Noisy Assassin – Hitman: Absolution

By Adam Smith on September 26th, 2011 at 2:47 pm.

It's always rainy in Chicago

Hakan Abrak, lead producer of Hitman: Absolution, held a developer session at the Eurogamer Expo this weekend and I was there to see the game in action. The version we were shown was a pre-alpha build running on PS3 and only covered a single level but, notepad in hand, I managed to scribble down enough impressions to share the bits that made me excited and the other bits that made me raise an eyebrow in a quizzical fashion. Now I’m trying to work out if I’m any closer to understanding the game than I was before the session.

The level on show took place in Chicago during a storm, with 47 hiding out in a derelict library. The vast majority of the Chicago Police Department seem to be chasing him down and Hakan stated that the game will show barcode-bonce as both hunter and hunted. I was slightly concerned that with him being on the run, 47 wouldn’t actually be killing anyone and the level would show nothing but evasion. I was wrong and wince-inducing neck-snapping soon occurred, teaching me a very valuable lesson: never hunt a hitman.

The first part of the demonstration had Hakan guiding 47 through the library, avoiding flashlights casting beams in his direction and waiting for cops to clear out of his way. It looks good, with flashes of lightning illuminating the room and rain streaming down through decayed sections of the roof. Hakan mentioned beforehand that the AI would be much more nuanced than in previous titles, although I’d be hard-pressed to point out anywhere that was particularly evident.

There’s a lot more dialogue between the people populating the world, with potential victims being ordered to search areas of the room rather than just wandering around, but my impression was that speech and movement mostly triggered at set points, not out of any more complicated reaction to player-driven events. Likewise, when disguised as a cop, 47 finds a point in the environment at which he can hide his face by pretending to eat a doughnut. Cue a dramatic scene in which it seems like the disguise is going to be found out, but the doughnut box seems to essentially work as a safe spot, somewhat like an Assassin’s Creed bench, and everything works out fine.

Hitting a man wearing glasses

Some conversations that dragged on a little while 47 squatted behind nearby shelving units, waiting for the police to stop yapping so that they would part company and leave an open route. 47 is helped by his new instinct abilities, some of which were shown. I immediately wrote down “Instinct = Arkham Asylum Detective Mode” and then realised that everyone who has ever seen the game in action writes exactly the same thing, perhaps even a millisecond sooner.

It was only after a good few minutes of waiting, creeping, listening, creeping, watching and waiting that the actual hitting of men began. They were hit with busts, batons, bullets and bongs. More than in any other Hitman game, I actually felt a bit queasy about the cops being murdered, wanting to leap out of my seat and shout out, “They’re only doing their job, why not incapacitate them instead?” Then I thought a non-fatal takedown was taking place only to see the victim’s neck crack, leaving his head at an altogether unnatural angle. One strikingly unlucky officer was taken as a human shield, pleading for his life and repeatedly stating that he didn’t want to die. His requests were brutally denied.

I realised at this point that though I love the best of what Hitman offers, I am definitely still more of a Garrett man, bopping taffers with my blackjack and leaving them to slumber in a dark corner. There may well be non-lethal options but the emphasis here was on ultraviolence and it was crowd-pleasing stuff.

Hakan emphasised that freedom of choice was the foundation of the series and at the end of the level he assured us that his solution was not the only solution. It was a very cinematic solution though, with a helicopter strafing the building, a great deal of context-sensitive voicework and a final escape that used disguise and dense crowds in an admittedly thrilling fashion.

He looks like a young man but he was due to retire next week

Maybe it’s because the whole experience was so cinematic, but I found it hard to see where the demonstration could have branched off. I’m sure the police could spot the player at an earlier point, leading to an action experience rather than the stealth approach we saw, but given the number of cops in the building, it’s hard to see how that would end in anything but defeat. Of all the dialogue we heard, a small proportion seems responsive to non-scripted events and the helicopter sequence had at least one short cutscene, briefly taking control away from the player.

