Killer Instinct: A Hitman Absolution Preview

By Dan Grill on January 11th, 2012 at 1:04 pm.

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.

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45 Comments »

  1. Teddy Leach says:

    I liked Kane and Lynch.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      I liked the style of Kane&Lynch 2.

    • ahluka says:

      I liked the first game’s story and plot devices, but the gameplay was a bit touch ‘n’ go. I haven’t played the second one, but from the handful of videos I’ve seen, it looks worth getting when it’s on sale on Steam or something.

      The fact that Dog Days was near-universally panned just makes me want to play it even more.

    • povu says:

      Well keep an eye on Steam then, since not a sale goes by without IO begging you to buy K&L 2 at 75% off.

    • Eukatheude says:

      I liked both. The second could have been great in my opinion; pity for the crappy shooting.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I thought the Kane and Lynch games were excellent.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      I liked Kane and Lynch up until the bit where it was impossible. A forest, some drug dealers and mandatory sneaking, as I recall. After being spotted in exactly the same spot that I had to pass by a psychic wallhacking enemy NPC, then shouting “well what am I supposed to do about that?”, for about the twentieth time, I gave up and never went back.

      I digress. For all I dislike third person normally, K&L was interestingly structured, genuinely well written, had well crafted, charismatic and unusual iterations of generally familiar character archetypes, and its levels in particular felt like real places. The Tokyo streets level was the only time I’ve been able to run around a game Tokyo that was actually anything like the Tokyo I know and love. Never played the second beyond the demo, as it seemed illogically focused on multiplayer, which everyone knows will be played by about 10% of buyers for about two weeks after release, and never afterwards; not what I want my money to pay for.

      Hitman, though; never completed a single game. Too difficult, and difficult not for sensible reasons, but because of arbitrary, illogical stuff (disguise fools NPC 1 but not NPC 2. Why? An alarm is raised and suddenly everyone knows where I am and what I look like. Why?), and thus not fun. The general love of these games, particularly the whole ‘silent assassin rating’ thing, baffles me.

      I rather suspect, though, it’s a love of game systems as an institution and a desire to use them and maximise them that I just don’t share. I want to play Hitman games because I’m fond of sneakily killing people, but the game thinks I should play in a different way, so perfect sneaking with minimal killing is more highly prized. It’s like DXHR and its insistence on making non-lethality possible, but samey, very hard and really not much fun. A rating a game gives me has no inherent value to me, particularly if it’s designed to allow lots of approaches but rewards one specific approach much more than the others. I just want more stuff to play with and fun ways to solve a problem. So I suppose I’m a little interested in the point shooting thing. Not enough to pre-order, though.

    • Barnaby says:

      I’m surprised to see this many positive comments about Kane and Lynch. I tortured over getting it during one of the Steam sales, and decided not to after reading some reviews. Might give the first one a shot when I can get it for cheap.

    • bear912 says:

      I’ve got a 50% off coupon for Dog Days on Steam from the winter coal mining festival if anyone wants it. I have no interest in it, so add me on Steam if you’re interested, and I’ll give it to you…

  2. Network Crayon says:

    When’s that guy gonna buy a decent wig.

  3. Echo Black says:

    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.

    Is this the Hitman series we’re talking about? ‘Cause I can’t think of something less “Hitman-like” than the stuff you’ve just described

    • Unrein says:

      Guess what – you don’t have to use it!

    • Unaco says:

      You do realise the original Hitman game (Codename 47) had a bullet time feature, right? Press Scroll Lock, everything slowed down except your reticule/aiming.

    • woodsey says:

      “You do realise the original Hitman game (Codename 47) had a bullet time feature, right? Press Scroll Lock, everything slowed down except your reticule/aiming.”

      A feature which was then cut for the next three games (although granted, there was slow-mo in the final seconds of a firefight so that you might have a fraction of a chance of surviving). And this sounds like Conviction’s Mark & Execute on steroids (a feature you also didn’t have to use, but since the entire level design was based around it, you’d have to go out of your way not to).

      And I don’t buy their “it has to be marketable” line: surely the first order of the day should be ensuring you recapture your old audience so that you aren’t starting from scratch? That’s two demos they’ve done like this now.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      And a feature that seems to have been added in at a later date according to harakka on the chat. And you’ll note how few of us even knew it was there. So it’s a stretch to say it was a central feature of the game.

      It’s not listed in the commands when you play the game.

