So this last weekend I went off to an event Microsoft were hosting called The Gathering. What it boiled down to was a weekend of hanging out with cool people, drinking a lot of energy drinks (they seemed to be everywhere, I’ve even come home with some) and playing a load of the latest games. Among those, and one of the absolute stand outs, was Hitman: Absolution. In fact more than a few people I’ve spoken too have called it the best thing there, normally in the same breath as Tomb Raider. I’ll get to Ms. Croft’s adventures soon, along with some other titles, but first it’s time to see just what Agent 47 has been up to.
I will confess that, in all honesty, I’m not the biggest Hitman fan. That’s not to say I don’t like the series, in fact I think it executes what it does exceptionally well; I’ve just never really gotten around to the series. I’ve spent a few hours with one or two of the games, but it’s never stuck with me. However, after seeing what IO Interactive have been working on the series has instantaneously sprung to the front of my mind. Everything about this game is looking exceptionally impressive.
First there’s the way it looks. When the group I was seeing the various games with entered the room belonging to Hitman for the weekend the image on the room’s screen was stunning. It showed a large skyscrapper with a storm surrounding it as viewed from a window. That’s all there was, no characters, no movement in the building, no shadows or hint of what was to come; just a window, a building and a storm.
A dusty library may seem safe, but not when it's full of police.
Anyway, after we were given a quick intro to the game and some background on the series, the gameplay started up with Agent 47 crashing through the window filling our view point. He was clearly trying to escape from something (what he was running from was never clear) and the police were one step ahead of him. As he came in through the window the room started to fill with cops, although they seem thankfully unaware that Agent 47 was already in the building. Your aim is obviously to somehow get passed them and escape the building unscathed.
The best way to avoid the police is to use your “Instinct”, a new feature for the game. I’ve seen this compared to Arkham Asylum’s Detective Mode and although there are a few similarities, it does seem like IO have created something interesting and different. The way it was described in the presentation was that it’s putting you into the head of Agent 47, letting you see the interesting things that someone so highly trained would spot. For example it slows the world down at key points, particular when it looks like you might get detected.
However, the most important Instinct shows you is the path of the AI, and with the way it’s been revamped for Absolution you’re going to need some hint at where they’re heading. The police didn’t ever seem to be on any set, repeating patrol path, instead it was all far more dynamic.
Not only is there the obvious reactions to your actions, which seem fairly fluid and real, but different members of the fuzz would spread out and explore the room, directed by a Sergeant barking orders from the centre. Of course, I’ve no idea if the way the Sergeant directed them was entirely set in stone, although the developers were keen to point out that the game would adapt to whatever play style you took.
The other thing to note about the AI, and something that seemed to work well, is the ability for you to contain the situation. If you punch someone directly in front of another enemy they’re going to notice, even if you’re wearing a police uniform yourself. However, take the second guy down quickly enough and he won’t be able to spread your location to the rest of the AI. I know this sort of thing is becoming far more common place now but it was a good to see it in there and worked well.
Anyway as the police explored it seemed fortunate that they always did it alone, making them sitting ducks. I saw coppers strangled with an electrical cord, smashed over the head with a bust, pulled off of a balcony and even attacked with a bong (yes, I’m serious). With exception of the bong ,these were all silent takedowns, and each one was different enough to give a real feel of the game’s potential variety. There was, of course, the more obvious weaponry like guns on display but the playthrough I was witness to was mostly a stealthy affair.
The only time I saw a gun used was when a police officer, a poor, bumbling one who you felt kind of sorry for, was used as a human shield by 47. This obviously attracted the attention of pretty much everyone, although not much of a gun battle ensued, with 47 quickly escaping up some stairs and taking out individual officers as they came for him. Just before that though there was a heartbreaking moment when the other police decided, and I mean after having a very shouty discussion, that the guy you’d taken as a shield wasn’t all that valuable and they could probably afford to shoot him to get to you. Lovely.
Look at the glistening head. It's just weird.
It really shows as well, everything from that opening storm scene onwards is looking absolutely beautiful. The only point which felt a little odd came after managing to dodge the helicopter, when you have to head out into the rain for a moment. There was nothing that looked actually bad, it was just that Agent 47 seemed to glisten a worrying amount. It didn’t look like he’d been out in the rain, more that he’d taken a short bath in slime. Of course, this is all still very early on, with no release date set apart from 2012. In fact a mild issue with 47’s post rain looks being the only obvious issue is pretty impressive.
Right now everything about Hitman seems brilliant. From my brief experience with earlier games in the series everything still seems like this is very much in the Hitman mold, comments from others in the room seemed to confirm this, but the new Glacier 2 engine has let IO take everything up at least one notch, possibly two. Can you ask for much more than two notches of improvement?
Absolution is now firmly on my radar, and I think as IO show more of the game I’ll be far from alone in my interest.