All of that’s probably due to the nature of the level shown. Performing a hit is very different to escaping from a building swarming with cops after all, giving no time to work out an approach and execute a plan. Given the early stage the game is at, this may be the only level ready to show and that may be precisely because it’s more linear and therefore easier to test.

So I don’t mean to complain or cast unnecessary doubts but I do want to give a stronger impression than the quote: “The foundation of the Hitman franchise is freedom of choice.” That’s what we were told and Absolution may well provide that freedom, but I haven’t seen the evidence of it yet. Yes, I’d be able to choose whether to strangle or bludgeon some of those people, but I’m hoping freedom extends to ways of traversing an area as well as methods of eliminating the people in it. What we were shown was a visually impressive stealth sequence with some brutal kills and a shooty interlude in the middle. In places it was spectacular but it doesn’t look like the Hitman game I’m waiting for. Not yet.

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59 Comments »

  1. Hentzau says:

    See, for me Hitman is the game where I patiently tracked a lady in a bird costume through a mardi gras parade before dropping a piano on her head. This doesn’t sound like that game. It doesn’t sound like that game *at all*.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      This. The foundation of the Hitman franchise is a puzzle game where the puzzle is how to murder only the right people without being spotted. This does not sound like that.

      But then again this is a level where you run away from the police, so I’m waiting for a proper level to see how it really plays.

    • simoroth says:

      Indeed, and the older games were better for it.

      What a shame.

    • Bull0 says:

      I think that’s it, really – reading too much into one gameplay demonstration would be a mistake, and only later will we really be able to say “oh my god, they’ve ruined hitman” or “nah, everything’s cool, brah”

    • simoroth says:

      True but I’d like to hope that by expressing ones opinions on the internet it would instigate action on the part of the developer to make the product people want to play and not what the focus group dribbled at.

      :p

    • Bull0 says:

      Also a good point.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I see where you’re coming from Ansob. But in my opinion that is the limitation of Hitman, it falls into being a puzzle game. You should feel like a Hitman anonymously scoping out the place and then planning your kills. Not that you are trying to solve a puzzle.

    • Kulantan says:

      Wait….. you can drop a piano on her?

      Well, I’m off to reinstall Blood Money.

    • Luke says:

      I loved these levels, but then I got to that boat… there were simply so many people involved I thought “Sod it – if there’s no-one left alive to identify me, that’s just as good.”

      The ensuing battle, disarming and beating people senseless with their own weapons, shooting everyone in sight and then casually discarding the empty guns on their corpses is one of the most well-defined memories I have of the game, simply because I broke my own standard pattern of play so thoroughly.

    • Psychopomp says:

      The Blood Money tutorial level was about as Hitman as this.

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  2. skyturnedred says:

    Hitman only kills people he gets paid to kill, not innocent coppers.

    • Bull0 says:

      Unless he buggers things up, and then it turns into a shooting gallery. And it’s up to the individual player to decide whether or not that happens, right? That’s the beauty of games as opposed to films or television, right?

      I’m totally bored of the gameplay fascism – all the deus ex players saying unless you play it “stealthy” (read: incapacitating everybody but nonviolently so it’s cool, bro ) you’re doing it wrong, etc. No time for it. Leave it up to individual players to decide how to play the game. That’s gaming in a nutshell anyway.

      Besides, they may well be cliché gameplay naughty corrupt coppers

    • iucounu says:

      @Bull0

      The lovely thing about Hitman is that because it’s episodic you can just go back and replay the level like Rambo if you feel like it. You don’t have to worry that you’re only specced for stealth, for example. It’s entirely in your hands how you do it, and though it encourages stealthy ‘perfect’ kills it doesn’t penalise you too hard if you just mow everyone down. Blood Money is the kind of game where you complete each level with scrupulous stealthiness and minimal bloodshed, and then go back immediately afterwards to murder everyone on the level with a pair of hedge clippers.