    • Barnaby says:

      “And this sounds like Conviction’s Mark & Execute on steroids (a feature you also didn’t have to use, but since the entire level design was based around it, you’d have to go out of your way not to).”

      A good observation, it does sound very similar. Taking control away from the player and cutting to other camera views can feel a bit jarring also. While I eventually grew to enjoy using the mark and execute feature in Conviction, it really did seem like it was used to cover up the poor shooting mechanics. Hate to say it (ish?), but it also seems like a design decision based around consoles and controller limitations. I wanted to shoot the guys myself, not have a cutscene shoot them for me. I’m interested to see if this feature, and the game in general, will be able to please fans of the series.

    • plugmonkey says:

      Pretty much every single Hitman level I have ever played (and I’ve played all of them) has had two completely contrasting play options.

      There’s difficult, challenging and rewarding “stealthy” option where you go for Silent Assassin.

      And then there’s the easy, brainless and cathartic “kill everyone on the damn map” option that basically just lets you skip to the next level.

      I’m failing to see how flashy, cinematic features that make it easy to mow down a room full of enemies are not in keeping with the second option there. It was never difficult to mow down a room full of enemies. You just knew that you were working without any class whatsoever.

      When I take the decision to just kill everyone, I’m going for catharsis. This sounds very cathartic. As seems to be fashionable to point out at the moment: it seems a lot of the people complaining haven’t actually played Hitman very much.

      Just saying “sod it” and slaughtering your way through a level has always been there. It’s always been Plan B.

  4. Mehbah says:

    Pretty sure I won’t be getting it regardless of how good it is simply because of how they supposedly treated 47′s old voice actor. The guy’s loved by the fans, 47 was modeled after him, and the developers actually ignore his calls and emails when he tries to get in contact with them because he heard they were making another Hitman? Good job, guys!

    By the way, maybe not every single game would need bitch-ass motherfucking explosions and guns to sell if not every fucking marketing moron didn’t keep providing anything but. Maybe, just maybe, if you provide trailers with sounds other than “motherfucker”, boom and bang, people will grow some brains and realize that there’s more to find.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Where did you hear about that? Did the voice actor blog about it?

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      If I remember correctly, he said it in a private mail to a fan, who then posted it on hitmanforum.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’m a massive Hitman fan. Never a fan of the voice actor though. He was exceedingly bad, even for computer game standards.

      Still I’ve always hated the plot from Hitman. Don’t know why you can’t just play a guy who murders people for a living. Instead it tries to make him a sort of anti-hero. Which is actually very disturbing when he is still a Hitman after all.

    • woodsey says:

      A protagonist who is a hitman is practically the definition of an Anti-Hero.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      No, an antihero is a hero who is not a good guy. What DrGonzo would probably like to see (and me too) is a Villain Protagonist. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/VillainProtagonist Redeeming personality features not neccesarily included.

      I agree that the heroic aspect of 47 doesn’t really fit, especially since he dosen’t fuel it himself. The way it works out is that the jobs he gets tends to be to kill bad guys. The only really nuanced contract is the tutorial in Blood Money, funnily enough. Otherwise it’s all drug barons and gun smugglers.

  5. jezcentral says:

    What’s this “we’re sure we’re going to spend hours squatting behind small obstacles” stuff all about?

    When did 47 ever do that? Oh, well. At least they are trying to make us go shooty-shooty by making it cool, rather than forcing us to do it. Hopefully.

  6. hosndosn says:

    “To be fair to IO,…”

    Awful.

    Please, people who actually get invited to these marketing parties: Feel free to not feel sorry for them. If they threaten to not invite you anymore, good. Unless it was because you took off your pants and insulted the attending guests with pantomimic dick jokes, getting uninvited by modern games PR people must be a badge of honor for games journalists.

    • sneetch says:

      They’re games producers, showing their products to people who are supposed to report on those products to their customers. Without being invited to see their products you cannot report on them. They’re not an evil corporation involved in murder and corruption that Dan is trying to expose. Therefore it’s important to be both fair and truthful (actually that’s pretty important either way), if they’ve given an explanation as to why something is the way it is then a reporter should give that reason and allow the readers to make up their own minds.

