‘Instinct’ is the driving force behind Hitman: Absolution [Preview]12 Jan 2012
If you’ve ever played a Hitman game before (especially the most recent outing, Blood Money), then you’re going to notice within a few minutes of setting eyes upon Absolution that things look very different.
Previous games in the series have taken a minimalist approach to visuals, incorporating almost nothing above and beyond the physical world. The way the world moves is how you see it, and it’s your job to successfully operate within the boundaries that generates – no radar, no HUD, nothing but your own eyes.
Absolution adds a lot more, and I’m of two minds as to whether that makes things better or not (although we’ll never really know until we play through the entire thing). Much of Agent 47’s new additions aid him in terms of his ability to scan and assess situations. The word you’ll need to remember here is ‘Instinct’, and it’s what 47 needs to build up if he’s to employ these extra-sensory means of intelligence gathering.
Built up in the usual manner of “doing well” (performing headshots, staying out of sight, dispatching an enemy without being seen etc), one of Instinct’s most useful features is that it highlights bad guys for you – both those you can see and those on the other side of doors, walls, crates and whatever else may make up a mission.
I’m going to be honest here and tell you that, being the high and mighty mastermind of all things interactive entertainment, I audibly scoffed when I first saw this in action. “This is not Hitman,” I thought, “since when does 47 have Superman-esque x-ray vision?” Looking back on it, I’m still not convinced that it’s a welcome feature; although, obviously, it does come in very handy and, admittedly, IO Interactive has done a nice job of making it look pretty.
The most memorable example of it came after a body had just been crammed into a wardrobe in an attempt to hide the evidence of intrusion. With a guard coming up the stairs towards us there was nothing for it other than to hide in the wardrobe with the stiffening bastard and wait for him to pass. However, pass he did not. Seems he was just looking to take a piss, which he does in a plant pot that sat by the wardrobe.
Being Superman 47 we get a decent look at this… well, in ‘ghost form’ at least; enemies being visible via a loose outline that permeates whichever surface you’re looking through, rather than the surface itself becoming transparent.
Scripted moment or not, it was a neat touch.
Your powers of observation are given a further boost in that the patrol line of a guard will display itself if you look at him long enough (and have enough Instinct), allowing you to get out of harm’s way before he reaches you or will have line of sight on you. Like the x-ray specs, it’s a feature in which scoffing was audible.
Then there’s the ‘Point Shooting’ ability, which allows you to highlight targets and have the A.I. handle the shooting for you. As with many a modern third-person game, the reason for this is that it makes things look more ‘cinematic’ – the removal of player control giving the designers free reign to include crazy camera angles, slow-motion and other such homage’s to Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay.
What’s nice about the Kill Shoot feature is that it lets you highlight non-enemy targets, such as explosive gas canisters. For those with an imaginative bone in their body, such a small inclusion can result in surprisingly large consequences. If the explosives are in the right place, chain reactions can be set off that can wipe out entire rooms (floors even) without the enemy having so much as a chance of firing off a single round.
The chances that the explosives are neatly lined up for you to achieve such a thing when you happen upon them is slim, meaning some stealth is required to order them properly before you initiate the big bang.
While it would be easy for me to suggest that Absolution is looking like a “dumbed down” edition of what has been known as a fairly serious and tactical stealth game, to do so wouldn’t be fair. Yes, the Instinct abilities do provide many more tools than we’ve had access to previously, but the game isn’t “dumber”. It is different, but not dumber.
Your new abilities allow you to play as a bald guy with an itchy trigger finger, something Blood Money would punish you severely for. But you can still play stealthily and get results, the action approach has been incorporated with the word “addition” in mind, rather than “replacement”.
In the words of publisher Square Enix, Hitman Absolution is about “personal play style”.
47 does retain many of his old tricks for staying hidden; silent takedowns, dragging bodies to hide them, taking clothes of victims as a disguise, for example. And it is entirely possible to play through what we saw (an orphanage where our mission was to find the “little girl” before the bad guys) without alerting a single guard or firing a single bullet.
What we don’t know, is whether achieving our objective will be possible without making use of all the fancy new gizmos 47 has been loaded with. I’ve a hunch that the answer to that is probably in the negative, otherwise why would IO take the time to create them.
Thankfully, what we’ve seen of Absolution has managed to capture that quintessential Hitman ‘emotion’ of feeling like a complete, unadulterated and unmatched badass. Whether you’re hastily making your way between points of cover with only a second to spare before a guard catches you, or you’re lining up a headshot that will open the gates of Hell in a torrent of searing lead, Agent 47 is never exudes anything less than ultimate masculine cool.
It’s probably something to do with the bald head and the lack of emotion. The complete lack of a personality or style is actually incredibly powerful and direct. I think I’ve found my new man crush of 2012, sorry Nathan Drake.
So, Hitman Absolution is still Hitman, but it’s a Hitman with a load of stuff that has never been Hitman before. The key will be whether or not IO are able to balance the various components in such a way that they manage to retain the feel of previous games without infringing upon it, while at the same time doing the exact opposite – letting players play in a hard and fast style without making them feel they’re ‘stuck’ to acting stealthily.
If they can pull it off, then Absolution could be magical. If they can’t, it will feel compromised, middle-of-the-road and the very definition of jack of all trades, master of none.