    • Stromko says:

      Or in my case, it’s the sort of game where I try to do things right the first six times, then get frustrated and just mow everyone down that’s in my way to the target. Then, I go back and do it right, having worked out what I was supposed to do by little clues here and there (“Oh hey, a fake gun? I guess I was supposed to put a real gun there. . .”)

    • skyturnedred says:

      I guess I should’ve said “My Hitman.”

    • NateN says:

      @Stromko: First time through that level – Knock out the actor the who shoots Alvaro D’Alvade with the prop gun. Take his costume and shove the body somewhere*. Go onto stage, wait for the proper moment to shoot Alvaro**. Shoot him with the non-prop gun. Get shot to death by guards.

      “Oh, maybe I should swap out the guns at let the actor do it.”

      Turns out if you are REALLY an actor, you can shoot people and not get shot to death by guards…

      * It’s been a while, I forget if there is body storage in that room.
      ** He nods at you when it’s the moment to do it, which I find hilarious.

      Of course, I made the mistake of wandering into a club in New Orleans one time without wearing the proper hat one time as well. Turns out the bouncers are REALLY serious about the dress code…

  3. Conrad B Hart says:

    I miss the days when it was called Hitman: subtitle

    • Alien426 says:

      I think we should call it 5hitman.

      No Kyd, no Bateman…

    • jerkstoresup says:

      Wait, what? No Jesper Kyd? No Bateson? Why suddenly kill 2 of the major artists that have been with the series from the start?

    • Jazz42 says:

      Bateman?
      ‘ In ’87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is “Hip to be Square”, a song so catchy, most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself. ‘

    • ZyloMarkIII says:

      It’s going to be really hard to like this Hitman game if Jesper Kyd isn’t composing the music for it. I discovered his music from an old Genesis/Megadrive title called “The Adventures of Batman & Robin” and I’ve been a fan of his ever since.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      Hey Paul!

      TRY GETTING A RESERVATION AT DORSIA NOW YOU FUCKING STUPID BASTARD!

  4. jezcentral says:

    I think the initial marketing will be all about the action-shootier/killier bits. They want multi-million sales, rather than the solid sales this series has had so far, and the pre-launch publicity will reflect that.

    They’d better have the usual Hitman game in there somewhere, though, as IO Interactive have been training people like me in the art of assassination for many years, and we know where they work….

    I’m talking clown suits with a radio-controlled helicopter *and a parsnip*. I’m that damn serious.

  5. godgoo says:

    Hmmm, I think Blood Money would be in my All Time Favourites list mostly due to the craziness and sense of humour combined with the brooding tension of the stealth as well as the open nature of each hit. The various options available in each level never felt too forced, which allowed you to *feel* assassin-y in that you were doing some things instinctively. It would be a shame if they steer too far away from that in this new game, I’d probably still enjoy a more straight faced and cinematic Hitman game because there just cant be enough stealth in gameland for me, but something would have been lost.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Don’t worry about it being too straight-faced. The humour’s still present even though it all looks far moodier. The bong hit section in particular is played for laughs but none of the dialogue takes itself too seriously.

    • godgoo says:

      Ah that’s good to know, I was worried it would just be Splinter Cell: Male Pattern Baldness.

    • jonfitt says:

      So I played the original Hitman, and then years later Blood Money. Are there any others in the series that even come close to Blood Money?

    • Goateh says:

      Contracts still stands up well these days, Hitman 2 not so much. I’d only recommend the second if you really want the complete experience. They got less clunky as they went along and while Blood Money is better overall, Contracts has some great missions mixed in there. The hotel level is still one of my favourite Hitman levels.

    • EliteGamer says:

      Really? I think Hitman 2 was my favourite. Yeah it’s clunkier than the more recent outings but I preferred the approach to the missions (shorter missions, but more of them). In Hitman 2 there are some missions you can complete a dozen different ways and still have new possibilities to try out, but in Contracts and Blood Money you had these ever more complicated and contrived scenarios which only leant themselves to one or two effective solutions. Okay you usually had a number of options for the actual hit, but a lot of the levels had only one good option for passing through a certain section, so every time you replay you’re doing that part the same way. Bonus points if it was boring as hell the first time.