    • hosndosn says:

      But it’s unfair, no insulting to gaming culture. Who was that demo for? Games journalists or numb consumer junkies who buy based on explosions per minute ratios? According to that statement an embarrassed promise is more important to the final feel of the game than the actual presentation! Wow! I see they’re companies, but companies produce, awful, awful stuff that actually sells all the time. It’s a critic’s job to, pardon my French, not give a fuck about popularity. Basically, they just admitted that the presentation was either misleading or disappointing. Either is bad. The preview sounds “cautiously optimistic” just as every other single preview of any game whatsoever in the past decade.

      And the idea of them holding journalists hostage for good previews is awful. Imagine that for movies. Or pretty much any other medium but computer games. It’s embarrassing.

      I usually have given up, the only reason I bother posting this is that I hold RPS to higher standards.

  7. ratache says:

    Atleast he’s honest about stuff, not blaming the marketing guys who wear sith capes and silently puppeteer all developers.

  8. foda500orama says:

    “We’re sure the sandbox levels, dark humour and huge difficulty levels are going to be in there” Setting yourself up for disappointment.

  9. yhancik says:

    “these demos have to be marketable” makes sense, there’s obviously a desire to open Hitman to new audiences… But I’m not sure it’s such a good strategy to, at the same time, make your “previous” audience raise a large and brushy collective eyebrow.

    It feels like 47 starts to spend more time with the cooler kids, saying that he still likes us but we really were too nerdy, and that scared off the chicks.

    • Brun says:

      It’s a strategy all of the major studios have been following for several years. Why do you think we see things like Syndicate and X-COM being remade as shooters? “New Audiences” are the way to go these days – they’re easier to please and more numerous. Why spend more making a better game when you can just feed them 8 hours of on-rails linear explosions and make more money than if you had targeted the original fans?

    • DrGonzo says:

      I have no idea what ‘marketable’ means.

      I would have thought it would be in your best interests to try and sell the game to your fans. Not alienate them all and lose a bunch of sales before the game has even launched.

    • Brun says:

      You would think that, but the fact of the matter is that “the fans” are the minority of potential customers these days. For some reason studios now believe that for every “fan” there are three or four Xbox 360 Dudebros out there who might be looking for something to break up their CoD monotony. And we all know how those guys just love the explosions and linear gameplay. The sad truth is that studios consider longtime “fans” to be in the minority of their target audience. Combine that with the fact that the “New Audiences” have repeatedly shelled out tons of money for garbage, and it’s just bad business sense to target the longtime fans.

  10. Paul says:

    Ah for fuck sake so IOI keep being stupid huh?

  11. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    I’ll wait for reviews to assess how linear the game is overall but the fact the levels are linear is the biggest failing that I can perceive at the moment. The multi-path, realistically labyrinthine levels were fundamental to the success of the previous games and to see it jettisoned is a shame (what a shame). It’s doubly a shame considering how excellent the atmosphere, A.I. and was in the gameplay walkthrough released recently. I had hoped the relative linearity of that sequence was due to it being a beginning level because it did cause no end of excitement in every other regard.

    My hopes of an excellent stealth game lie with the remarkable Eidos-Montreal and Thief 4, which from rumours will marry the excellent stealth-focus of prior games with the superior overworld design of Deus Ex; which is to say, discrete mission areas and explorable hubs with side-missions. I believe rope arrows are almost certain given moderator coyness on the forums about the issue. Also Dishonoured will be spectacular. And for indie-stealthing? Gunpoint.

  12. Vandelay says:

    The opening of this demo tells me a lot about the level design going on here. If we are to assume that this is the start of the level, then this follows the same pattern as the first demo; no infiltration. Although not all of the great Hitman levels start outside, the majority do, requiring you to think about getting in and out. This also seems to encourage the designer to think about actually building a logical place for the level to take place, not creating a long line of multiple corridors. It also allows for multiple points of entry.

    The lack of such a design in Deus Ex:HR was one of my biggest disappointments. I hope this doesn’t follow a similar way of doing things and this is just another part of this only being a demo.

  13. AlwaysRight says:

    Once, I finished off a begging nun with a shaft…

    …sorry :-(

  14. Jambe says:

    “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.”

    Couldn’t disagree more. But then I find that shit to be hilarious.

    *shrug*

  15. The Sombrero Kid says:

    The last person you’d be suspiciuous of in an orphanage is a priest ofc.

  16. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    So it’s Splinter Cell Conviction? Oh.

    Let’s hope it really is just ‘marketable’ in what they’re showing, and not just that lovely blend of ‘marketable’ game design.