Hitman: Absolution Looks Like a Good Stealth-Action Game, But is it a Hitman Game? «

Some things that leap out at me during a recent demonstration of Hitman: Absolution where series protagonist Agent 47 has to find someone hidden inside a Chicago orphanage before an extremely unsavory band of hired thugs (at some point, I see one looting the corpse of a nun) do the same:

•Agent 47 has “Instinct” — meaning he can toggle a vision mode that lets him temporarily see through walls and illuminate a track on the floor that indicates where enemies patrol.
•At one point, Agent 47 witnesses some baddies interrogating a captive security guard. He can simply sneak by and progress with his mission. Or, he can intervene and take out the cluster of baddies in the area. Rescuing the guard in this fashion reveals the location of a hidden shotgun.
•Agent 47 can duck behind cover; recall that Hitman: Blood Money came out before cover systems became A Thing.
•Thanks to the previous point, Agent 47 can now survive a sustained firefight.

Click the image above to check out all Hitman: Absolution screens.
The latter, combined with the mostly linear nature of the demo, provides the thought behind the headline. Absolution already looks like a damn good game in general. The characters and environment look suitably modern, the action looks fast and fluid, and the kill animations inspire their fair share of wincing (developers at IO Interactive point to how Agent 47 can use more objects as improvised weapons now — such as crucifixes, paperweights, and the like). Absolution also retains the series’ occasional dark humor — one particular off-kilter moment comes when Agent 47 observes a bizarre conversation between two goons: one who is obviously high and sounds like a refugee from a Harold and Kumar installment and another traditional baddie who chastises the former for getting high during a mission. It just, at the moment, doesn’t quite look like the Hitman game I expect to see.

Some of this feeling is a result of tweaks that developer IO Interactive are making to the gameplay. The improved shooting and Agent 47’s survivability comes from IO Interactive’s attempt to add more tools for Agent 47/the player. Missions in previous games were technically doable with shooting, but those were treated more as punishment or something to use as last resort; you always received significantly less money for run-and-gun or you simply died a lot that way. Running through the demo twice — one with a fair amount of stealth, silent kills, disguises, and corpse concealment while the other with a fair amount of ducking behind things and shooting — shows that the developers want to make the game playable for fans of Hitman’s traditional, “observe, sneak, and improvise weird kills,” and for players who want to shoot their way through a level.

Other “this doesn’t quite look like Hitman” thoughts come from the nature of the missions themselves. I’ve seen two demonstrations of Absolution so far: the E3 one where Agent 47 has to escape an abandoned Chicago library while under pursuit by the police, and this one. Both of these demos take place with a sense of urgency (cops in the former, and bad guys on a search mission in the latter) and are driven by overriding objectives (escape, or find). By comparison, most missions in previous Hitman games were more about taking out a specific person in a sandbox environment. The overall goal was always, “take out this person however you choose” rather than a specific action or circumstance like in the Absolution demo. Urgency only came about as a reaction to your own actions — whether they are as subtle as replacing a prop gun with a real one to turn an “execution scene” in an opera into a real execution, or as overt as walking up to someone and shooting them.

Click the image above to check out all Hitman: Absolution screens.
The more linear or objective-driven missions come as a result of Absolution’s story. The developers have stressed that there is more emphasis on story this time; previous installments were more about disconnected assassination missions with occasional plot threads. Art director Roberto Marchesi tells me that the premise of Absolution follows the end of Blood Money, and starts with Agent 47 killing the one person he’d consider his friend: handler Diana Burnwood. During that hit, Diana tells him to look for a certain girl (leading to the mission I watch), which then leads to another scenario, and presumably to the Chicago-wide manhunt that’s in effect during the E3 demo. Producer Hakan Abrak says that the game takes place in a variety of locations, but focused within two cities: Chicago and an unannounced one (that, based on developer hints and trailer analysis, seems to be a European city like Prague).

Through it all, I and other Hitman fans (Anthony Gallegos at IGN and Dan Stapleton at Gamespy) repeatedly ask if the series signature — assassinations within a sandbox environment — will remain present. It’s something we all love about the Hitman series, and as good as Absolution looks, when we see a lot of shooting in a more straightforward environment, it makes us ask about the core Hitman. Both Abrak and Marchesi says that those absolutely are in the game. Even with the emphasis on story, there will be missions within that story that fall into the “kill this guy in a sandbox” framework. It’s just that as part of a media plan, IO wants to show off that Absolution is a cool game in general first. “We still have plenty to show,” notes Abrak.

I have some confidence in this, based on how Square published the hardcore and old-school-friendly Deus Ex: Human Revolution last year. And as mentioned earlier, Absolution looks like a damn good game in general. I just hope that the next time I see it, it looks less like another well-made stealth action game with elements of Batman: Arkham Asylum or Splinter Cell: Conviction, and more like a Hitman game.

 

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