It’s been six whole years since the last entry in probably my favorite franchise of all time. So needless to say I was a little excited upon finally seeing the trailer for Hitman Absolution last year. For months I had waited for any little news about it, finally seeing a gameplay video late last year. So when I found out that Square Enix was hosting a panel to show off brand new, never before seen gameplay of the game, I was doing everything I could to get in. Needless to say, I did. Here’s what we saw.
The setting takes place in an orphanage somewhere in Ohio. You have been sent in to retrieve a girl named Victoria. Upon arrival, you find that there are already some really bad dudes raiding the orphanage. These guys are shooting nuns for sport without a second thought. The gameplay opens as 47 is on top of an elevator in the shaft, dressed as a priest. Above him, two of the men fill a nun with bullets as she crawls down the hallway. These men are some of the most evil characters I’ve seen in any video game and I just met them. They wear masks and have no soul whatsoever. One mutters, “You ever popped a nun before?” as the other replies, “In what way do you mean?”
We’re told the level will be played through twice since everybody has their own play style to Hitman. The first run through we will see stealth, completely undetected. The second will be full on assault, murdering anybody who gets in your way. While both were completed successfully in their respective ways, the object remained the same. Retrieve the girl that these same thugs are looking for.
47 quietly makes his way up the elevator shaft (remember, the first run through is stealthy), he waits for the men to clear out the hallway and moves up. You can hear a man begging to be let go as punches are thrown. As you move up the hallway, you can see there is a man tied up, claiming he knows nothing. Three men are around him still going for it. 47 moves up and sees a toy robot. Picking it up, he throws it into another room as it goes off. One of the men go over to it. This provides an opening for him to progress and he carries on, leaving the prisoner behind. He is trying to do this without being caught, after all.
Eventually, we’re shown off Instinct. Instinct is the replacement for the mini map in the series. For example in Blood Money, you hit LB to bring up a menu of each room, where each person was, and your targets. This time around, IO wanted to develop it right into the game instead. The Instinct button is hit and instantly we can see the outlines of enemies through walls. This is so the player will have a better understanding of his surroundings versus opening up a map. As usual in the series, even an open door can cost you the whole mission, so this is a welcome addition. Instinct also paints a line of fire on the ground when you’re near an enemy. This line of fire represents the enemy’s predicted path so you can plan accordingly. Instinct runs on a meter with a certain amount in it filled based on what difficulty you play the game on. You can refill it by doing signature Hitman things such as blending in with your enemies or successfully disposing of bodies.
One of the biggest things I noticed was the sound design in this game is probably some of the best I’ve ever heard. At times during the presentation, I thought there were actually people around the room talking. In this one little demo alone there was a ton of dialogue between characters in the environment. This, along with various loud sounds actually help 47 from being detected. The score of the game is appropriately raised or lowered based on the current situations.
Eventually 47 came across an enemy that he had the drop on. He grabbed him by the neck as two buttons could be pushed in real time. One said, “snap neck” while the other said “pacify” and needed to be rapidly tapped. Pacify was chosen as 47 put the man to sleep while struggling, constantly shushing him until he stopped moving. The man was put into a dresser but not before 47 stole his clothes, a suit and a mask. Another enemy was coming so 47 did something I’ve been waiting a while to see in the series. He actually got in the dresser with the man he just stashed in there.
Moving forward later in the level, 47 (now in disguise) walked into a lobby filled with enemies. We’re talking at least twenty guys with guns. As people started to question him, the player made 47 look through a variety of religious pamphlets in order to draw the attention away from him and blend in. It’s new things like these little moments that will now make the difference between walking away silently or having to pull a gun. Eventually, he made it to the end. Time for the assault run.
The level starts up again. 47 grabs a fire axe as the crowd all knows what’s coming. He hits one of the men from behind and takes him out. Gunshots start popping off like crazy as the music is much more intense than the last playthrough. He quickly runs up and buries the axe right in the head of one of the two men. Before the other man (who is across the room) can reload his gun, 47 flips the fire axe with one hand and chucks it like a tomahawk right into the dude’s freakin’ head as the crowd goes absolutely wild. 47 continued this one man rampage by picking up a crucifix and just destroying the back of some guy’s head with it. You could tell the AI was really worried from hearing the opening gunshots. Everybody wasn’t walking around without a gun out. They were on edge and shaken up, searching corners. This is easily some of the most immersive technology I’ve seen in a game.
After 47 had an enormous shootout with that same room of guys you read about him blending in with before, he casually walked into a room with two uzis. In front of him were about 8 men with rifles. This is where we saw one of the coolest parts of Instinct. It was here we found out that Instinct can actually be used to completely stop time, allowing you to search the situation you’re in before anybody can react. On top of this, you can trigger “point shooting.” Point shooting is a gameplay mechanic similar to Splinter Cell Conviction, only way cooler. Point shooting was activated as the player aimed a shot at two guys, then a propane tank, another guy, another propane tank, and then one last guy (choosing to place a shot in each kneecap and right in the crotch, naturally). The crowd gasped as it was activated. 47 delivers each shot in an almost conductor-like manner as we followed the bullet to the first guy, the second, the tank (which triggered an explosion, knocking back more men), the same with the second tank, and then shot the last guy in the knees and crotch as he was rocketing towards the wall from the propane explosion, all in glorious slow motion. The room was cleared, and much of the room we were in were on their feet cheering. The developers were smiling and laughing, proud that they could finally show off a product they have been working so hard on. The demo ended, and now I have to contain myself. Waiting for the next installment in my favorite franchise is no easy task, but after the very impressive graphics, sound design, AI, and overall gameplay, every second will be worth the wait.