Agent Griliopoulos was dispatched to see the game formerly known as Hitman: Subtitle for us. He returned bathed in blood, dressed as a sailor, and bearing these words. Update: now with brand new screenshots!
Oh, we are skeptical souls at RPS. Though we loved Hitman: Blood Money, we have been somewhat wary of Hitman: Absolution. Partially, because there are mild changes to something we loved (like when the X-Files replaced Mulder with T-1000) and partially because Kane & Lynch left us colder than Captain Oates. The new level we saw yesterday had the chance to allay our fears though, set as it was in a lovely orphanage. What can go wrong in a lovely orphanage?
Jumping back from the lovely orphanage for a second, we were given a quick rundown of the game’s backstory before Agent 47 got to meet all those lovely nuns.
It seems that Diana Blackwood, 47’s handler in the previous games, went rogue in 2009, after the events of Blood Money / Contracts, deleting all her data from the ICA (the assassination agency that manages 47), before disappearing with her family. 47 was sent to kill her, his only long-term human contact, and this game represents his personal journey into the truth behind that contract.
Now, we’re not sure at all how that history ties into the level we saw. Before the level started, a movie showed us a corpulent Texan businessman called Blake Dexter sending good old boy Wade and his mercenaries to retrieve a girl, Victoria, from an orphanage. 47 is also after this girl, for unspecified reasons.
We saw two versions of this level, one sneaky, one murderous; we’ll focus on the former, though it still wasn’t good enough to get a Silent Assassin grade (I’m sure they’ll show that off at another time.) It’s basically the sequence from the trailer we saw earlier, but not as a cutscene: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/12/12/hitman-absolution-when-subtitles-attack/
47 starts on top of a stalled lift, dressed as a priest – presumably the disguise he was using to sneak into the orphanage. Above him two masked mercenaries are finishing off a begging nun, who topples into the shaft, before wandering back down a corridor to torture a guard some more. They’re bantering filth to each other, as the developer guides 47 smoothly past such tempting items as a fire axe and a pistol, before settling on a Toy Robot. He throws this as a distraction, before sneaking further on to a large stairwell.
Here he throttles a gangster unconscious (the familiar Deus Ex option to quickly break his neck keeps flashing as he’s slowly choked). Next, the body is dragged and popped into a wardrobe. Hiding places can be used for both bodies and 47 himself; after 47’s stuffed an unconscious / dead enemy into a wardrobe / freezer / ballpool, he can climb in himself next to the bleeding / drooling soul, as he did here, to avoid another patrolling guard.
After that, though the level was pretty linear, there were mild divergences to allow room to get around enemies, before the level bottle-necked back together. Full use was made of 47’s new Super-Assassin-O-Vision, to see enemies through walls or predict their paths. The same “instinct” resource is also used to blend in when disguised, as we saw when 47 borrowed a gangster’s clothes and snuck past the rest of the assembled mob to the level’s end. Apparently, instinct also burns up faster on higher difficulty levels.
After sneaky-sneaky, we got given the more typically gung-ho demo, with 47 ripping through the enemies with aplomb. And agun. Chopping them up with a fire-axe, blasting them with shotguns and pistols from behind cover, or spraying a roomful of enemies with uzis, he seemed a lot more resilient (though that could be the difficulty level and/or a demo’s usual god mode) and quicker than we were used to, more like a typical action game hero than the plodding tank of yesteryear, and the music was similarly aggressive. It took a lot less time to kill every last one of them compared to sneaking through the level.
The final room in the orphanage, by this point, was full of gangsters all ready for 47 to walk through the door. Doing so, the developer triggered a new Instinct power, called Point Shooting, which is pure John Woo. In the time it takes 47 to draw his weapons, you’re given a slow-mo shooting gallery, where you can pick out enemies and items to shoot at when time unfreezes. If you don’t fire at anyone, the game will handle it for you. When it does unfreeze, it’s a purely cinematic sequence, with enemies slowly flying in all directions and explosives exploding, seen from all different camera angles, as 47 unloads his weapons at them. It’s rather impressive and will make it very difficult to stick to our preferred Silent Assassin route.
Assassination might also be difficult in that neither of the levels demonstrated so far actually show anything like a hit, per se. The joy of Hitman 2 and Blood Money was looking at the whole bloody house of cards to work the different ways you could make it all fall down. Here, the game isn’t only mostly linear, it’s also without that murderous intent and the flexibility of options to achieve it. There are moment-to-moment options, but nothing that fundamentally affects your route through the area.
To be fair to IO, as game director Tore Blystad points out in an interview going up later today, these demos have to be marketable. For a demo to work it has to be linear and the kill-everything trailer is necessary for the flash-bang-whallop to grab the public’s eye. We’re sure the sandbox levels, dark humour and huge difficulty levels are going to be in there, like we’re sure we’re going to spend hours squatting behind small obstacles.
Similarly, we suppose that the totally gratuitous levels of swearing are just because we’re dealing with gangsters and thugs here, and won’t appear in every level. When a delicate sentence like “The boss says we can’t find our own dicks. Don’t know about you, but I don’t like being called dickless” is met with the pithy rejoinder “bitch-ass motherfucker” or when Wade persistently refers to his sidekick as ‘limpdick’, one’s o’er-sensitive soul hopes that all the dialogue isn’t like that.