By Nicholas Simonovski
To say I was a little excited when news broke at E3 2011 that Hitman: Absolution was in development is somewhat of an understatement. Having recently found a new level of respect for stealth-based action titles, it was great to see a new instalment to the franchise in the works. Fast-forward to just under a fortnight ago and I was fortunate enough to attend a preview event for this very game. With my suit freshly pressed and my fiber-wire wound tightly across my fist, here’s what I thought about IO Interactive’s upcoming title.
My objective was clear – locate and assassinate the self-proclaimed "Kingpin" of Chinatown. As I opened the steel gates and walked into the main courtyard, I saw literally hundreds of civilians in front of me... with my target was somewhere in the middle. As I started the level, a screen brought up the different in-game achievements I’d earn for the multiple ways I could assassinate the Kingpin. As I made my way through the crowds, I saw policeman walking around and chefs cooking and selling food from their carts; already, I was starting to understand how this mission could play out. The more I walked around, the more I started to understand the achievements I was teased – and this is where I really started to appreciate what Hitman: Absolution was all about.
Despite the fact this was only the second level of the game, I spent the greater part of an hour on it. Time after time, I would try something out, get caught, grab the attention of the police and end up either being killed or being put in a position where I had to restart the level to try again. It was embarrassing -- I must have restarted this particular mission at least 10 times -- but each time I did I’d get a better understanding of how I was going to tackle the situation. Each time, I was starting to think a little more like a hitman should. I’ve not had much experience with the franchise, but I was starting to see what made Hitman so great, and the level of detail and strategy that the developers have put into the game.
Eventually, I ended up sniping both the target and his accomplice, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy with my result. Just knowing the sort of game this is, using a firearm just seemed like a cheap way to end the level when I knew with more time I could have pulled off a much more stealthy assassination and had made it look like an accident. The next mission involved me sneaking through levels of a hotel in pursuit of a particular target. Without giving anything away about the storyline (that can be for you to discover when the game is finally launched), what I loved about the next few sections was the fact that I could essentially go through it all without killing the enemies in the room. Absolution features a scoring system which deducts points for killing characters who aren’t essential to the story and it just further pushed that idea of stealth and strategy as you went about the mission.
One of the new features to Hitman: Absolution is something called "Instinct." In short, the best way to describe it is thinking of Eagle Vision from the Assassin’s Creed franchise – it points out enemies, the paths they walk along, nearby weapons and tools and gives you the ability to blend in when wearing a costume so that those around you don’t expose you. It worked relatively well and it’s a great feature to help those new to the franchise, without fans feeling like the gameplay has been watered down. Instinct is depleted as you use it to blend in but is replenished when you eliminate your targets and clear sections of the level, so you constantly need to be mindful of how you use it and how you can play the game to fill it back up again.
People wondered from the "Attack of the Saints" trailer whether Hitman was losing its stealth roots, but just 30 minutes into the hands-in I could comfortably see that this certainly wasn’t the case. Hitman: Absolution is a true stealth game but one which allows players to muck around and go guns-blazing as well. Rther than see this as a weakness, it should be praised as making the game welcoming and rewarding to all types of players. Disguises, discretion and using the environment to your full advantage is the core focus of this game and I’m confident it will be received with great reception from the fans of the franchise and also those (like myself) who have recently found that interest in the stealth-based genre. Graphically the game is amazing, it has a storyline which engages you from the very beginning and its going to really push and reward those who think strategically to work through each mission. It’s been six years since Blood Money – Absolution has been well worth the wait!