      Granted Hitman 2 had some absolutely terrible levels but you had more levels in total and I’m willing to overlook the horrible missions thanks to the ones I really liked. Anathema and Invitation to a Party spring to mind.

  6. Bull0 says:

    Hitman: clue’s in the name. Dude straight up kills people. Not every stealth game is Thief.

    • Torgen says:

      There’s an important difference between “professional contract assassin” and “mass murderer.” The former usually lives much longer. The other is hunted down with overwhelming force like a mad dog.

    • Bull0 says:

      Right, but it’s generally a lot easier to kill than it is to perform ninja-jiujitsu stealth takedowns. Murdering the cops when they corner him is a more meaningful expression of the term “Hitman” than the cheeky silent footpad we’ve come to know and love. If the focus is still on killing your target efficiently without being caught or leaving evidence, but in the process of pursuing that goal eggs may get broken, I really don’t have a problem with it. That’s how I’ve always played the series anyway; dream big, aim to perform well and to a plan, but if in the process you balls up and need to let off a few rounds, that’s just how it went down, try again next time. For perfectionists there’s always quicksave, I just enjoy the narrative more/find the whole thing more tense if I play by the rules

    • Dervish says:

      For perfectionists there’s always quicksave

      Not in Hitman there ain’t!

    • jonfitt says:

      My Hitman was an enigma bordering on fable. Nobody ever saw him, but those he was tasked with killing had a way of turning up dead. The only clue that it wasn’t entirely natural was the tendency for people to wake up naked with a sore head.
      .
      This level would make no sense because there would be nothing to hunt down. Where would you start to look? Places where people wake up naked with a sore head? Universities?

    • Bull0 says:

      @Dervish reload then, whatever

  7. Rinox says:

    This instinct or detective mode BS is getting on my nerves. In DX:HR it is presented as some sort of future tech app – fine. In Bloodlines, Auspex is a magical skill – fine. But “instinct”? Really? At least try to create a coherent universe.

    • rargphlam says:

      Agent 47 is literally a genetic amalgamation of five of the most successful career criminals, that was then heavily conditioned and trained into a super-assassin. Him having some sort of preternatural killing sense is no more bonkers that the fact his existence is literally scientifically impossible outside of some form of magic.

    • Rinox says:

      Meh, you’re right. I stand corrected then. Still, being able to see/’feel’ through walls seems highly unlikely even as a part of super instinct.

    • sneetch says:

      Manufactora Assassinum!

    • Jazz42 says:

      oh god, I want an assassin game where you play as a Vindicare and Callidus assassin now.
      RELIC!!!!

    • Bull0 says:

      seconded. and thirded; if this happens i will buy two copies

    • Jockie says:

      I shared your initial reservation initially, but after seeing it in action, I think it’s more a way of conveying the finely honed senses of a master assassin to the player than anything supernatural.

      I mean a guy who has made a career from killing is more likely than your average person to hear the scuff of a shoe around the corner and be able to predict where a person is isn’t he? I’d rather play a game where we have some kind of equaliser to put us on the character’s level, than play a game where you’re meant to be an awesome assassin, but actually you’re just a bit shit,

    • kud13 says:

      don’t forget the “intuition” or w/e it’s called in the upcoming Tomb Raider.

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  9. Juiceman says:

    Hitman: Contracts had a very similar sounding level. You where in a hotel and police where staging a raid that you had to escape. Aside from that level, every other one was very much ‘Hitman’. I imagine this game will be the same and a good entry to the series.

  10. Ian says:

    I’m prepared to be wrong and dearly hope I am, but it’s not sounding much like Hitman thus far.

  11. Ultra-Humanite says:

    I would hope they have the ability to knock people out with your gun again. A good hitman doesn’t kill people for free unless he absolutely has to.

