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Hitman: Absolution

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2012

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PS3/X360/PC Preview - 'Hitman Absolution'

by Thomas Wilde on June 12, 2011 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Hitman: Absolution follows Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin, who takes on his most dangerous contract to date. Betrayed by those he once trusted — and now hunted by the police — he suddenly finds himself at the center of a dark conspiracy and must embark on a personal journey through a corrupt and twisted world.

For an assassin, 47 seems to have a knack for being tracked down. In Silent Assassin, he got called out of his peaceful retirement for one last (series of) job(s); in Blood Money, he was chased down again after his handler betrayed him; the entirety of Contracts was a pain-fueled flashback he was having while he waited to escape from the police; and now, in <I>Absolution, he's public enemy #1. It is possible that 47 is not quite as subtle as he would like to believe.

Hitman: Absolution received a unique, behind-closed-doors demo at E3. Unlike most other levels in the series, this one was a pure escape mission, with 47 attempting to evade the Chicago police; unlike most other demos, two developers from Io Interactive simply played through the stage without much in the way of additional comment.

At the start of the level, 47 has just broken into an old, abandoned library with the cops close on his heels, and he's completely unarmed. The library itself is practically a character all its own, and Io Interactive's near-obsession with cinematography really pays off here. It's dusty, broken-down and falling apart, even as 47 carefully sneaks down to floor level.

There are two new systems in Absolution that play a big role in the game and demo. One is a vastly heightened AI that tries to turn all of the NPCs into functioning characters, which could be seen in the demo with how the cops are constantly, nervously chatting with one another, even from across the room. It's difficult to speak more on the topic, but it was interesting to see how the cops' conversation — which was usually restricted to scripted, easily-broken events in the past games — evolved as time went on. They immediately noticed when one of the others wasn't at his previous location.

The other is an "instinct" filter on the screen, which symbolizes 47's feel for his surroundings. It highlights NPCs in a brief yellow outline, letting you see them through walls, and traces those NPCs' planned patrol routes in glowing trails of fire. Further, it automatically lets 47 home in on NPCs who are most likely to penetrate his current disguise, giving you the option to avoid them or do something to throw them off of the trail.

In addition to this, 47 is a lot more agile and stealthy than he used to be. Climbing up ledges, rolling between cover objects, and pulling people off of balconies and over railings Nathan Drake-style are all now possible.


In the E3 demo, which was apparently only one possible path through the game, 47 used the instinct vision to carefully sneak through the library shelves. At one point, one of the cops, an abused rookie, fixed a fuse box to light up half the building; 47 snuck up and ripped out the fuses, which made two of the cops go over to investigate. He slipped past them, grabbed an old power cord from inside one of the desks, and used it to strangle one of the cops. That created an opening in the patrol route, which 47 used to get back across the room, climb up to a balcony and pitch two unsuspecting cops into a hole in the floor.

Then 47 took one of the dead cops' batons and used a ledge to climb up and over a doorway to evade another patrolman on the balcony. He landed at ground level, used the baton to break another cop's neck, took his sidearm, and grabbed the rookie to use as a human shield. That gave him just enough time to reach the exit door before the other cops lost patience and opened fire anyway. In a hail of bullets and pursued by a helicopter, 47 climbed up the building and onto its roof, pausing to knock out another officer and steal his uniform.

Disguised as a cop, 47 went into an apartment inside the next building over from the library, where some marijuana farmers were frantically trying to hide their stash before the cops found it. 47 used one of their bongs as an improvised bludgeon to take out the two cops who burst into the apartment, then left them to be discovered as he walked down to the lobby. After bluffing his way past a particularly suspicious policeman, he walked outside and lost himself in the crowds.

 

The thing about Hitman that's always interested me, at least the way I play it, is that it's a puzzle/adventure game disguised as a third-person shooter. It's not so much that there's an obvious optimal path, although the series has always tended to reward you for secrecy and subtlety, as that there are quite a few different things you can do, and all of them will get the basic job done.

That's in full effect here, as the path the developers took through the level is only one of the possibilities. The opening move was obviously always going to be the same or nearly the same, since 47 doesn't have a gun at the start, but it was easy to see how many choices were being made. Did you kill the cops, avoid them or knock them out?

The last game, Blood Money, was probably the best Hitman yet, combining large stages with many potential solutions with AI that managed to successfully toe the line between abject stupidity and a telepathic hive mind. (Also, you got to dress up 47 in a clown costume. This is important.) If Hitman: Absolution manages to introduce more choice and options while still hitting the same sweet spot Blood Money did, this ought to be the best game in the series yet. I have high hopes.


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