Published on June 12th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
E3: Going Incognito with Hitman: Absolution
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2012
There are some games where only one option is presented; where only one trail can be tread; where only one door can be opened. But this is not Agent 47’s way.
One of the most iconic assassins in video games, Agent 47 carries with him an entire array of various tools which can silence his prey or put them down permanently. In past games, he used his ability to take down his targets in a manner of different ways, and was limited only by the player’s imagination.
Though it has been six years since he donned the suit and red tie, our recent preview of Hitman: Absolution was proof that this old super killer is still as spry as ever.
The demo we saw during E3 last week was the ninth mission, or about half way through the game. Agent 47 was dropped into the sleepy town of Hope, South Dakota. He was on the trail of a missing girl named Victoria, and was following a lead that the boss of a local gang, the Hope Cougars, knew where to find her.
In this mission he was given not just one but five hits: four gang lieutenants and the leader of the gang, Lenny. The presenter remarked that having multiple hits and one main target in a level is typical in Absolution.
Starting off, we see two gang members in front of a gaudy pink ’50s convertible. At the top-right of the HUD were four pictures of the hits in the level. At the top-left of the HUD sat a score box that held a 0–more on this later.
New to the series is “Instinct Mode” which can illuminate targets in red, causing them to appear even through walls. The mode also predicts enemy movement paths, so getting the drop on a guy is much easier and faster then watching him plot is predetermined course. Spotting a target ducking into a nearby convenience store, 47 follows suit by entering the small store via side entrance. Hugging the shelves in the aisle, we watch as 47 sneaks up toward his first target who was speaking to the shop owner. The target soon left through an open door into the next room. Now, in a situation like this it’s important not to draw attention. Sure, we can kill the poor shop owner as she stands oblivious to 47’s presence, but there are far more tactful ways to get the job done. And besides, this poor woman doesn’t need to die for some scumbag.
On the way in, 47 passed by a radio which he returned to and switched on, distracting the shop owner long enough to get into the next room and upstairs where his prey was talking on the phone with his back toward the door. Too easy.
In Hitman: Absolution players are offered multiple ways to take down a target. They can either go in loud, quiet, non-lethal or deadly. In this case, 47 used his trademark piano wire to put down his target without alerting anyone nearby. Of course, since we went the distraction route with the shop owner, we are now faced with the fact that she has returned to her post and will quickly call for help the moment a large, imposing bald man walks out of the private section of the store.
Agent 47 isn’t stuck in a bind, however. The designers offer plenty of opportunities for the thinking assassin. Pulling a silenced pistol, 47 fires at a car sitting just outside the shop which triggers the car’s alarm. With the shop owner now outside wondering what the deal is, 47 calmly walks back onto the streets.
You may ask, “what if I want to take out my target as loudly as I can?” That, too, is an option that is designed into the game. For example, our next target happened to be across the street, holed up in what appeared to be a police station. Moving crouched toward the station’s door, 47 notes a nearby leaky gas pump. See? Things can be as interesting as you want.
Getting through the station and onto the roof where the mark lurked was easy enough, and the target soon found himself in a sleeper hold that sent him to bed early. Next, 47 unceremoniously dumped the target onto the ground below right next to the gas pump. Back outside, our assassin darted behind a stack of old tires, pulled out a brick of C4 explosives, and tossed it at the pump. The resulting thud alerted the nearby officers and once their gaze was averted 47 walked onto the street and pressed the detonator which sent them and the target flying.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to discuss the point system. In Hitman: Absolution, players are graded on how well they perform each signature assassin move such as going into disguise, taking out targets, moving undetected, etc. The score displayed at the top left of the HUD will go up and down throughout a mission and the end result will factor into how many points you have to put toward upgrading skills.
Using the previous kills as examples, the way Agent 47 quietly took out his first target without being seen and using the environment to distract NPCs rewarded some big points. However, that point pool took a hit with the gas pump explosion which got a little out of hand, causing a chain reaction with several other cars that were in the parking lot of the station. I asked the Square Enix rep at the end of the demo a few questions on the point system such as: “what kind of actions generate the most points?”, “is there a point cap in each level?”, and “would the drop in points (with the gas pump explosion) be more of a determent for players who want to take out targets their own way?” What I got: “Good ones,” “maybe,” and “Well, um…”
The rep admitted that at this point of development the team hasn’t completely nailed down the point system. They are still experimenting with it in hopes that they can figure out things like finding a good balance between punishment and reward and how many points are granted for certain actions. By the time the game finally ships at the end of the year, the point system may react completely differently than what we experienced during the show.
One of the gameplay mechanics making a triumphant return is the option to take out an enemy and don his uniform to blend in or get into secure areas unquestioned. A positive reaction to the loud explosion was that it drew most of the guards nearby toward it like moths to a flame. This allowed Agent 47 to sneak into the back lot of a auto repair shop undisturbed. A guard dog in a cage, however, was still on duty, and its barking got the attention of the shop owner who walked up to the caged dog. The codger wasn’t a target, so Agent 47 knocked him out cold, took his uniform, and threw a nearby bone into the cage to shut the animal up.
In Absolution, a disguise can only work so well. It will be effective against most NPC characters who don’t know you, but walking next to someone that should, say, in this case, another mechanic who works for the auto repair shop, could alert the person. Another example: wearing an officer’s uniform. Common citizens won’t know you from cop or crook, but walking into a police station filled with cops who know every officer will create problems.
For moments like this, Agent 47 can slip into a sort of incognito mode where he temporarily hides his face in order to get out of the NPC’s cone of vision. This was demonstrated as 47 walked by one of the shop’s employees who started to get suspicious.
Once inside the shop, we find another target wandering about. The demonstrator hit a button–RB on the Xbox 360 pad–that offered a quick hint. In previous games, taking out targets in different ways had to be found through exploration and often with trial-and-error methods. Absolution offers players who need a little boost with the ability to call up hints in order to come up with an idea on how to take out the target a certain way.
In the shop, the hint pointed to a release switch for a nearby car lift. Throwing a wrench under a lifted car to attract the target, 47 threw the switch, crushing the poor bastard under the vehicle.
Using hints isn’t necessary for success. In fact, Hitman purists can completely turn off the hint system or even the HUD itself for true hardcore assassin action.
In the final moments of the game, we were shown something called “Point Shooting.” Point shooting allows the player to slow down time and mark multiple enemies at once, then releasing to take each one out quickly with one shot each. It’s mechanically similar to the “Mark And Execute” feature from Splinter Cell Conviction. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I soon felt that point shooting is a good addition to the game. It isn’t something that should be abused, of course, but it will definitely be handy when walking into a large group of enemies that need to be taken down quickly without alerting anyone else. Unless you bust into a room full of guys while holding deagles. Then things can get noisy.
As I look back over my notes that I took during the presentation, I chuckled a bit at the last word I wrote: “Awesome.” Yes, as an old fan of the Hitman franchise I did indeed think that what I saw was deserving of the praise, as well as the defining period. Hitman: Absolution is shaping up to be one of Agent 47’s best hunts yet, even though there are some elements to still work out.
Word has been floating around the ‘net for some time that Hitman: Absolution will focus more on action and gunplay. In fact, most of the trailers that have been released so far have shown Agent 47 taking out enemies in a hail of gunfire. As a fan I felt that losing some of the stealth element would be a blow to the series. After this demo, however, I felt a little more at ease. Though the game does offer more options in simple shooting, I’m glad to see that the aging assassin can still get things done with stealth, tactics and class.
We still have until November this year before the game ships. All I know is that it will be a tough wait.