Hitman Absolution [Preview] – 47 ways to die
It’s been more than four months since we last laid eyes on Hitman: Absolution, the long-awaited return of the bald headed, red tie wearing assassin-extraordinaire Agent 47. Back then, in our eyes-only preview, we were suitably impressed with the game’s visual appeal and potentially interesting new mechanics, but it was impossible to tell whether Absolution still felt like Hitman.
Well, thanks to hands-on time, we’ve now got a slightly clearer picture of what controlling Agent 47 in 2012 is going to feel like. The early signs are promising and, whilst there is more assistance than veteran hitmen may be used to, Absolution still exudes that feeling of quiet, calm, precise kills that went a long way to defining the series and separating it from the crowd. Whether the mixture will be right, is another matter entirely.
Our hands-on mission is dubbed ‘The King of Chinatown’, the goal is to kill a powerful mob boss who has taken control of the area and has the police in his pocket (minus Sting). The first thing that sticks out is the vibrancy of the small, densely packed map. At its centre is a Chinese pagoda flanked by pop-up stalls cooking and selling food of various flavours and colours. From the centre run a couple of streets lined with a few small alleys, and overlooking the scene is a drug dealer’s apartment – the entrance of which is guarded by a weary cop.
The whole map is covered with people, to the point where you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d just wandered into Oxford Street’s Top Shop store during a half price sale. Depending on how you play your assassination cards, the crowds can be a hindrance or a help. Go the shootout route and they get in the way, go the silent route and they help you blend in and disappear from suspicious eyes.
At the core of any Hitman experience has always been the provision of choice. There shouldn’t be any clear wrong or right way to go about things, and the potential routes to success shouldn’t lock you to a path as soon as you embark on one. This being an early mission from the game, it’s difficult to get a genuine feel for the general level of difficulty and how the game will highlight means of assassination, but there are a number of options for killing the King of Chinatown.
Tailing the King from a distance reveals a number of options for ending his life prematurely. You can kill a chef, steal his outfit, wait for the King to come over to check out your food and push him into a nasty looking cellar. You can wait until he wanders under a precarious looking crane before unloading a well-placed shot towards a supporting rope in an attempt to drop a crate of bricks on his head. You can steal some deadly fugu fish with which to poison his cocaine stash or cup of coffee. You can make your way past the cop, into the drug dealer’s apartment and use your sniper rifle to shoot him from afar. You can kill the drug dealer, take his disguise and lure the King to the apartment to kill him in peace with piano wire. And there’s more besides.
Or, you can ignore all of that, try to simply shoot him in the head from close range and make a run for it. Given the fact that a couple of bullets will kill you, and the number of armed guards he has, your chance of success by employing that ‘tactic’ is small.
To help you decide on the best course of action, Agent 47 can activate Instinct Mode which highlights potential enemies in a yellow glow and the primary target in red. Individuals highlighted in this way can be seen through walls, giving you ample information on patrol patterns and the strength of numbers.
The big question here, of course, is whether or not Instinct makes Absolution too easy; taking away many of the unknown elements that fuelled the sense of tension, danger and curiosity so rife in previous entries. Without wanting to sound as though we’re sitting on the fence, it’s much too early for us to make a judgement call on that. This is an early level and there’s no way we can gauge how helpful Instinct is going to be throughout the game on the basis of The King of Chinatown.
Of course, you can choose to completely ignore Instinct and go for it old-school. Indeed, the numerous difficulty settings on the main menu (all of which, other than normal, were locked for this demo) hint that such assists can be turned off fully. A ‘Purist’ difficulty, the hardest on the list, should (we hope) lock away virtually every artificial ability?.
Instinct foregone, there’s still plenty of options at your disposal. Disguises can be tailored from the clothes of anyone you’ve knocked off. Although different disguises are more effective with certain individuals. At one point we disguised ourselves as a chef, but the other chefs knew we weren’t one of them and raised the alarm instantly. Bodies must be hidden to avoid rousing suspicion. A new cover system sticks you to walls/crates/benches when you get close to them while crouching.
Then there’s the general rules of walk don’t run, take time to work out people’s movements and generally avoid drawing attention to yourself.
If you want to make things particularly difficult for yourself, and you’re a bit of a completionist, you can try to earn the challenge rewards that are linked to each level. As a taster, The King of Chinatown provides rewards for not using a disguise, using all the disguises, not getting spotted and killing the King in every possible way.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that multiple playthroughs will be needed to complete every challenge.
And so our time with Hitman Absolution came to an end, without us managing to get every reward (although we did score three unique assassinations). It’s to the game’s credit that we wanted to play longer just to see those remaining means of death and clock up those remaining challenges. We would have loved to experiment with different difficulty settings too, but alas, that’ll have to wait for another day.