Itâs a Saturday. I recieve a text message at 9:30am from our Editor in Chief âHey, you should get down to the officeâ. I knew it was here, the latest preview code for Hitman: Absolution. I put my shoes on and raced out the door...
Ever since that first contract, to assassinate a triad leader in a small Hong Kong restaurant, I have been huge fan of the Hitman series. I have both loved and loathed the direction taken by Agent 47, and how the Hitman games have evolved over the last 12 years.
When Hitman: Absolution was revealed in May last year it was looking grim for many loyal fans of the series. Agent 47 appeared to get a âJason Bourneâ treatment; potentially to serve up accessibility rather than deliver the challenging stealth gameplay of times long past.
The release of developer walkthrough videos, however, showcased gameplay that was more reminiscent of the open environment gameplay fans have been crying out for. Then there's the fact that the "assistance features" of Hitman: Absolution (like the âInstinct Modeâ - which allows you to see through walls) can be turned off, should you wish to have the true Hitman experience.
Could this be the game fans have been waiting for?
Our hands-on preview opened with a cinematic of Agent 47 being given a contract from the agency. Immediately afterwards, we find ourselves following an ice cream truck - subtle - driving to the front gates of the location where our target is expected to be. The guard - promptly recognising that this is not your typical Mr Whippy route - investigates, only to find himself being dragged into the ominous sweet-vending vehicle never to taste an ice cream again... 47 then emerges from the back of the van, correcting his tie, as our hands-on experience gets underway.
This opening mission serves as the tutorial for what is to come, and it seems to follow a very linear path at first, as the voiceover - presumably your new handler - explains details of the game and even reminds you that this is, infact, a game.
While this does distract from the immersion somewhat, there's a bit more to Hitman than running into the next room while holding the fire button. It's a stealth game and it requires more tact than most titles on the shelf these days, so a tutorial to help Call of Duty pros stay focused is welcome.
The mission outlines the various tropes of a Hitman game; namely, being a Silent Assassin by assessing the situation, observing the environment, completing the objective, and escaping without anyone even knowing you were there in the first place.
As you make your way through the large mansion-sized compound, you can utilise many different methods of taking out the various guards and staff you come across - your trusty garotte wire is great for this. Covering your tracks, either through disguise or hiding bodies in various places (such as the usual trash bins or freezer units - causing the team to bust out lines like âThat guy should cool offâ as we played) is essential.
This whole section was very linear; there were a few rooms where you could approach getting a keycard or slipping past a guard differently, but it was a very simple level - probably more so than even Blood Moneyâs tutorial.
But, once you get into the main singleplayer content outside of the tutorial, it's awesome. One level no one has seen until now is the stripper bar - yes there are strippers too - called the Vixens Club, where 47âs target is situated in the middle of a very crowded public area. I found this level particularly difficult, even with the âinstinct abilityâ giving me clues.
There are so many ways to deal with any given situation that it can be a bit overwhelming and difficult to actually know where to go or what to look at - which is exactly what weâre looking for in a Hitman game. Itâs a game where you can come up with a solution and tell your friend - only to find he's also found his own solution, one which you may not even have considered. Its very intuitive, and challenging.
Something which does irk me slightly is the lack of contextual dialog moments. In previous games, 47 would interact with individuals in the level to either get clues or subtle hints on what to do next. In Absolution, it's up to the Instinct Mode to guide the player, rather than having conversations with various NPCs. Hopefully this was due to the fact that the game isn't finished yet, and that we only got to see a select few levels of the game...
The online mode, on the other hand, was refreshing; itâs something new - content created directly by the fans themselves. On community forums, when talking about previous Hitman games, fans would often issue challenges to one another: âHey, I bet you canât kill the target wearing the chefs disguise with the chandelier trapâ, as an example. The IO team have taken this sort of interaction as a challenge and have provided âContracts Mode,â which brings a singleplayer experience to the multiplayer space.
As a âContract Creator,â you can select any of the singleplayer levels, pick your own target, and assign your own challenge - which you can then upload and share with the community for others to complete.
A scoring system is in place and, depending on how many targets there are, how you eliminate them, and how you escape will determine who tops the leaderboard. For balance, to create this challenge you must be able to complete it yourself first, so there's no way someone can create an impossible scenario.
Contracts mode definitely sits outside of the box when it comes to traditional stealth online multiplayer. It's a great fit for the game style and promises a near limitless amount of user-generated content once the game is in the hands of the community. As this was preview code, and our access to the wider title was limited, weâre not sure if there are more multiplayer modes yet to be announced; stay tuned and weâll get you the info as soon as we hear it.
Hitman: Absolution is hitting shelves 20 November on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Based on what we've seen so far, it could well prove to be the return to form that fans have been hoping for.