through the hundreds of NPCs, that is possible due to IO Interactive’s new technology that allows them to render close to one thousand characters. You are streamlined straight into the next chapter, you haven’t magically left the last area and now in a completely different setting. You are playing straight from where the game left it. It’s an interesting way to play Hitman and the streamlining is a good move as it adds more emphasis on the main story and characters.
The largest addition to the game in terms of gameplay is the new Instinct feature. Much like Batman’s detective mode, it allows you to see enemies and the paths they take as well as important objects (through walls also). The most important feature of Instinct is using it when disguised. If you are using a disguise and you’re slowly being detected by enemies, you can press the Instinct button and you’ll walk past them without issue. However, you must think before you use Instinct, you can’t just use it non-stop. It has a meter on the side of the screen that fills up and goes down when you use it. Depending on when you use it, you can burn through it very quickly.
As a Hitman veteran, I thought I’d never need to use Instinct, but I was wrong. While I didn’t NEED to use it, I found using it made the experience more fluid. For example, as Absolution lacks an in-game map system like Blood Money, where enemies are marked out in yellow, I used the mode to see who was friendly and who wasn’t in the vicinity around me. Also, when in disguise it made it easier to cover my mistakes if I messed my stealth attempt up. If you thought like me that it will make the game too easy and for that reason you won’t use it, again like me you’ll be dead wrong.
Running on Glacier 2, Hitman: Absolution looks and feels awesome. A lot of the hassle of diving through menus has been taken away and instead streamlined in real-time in-game. Absolution also features a dynamic soundtrack, that changes depending on what the player is doing. When I went postal and decided to shoot anyone who looked at me cock-eyed, the music was thumping and intense. With David Bateson returning as the voice of Agent 47, the sound couldn’t be better.
I know that a lot of players (including me) were worried that Hitman: Absolution had been dumbed down and made more accessible for casual players. While it has been made more accessible, developer, IO Interactive have managed to do that without dumbing the game down at all. Gameplay mechanics that were thought to make the game too easy, just make the game more fluid. This game is not easy and still requires a lot of thinking and logic. After going hands on for a couple of hours, Hitman: Absolution is one of my most anticipated game for this year.
Hitman: Absolution is set for a November 20 release date, on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.