  12. phenom_x8 says:

    Blood Money was my 1st run with agent 47! Never played any of this series before (just heard it a few times on my local game magazine) and I bought it just depends on my insting! Even my ATI Radeon 9550 (it has been 2 yrs old in 2006) was trully struggle at that time so that I have to toned down the resolution until 800*600 (thanks god LCD monitor still very expensive during that day). I was hoping that it will be looked like Splinter Cell pandora tomorrow in term of gameplay. And, I was dissapointed in a good way, it is so much better than SC:PT. I remember when attending the party during the 1st mission, I feel like a real agent than any bond movie without unnecesary cinematic cutscene! Its liberate me very much than any game before and the tense I feel when taking the action , hiding the corpse or weaR their outfits was unbeaten till today !

    PS : And I never knew that I can drop a piano over my target at mardi grass till I read the comment section today( just snipe her from tofar away though)

  13. Radiant says:

    15 policemen found accidentally killed by own truncheons and a box of donuts.

    Police Chief Gordon unable to comment do to also accidentally dying in a wine cellar owned by prominent business man Pablo Escobar.
    20 kilos of flour found at the scene was later used to bake bread for an orphanage in Mexico.
    The children where said to be elated.

    The deaths are treated as not suspicious.

    In other news Strictly Come Dancing winner Bald man with a Bar Code has left the circus where celebrated clown Jake ‘the sad clown’ O’neil died in an accident involving a human cannon and some bullets.

  14. AmateurScience says:

    ‘I actually felt a bit queasy about the cops being murdered, wanting to leap out of my seat and shout out, “They’re only doing their job, why not incapacitate them instead?” ‘

    This. I don’t have a problem with ‘always chaotic evil’ monsters/mutants/aliens – bring ‘em on. But I find myself increasingly unwilling to off people in games (I’m already pretty unwilling to off people IRL just so you know!) without it being demonstrated in some way or another that there is either no choice within the game’s context (rather than due to mechanics) or that they ‘deserve’ it (which I realise is a totally subjective thing). I am something of a carebear in these matters.

    Why can’t we all just get along?

  15. kud13 says:

    I thnk the most important question is:

    will the donut-eating disguise be a minigame, or just a QTE?

  16. Navagon says:

    This doesn’t half seem like another Splinter Cell Conviction.

    And I don’t want any of that ‘might be just this level’ bollocks. This is the level they chose to use to represent their game and the way they chose to play through it is also a part of that representation. If a myriad of alternatives are available then it’s up to them to show that. It’s not up to me to see past their inability to adequately represent their game.

    Take Deus Ex HR as an example. Alternatives were available. Alternatives were shown. It wasn’t Convicted. I reckon this is.

  17. Koozer says:

    Ah so this is the Conviction of the series. I hope they do a 6.

  18. gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

    I’ve had Hitman 1, 2, and 3 sitting around waiting to play for ages. I started playing Hitman 1 on September 10, 2001 and gave up on it when the slaughter of a few thousand innocents made the game less palatable. Since then I’ve considered playing them again but the idea of playing a guy who kills others on orders who pose no clear threat to the universe like, say, Strogg or Nazi SS Robots, bugged me.

    Having read this, that Hitman is now also killing cops along the way rather than just his target, those three games go in the shredder. Fuck them.

    • Radiant says:

      Here you fule.

    • kud13 says:

      you know, I haven’t played contracts, but inthe first 2 games, you can deffo avoid killing innocents. in the second game, it’s kinda the point–it assigns you a rank based on your performance. anywhere from “silent assasin” for killing only the target and being seen by no one, to “mass murderer” for killing everyone and everything.

      I have many suspicions about Absolution, but that’s no reason to discard the previous games, which were pretty damn brilliant.

  19. Jackablade says:

    So did they remove the fail state for making too much of a mess and blowing the budget on cleaners that they had in the first game?