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Hitman: Absolution Preview

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Posted by: Robert Workman

This past week at the Consumer Electronics Show, video games were slim pickings, which was kind of a surprise to us because, um, aren’t video games considered consumer electronics?  Regardless, some third parties did make the journey; among them was Square Enix, who happily showed off some of its highly anticipated games at a private suite over at the Palms.  Waiting there was the long-awaited return of Agent 47, the star of the Hitman series, for his latest – and deadliest – adventure, Absolution, which hits the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year.

Hitman Absolution

Boy, is Agent 47 pissed.  He’s still in the business of killing for a living, wiping out targets as assigned by his handler, and getting the job done with all the precision of a pro.  However, when he’s called upon to take out the one person he has personal contact with, the one who’s been assigning his business for the past few years, he finds himself in a bit of conflict.  It isn’t long before a few other unfavorable characters enter the picture, including those who may or may not have been responsible for the set-up of said contact.  So, Agent 47 gets his killing tools and goes to work.

Now, if you’ve played past Hitman games, you may realize that these games require utmost precision and a great deal of stealth to avoid getting caught or putting yourself into a bad situation.  However, with Absolution, you actually have the option to go crazy if you so choose.  IO Interactive, the long-time developer behind the series (along with the Kane and Lynch games), have provided gamers with a choice this time around, either proceeding on a mission with all the precision of a master assassin, or letting loose Sam Fisher style and killing everything in sight, just to prove how much of a bad-ass you really are.

To show how this dual perspective works, IO actually walked us through a demo of a level twice, showing different approaches each time.  The segment takes place in a Chicago orphanage where a group of gunmen have laid siege on the place, seeking out a little girl and killing everyone that gets in their way, including nuns.  Agent 47, donned in full priest gear, must reach the little girl before they do, and here’s where IO showed off the two ways we can do it.

The first is by being a sneaky and quiet assassin, just as 47 has been over the years.  This includes sneaking around objects and waiting for prime opportunities to strike, rather than rushing in guns blazing.  Here, the assassin can call upon a special sense that shows not only where his enemies are via lighted silhouettes, but also indications of where they’re going on routes, so he can get out of the way without being detected.  He can also throw objects in the environment for distraction purposes, such as a toy robot, which can distract enemies and make them check out what’s up, leaving you free and clear to move into the next room.  He can also knock out enemies silently, without the option of killing, though he’ll need to hide the bodies in order to avoid being discovered.  He can also swap outfits, such as donning a gunman’s clothes and mask and blending in as the “new guy”, which others easily dismiss.  Dedicated Hitman fans will definitely like this style of play.

However, for those who prefer the more traditional over-the-top style of play, there’s the straightforward action route.  Here, Agent 47 throws discretion aside and basically kills everyone when he sees the opportunity, snapping a neck or two on unsuspecting guards and even picking up a fire axe and smashing it into someone’s head when they’re not looking, only to dislodge it and throw it at a guy across the room, right into his face.  (Um, ouch.)  What’s more, he’s got plenty of guns at his disposal, and he can use cover to his advantage, regaining his health and taking potshots at those idiotic enough to stick their heads out.  He also has an ability similar to Red Dead Redemption’s “Dead Eye”, where time freezes for a few seconds and he can time certain shots in key places, then let loose and hit all his targets without fail.  We feel for those poor saps who think hiding next to an exploding drum is a good idea.  Rest in peace.

Despite the gameplay variances, there’s definitely lots of Hitman essence here, and IO backed it up with the series’ best looking engine to date.  Even though we only saw the one level (and small hints at others), it definitely has that dark, decadent assassin tone to it, whether you’re creeping in the shadows or letting someone have it in broad daylight.  What’s more, the character animation is fantastic, especially when you send someone toppling to their death or, better yet, hide a body in a ball pit.  (Let’s hope no kids discover that.)  The audio is excellent as well, with great, gritty voicework and music that picks up in tempo depending what you’re doing in the game.  As for Agent 47, well, he’s still the strong, silent type, which suits us just fine.

hitman absolution

Hitman: Absolution definitely looks like a winning addition to the franchise, both for players used to his killing style and those seeking a balls-out action game.  Kudos to Square Enix for taking the time to show it to us.  We can’t wait to pick back up on the killing racket when it releases this fall.  Stay tuned for more info, screens, and, well, bloodshed.

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