Hitman: Absolution at E3 2012

We Get into Some Big Trouble in Little China

June 7, 2012 by

After being named as our Biggest Surprise of E3 last year when Square Enix and IO Interactive wowed us with a cinematic experience of a gameplay demo, Hitman: Absolution has easily been one of our most anticipated games of 2012. This week at E3, we got to check out a new hands-on demo (on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) that let us decide for ourselves how to utilize Agent 47’s deadly talents.

The franchise prides itself for giving players vast freedom of choice in terms of how to tackle the situation, and this new demo was a perfect exhibit of the trademark feature. You can adopt a strategy of calculated stealth, or you can go in like Rambo or Arnold, a straight-to-the-point one-man army with guns blazing. However, the second option is highly inadvisable as you’ll almost always ride the failboat every time you choose brawn over brains.

The fifth game in the series, Hitman: Absolution rewards keen observation, clever thinking, and methodical execution not only when it comes to scoring highly, but also just to survive. To do that, you’d better use the Instinct feature, which is designed to reflect 47′s training and lets you see the world through the his eyes by highlighting key objects or areas of interest.

The hands-on demo at E3 was a pre-beta build that required 47 to terminate a cocaine-addicted businessman in a very crowded part of Chinatown. And I mean really, really crowded. It seemed like over 100 NPCs were in the vicinity, many times making it difficult to get through alleys and barely being able to move in some areas. But it’s not as if 47 should be in any hurry, and impressively the details on the NPCs and in the environment were just as polished as the first time we saw Absolution. I know Sleeping Dogs‘ Hong Kong market is part of an over-the-top game that’s more focused on action over authenticity, but Absolution‘s realistic portrayal of Chinatown, with woks flaming up and dozens of customers clamoring for food, made Sleeping Dogs look dated.

The mark, identifiable in a white suit in case you somehow forget to use 47’s Instinct, spends most of his time in a pagoda in the center of Chinatown. He’s got 24/7 police protection; some are close by his side like bodyguards, while others patrol further out. How you decide to execute the mark is entirely up to you. I watched way too many people make a beeline for the target and whip out 47’s silenced pistols, triggering a nice reminder that 47 is visibly armed. Killing the mark is easy, but after that every single person who went this route ultimately got destroyed by the SWAT team that’s called in as backup if 47 survives the bodyguard force of cops. Noobs must’ve thought they were Sam Fisher, or not really thought much in the first place.

I’ll admit I pulled a noob move my first time playing the demo though. After sabotaging a fuse box to distract a cop guarding what turned out to be the mark’s drug dealer’s apartment, I stupidly waltzed right into the second-story apartment as the dealer was looking in my direction. I tried to fake surrender (and then lure him in closer for a tables-turning disarm), which entails holding down the button, but in my panic, I let go of the button, thus cancelling my perceived surrender and resulting in the dealer firing shots, which attracted the guard I had previously distracted. I killed the dealer and used the cop as a meat shield, but eventually the SWAT team prevailed.

I took a completely different path during my second run. I found the mark’s luxury car parked down around a corner, took out the cop guarding the car, changed into his uniform as a disguise, trashed the body in a dumpster, banged on the car to set off the alarm, hid nearby, and capped the mark when he came to check on his car. However, trying to escape Chinatown to end the mission was where I failed this time. 1: All the cops were on high alert once they noticed the mark hadn’t returned, so they were in full search mode. 2: The damn overcrowding prevented me from fully avoiding those cops, as I was forced to pass closely by one a few times. It happened once too often, and they saw through my disguise and realized I wasn’t one of them. Shootout. SWAT team. Strike two.

Third time was the charm when I revisited my initial approach. I had 47 quietly subdue the drug dealer and wear his outfit, snipe the mark with the perfect view the dealer’s second-story window provided, and easily walk to the exit with the superior drug dealer disguise. Plus, the crowds had dispersed once 47 had assassinated him in public.

I loved this entire experience, and I’m thrilled that Hitman: Absolution challenges gamers to finish alternate paths in every mission. In the Chinatown level alone, 47 can push or shoot the target into a manhole, drop large corn sacks onto him, poison the mark (by finding and adding Fugu fish to his coffee, lunch, or stash of booger sugar), or detonate remote explosives (I’m guessing by dropping them at his car or in the pagoda). There are even additional objectives like avoid being spotted whatsoever, avoid using any disguises, and retrieve the security tape of the premises. These objectives and the various branches to success give gamers exciting replay value that should make Absolution a hit when it’s released on November 20, 2012.

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