Hitman: Absolution Gameplay Preview

Hitman: Absolution screnshot
The first official Hitman:Absolution playthrough video is out, and Enterfacement has watched it. And formed some opinions. There is violence, stealth, absence-of-light and a fair amount of head-cracking. Here’s the scoop:

First off, the graphics are beautiful. It’s running on the Glacier 2 engine, the new incarnation of IO Interactive’s previous mainstay the Glacier engine, which they first used in 1994 and was finally put to rest after the release of 2010′s Kane & Lynch 2. The graphics are dripping with atmosphere now – dark shadows, the bright glow of the moon and stark torchlights. Perhaps the closest I could compare the style to is Bioshock’s lighting and colouring with photorealistic models and texturing.

Animation is a mixed bag: most of the time we see some highly realistic movement from NPCs, but some typically jerky and abrupt motion from the Silent Assassin himself. The character animation is mostly due to the wonder of motion capture technology, and they’ve pulled out all the stops by taking Hitman 5 to the same mo-cap studio responsible for James Cameron’s Avatar.

Sound design seems to be far more cinematic than before. Hitman has long been known for it’s electronic and ambient tracks blended with thrilling orchestral scores as composed by BAFTA award winner Jesper Kyd – who is no longer on board for Hitman: Absolution. The new title seems to follow a similar direction but with the addition of Inception’s monotone horns blasting out the drama. It’s not just Kyd who’s out the door, though, David Bateson will also not be returning for his fifth stint as Agent 47′s voice (despite claiming to have won the role in the IO auditions, but having been subsequently ignored by the studio), along with the sultry voice of your handler Diana, previously played by Vivienne McKee, now Marsha Thomason. Reports are that none of the original Hitman team will be working on the new title. That said, voice acting seems very natural and professionally delivered when compared with the frankly bizarre voices of less important characters in the first two games – the script, however, feels a bit forced, trying to fit in a lot of offensive language maybe just for the street-cred.

As with new things, there are new places – Agent 47′s first trip to the US was in his last outing Blood Money, where you spent quite a bit of time there. This time around you can look to the entire game being set in the States, with an apparent emphasis on urban environments. Missions will be more ‘cinematic’ and will be based around checkpoints with smaller ‘sandbox’ areas between checkpoints, unlike the free-roaming style of the earlier games.

Speaking of roaming, there will be no more map. Instead, Agent 47 will now be able to tap into his ‘instict mode’ and see enemies nearby highlighted in red, even if they’re obscured by walls or other scenery. Other games from recent years have boasted similar features, and they tend to work for some people, but irritate others. Absolution seeks to improve on the gimmick by showing you the path that hostiles will move in, allowing you to make educated choices about where to run (or sneak) and hide. Hiding is now largely a matter of cover, as per the trend, and our trusty Agent can now also perform ‘SWAT-turns’ to slip from one cover spot to another if it’s close enough. Levels seem to be designed around cover, with a wide array of carefully misplaced furniture providing a neat, linear path from one area to the next.

The first comparison that came to mind from watching the video was that it plays a fair bit like Splinter Cell: Conviction. It’s also set to have a ‘mark and execute’ feature similar to that of Conviction and Red Dead Redemption. The trusty old syringe and chlorophorm (which demanded careful, strategic use – you only had a limited number of these non-lethal tools, so you had to choose carefully who to spend them on) has been replaced by a takedown move, and there were several sightings of lethal takedowns too (one with a firearm, one with what appeared to be a dynamically-selected garrot). There was no sign of an inventory, and interactions with the environment seemed to elicit no familiar context-menu to choose just /what/ you wanted to do with them. Instead it appears that objects either have only one purpose, or they are context sensitive and automatically perform the most obvious function for the situation.

Close quarters combat is also more important than before: the rendered ‘shower-scene’ trailer showed Agent 47 bashing a lot of skulls with various handy objects, and the gameplay trailer also shows the demonstrator using many nearby things to bludgeon enemies.

All of this points to the game being much more combat-oriented than the original series. The game has always had an emphasis on creative violence, planning and adapting to situations. It seems the expanded range of ways to maim and execute your foes will appease fans’ virtual bloodlust, but some are sad to see the planning and stealth aspect neglected. The demonstrator chose to attack multiple hostiles at a time during the video, taking on groups of cops on more than one occasion. Director Christian Elverdam claims that fans of the original series will be able to find all the old features they wanted most, if they look hard enough, and furthermore assures us that it is “possible to go through a lot of the checkpoints without actually killing people”, but this still suggests more of a Conviction ‘clear the map’ approach to stealth – if they can’t tell anyone, who cares if they knew you were there?

Here at Enterfacement we always hope for the best. We’re optimists, so for now we’ll take Elverdam’s promises and give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if he told us more… he may just have to kill us.

Guards in Hitman: Absolution gameplay video screenshot

Slightly-Biased-Rant:

Hump-a-ledge

The Hitman, humping a ledge. Silently.

The first thing I saw in the video was that Agent 47 had taken up acrobatics. Indeed, the rest of the video proved it – he’s now a veritable platformer-prince, leaping through glass windows and landing on  narrow ledges, slipping along balance-beams and even doing a Matrix jump between two buildings. All games will soon have cover systems, possibly even Space Invaders – or does that already have one? Anyhow, Agent 47 now gracefully skips from one obscurely-placed-bookcase to the other with all the skill of a young gypsy circus lad, an awful lot like Adam Jensen or, dare we say it, the Prince of Platforming Persia. What happens to East European clone assassins when they wait 5 years for their next video game? They go to Russian ballet academies.

Seriously though, I honestly love the look of the game. It’s just so moody and brooding and beautiful. Pity the gameplay looks to be the same as every other current generation stealth-em-up. All game genres may be destined to become FPS games, and even Civilization VII will have a cover system for those pesky sieges, but I’d never have guessed that the stealth genre, once populated by rare and brilliant gems, would turn into such a derivative market. Agent 47 seeing through walls? I wasn’t aware the cloning made him psychic, too, predicting the exact paths of enemies. This all sounds very Deus Ex to me.

He’s supposed to be a Silent Assassin. The trailer with Diana (who no longer has Diana’s voice, which was all we knew of her 90% of the time, so she’s now only 10% Diana) also demonstrates Agent 47′s recent desire to teach art history to the masses by bashing their heads in with nearby antique busts. The gameplay video shows him being deeply un-subtle. And doing a lot of ledge-grabbing. Perhaps Square Enix isn’t throwing Eidos properties down the river – perhaps they’re just reshuffling the features. Dropped the games on the floor and put them back together the wrong way. Tomb Raiding Nano-Agent 47 is on the run from the guards, just like poor old Garret the thi4f, or worse still, 47 has been cast in the unwanted third episode of Kane & Lynch. Perhaps he ought to reave souls next… he is Mr Rieper, isn’t he?

Also, Inception clearly inspired the new, uber-dramatic score…

Duuuuuuuuuuuun.
Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.
Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.
Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.

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