Hitman Absolution – E3 Preview
After five long years on the run, Hitman V has finally broken cover and stepped into the light and, to be frank, it is about time. With Hitman: Blood Money being the first Xbox360 game that I ever finished, I have had a long wait for news of a sequel, but finally, the elusive Agent 47 is making his return and I got the chance at E3 2011 take a brief glimpse at the newly revealed Hitman: Absolution. Hakan Bent Abrak from IO Interactive led the presentation on the last day of E3 and was quick to explain that the demo we were about to see was a pre-alpha build, running on the PS3. Powered by the new Glacier 2 engine, the game sees Agent 47 on the run in Chicago, target of a citywide manhunt. When we join him, he has been tracked down to an old library and the police net is closing in. He starts empty handed, with no trademark Silverballers in sight and must rely on his instincts and survival skills – suddenly the hunter has become the hunted.
According to Abrak, the world in which Agent 47 prowls is a living, breathing one, populated by advanced AI, and as we see the Police fan out to cover the interior of the library, it appears he will have his work cut out. As soon as a pair of feet drop into sight, the music kicks into gear, laden with heavy drama – Agent 47 is here. Finally. He moves through the library, from cover to cover, dropping from ledges and staying out of sight as he begins to take out the police officers one by one in deliciously familiar style. Distract and lure tactics see a return here – for example, disabling fuses – and it isn’t long before he performs a silent choke takedown on his first pursuer. It is once he gets his hands on a power cord, however, that things begin to really move back into familiar Hitman territory.
Bodies can still be dragged and concealed and, of course, disguises make a return, along with Agent 47 being able to utilise objects in the environment to take out enemies, such as a marble bust used to club someone. Stalking his prey through the shelves and desks, we see him perform an Assassin’s Creed style ledge-pull takedown, after which, he scoops up a nightstick and slowly, but surely, begins to rebuild his arsenal as he uses it to choke another officer and relieve him of his gun.
It is during the cat and mouse game in the library that we’re first introduced to a new gameplay feature, although anyone who has played Arkham Asylum will probably recognise the similarity to ‘Detective Vision’. Yep, a similar system has been implemented here, with Agent 47 able to use an X-ray type mode whereby he can see through cover within a certain radius and pick out all the enemies. Not only that, what appears to be their line of sight is marked with fiery red trails on the floor. While I can understand the logic of this feature, I wasn’t overly enamoured of it at first. While some folk undoubtedly used and abused the same sort of mode throughout Batman, I can see the same thing happening here too. Whatever happened to practice, patience, pattern learning, timing, and damned hard work? Still, the mode is optional, and until I get my hands on it myself, I’ll reserve full judgement; I just felt strangely let down for some reason – perhaps because I had seen something vaguely similar again in Tomb Raider just two days previously (though more focussed on environmental objects than foes).
The screen furniture is relatively straightforward, with a handy mini-map in the lower left corner and the usual health/alarm meter on the right hand side. As soon as he grabs an officer as a human shield however, the alarm/suspicion meter turns red. I tuned out of the action at this point to drink in the textures and visual details and was suitably impressed. They are far better than its predecessor, even as a pre-alpha build and not only is the environment more detailed, but so are the characters. Along with more impressive skin tones, the famous black suit is far more realistically presented in Absolution, with light catching the creases and wrinkles to good effect.
Finding himself on the rooftops in the hammering rain, our agent flees incoming fire from a Police helicopter. I was, however, half caught up studying the detailed brickwork, and old debris as he flees for his life through rooms full of junk, moving swiftly from cover to cover as the scenery explodes around him. Reaching safety sees Agent 47 manage to snag his first disguise and walk calmly out into the action. Again, the visuals were impressive, with the rooftops a mass of vents and whirling air-con fans, while rain spattered and exploded onto the ground. He makes his way inside and into a hippy stoner flat where rainbow peace symbols decorate the walls, and wax dribbles realistically from the multitude of candles. Seeing the Agent as a Police officer, the whacked out hippy inhabitants flee, scooping up plants from their marijuana farm and even attempting to flush them down the toilet in an amusing scene.
The peace symbols and boho paraphernalia are an amusing and knowing contrast to the violence surrounding the agent, especially as he calmly clubs someone into silence with a bong. Oh yes – this is going to be fun. As he progresses through the building to make his escape past fellow Police officers, the suspicion meter starts to twitch. It is here that one of the new skills he possesses is put to good use. Instinct Power. We were told that this would allow the player to “see the world through Agent 47’s eyes” and it enhances other skills and abilities – an umbrella feature of sorts. How this ‘instinct’ is accrued, we weren’t told, but it can be ‘spent’ performing certain actions to help extricate the agent from potentially sticky situations. Here, drawing the attention of a suspicious fellow officer, he can perform a move suited to his disguise – in this case, fiddling with his radio – to satiate their mounting alarm and better help him to blend in. Walking boldly out of a lobby full of officers, the camera pans upwards in a satisfying cinematic as our elusive agent becomes lost in a milling crowd at a busy train station, bringing the demo to an end.
What was clear from the presentation was that there were multiple ways to go about things. It is possible to run and gun it, to hold your human shield and take everyone out, or otherwise stealth kill the lot of them. The freedom of choice to play how you please has always been, and clearly remains, as the developers say, “the essence of Hitman”, and it has always been one of the series’ most appealing features. The sheer number of possible ways to approach the levels in Hitman: Blood Money were impressive; here this approach looks to have been continued – hopefully translating into a replayable and ultimately rewarding player experience.
Hitman Absolution is stalking a 2012 release.
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