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E3 2011 First Look: Hitman Absolution

The Sneaky Sneaky

Old baldygrumps is back, and we've finally seen him slinking about the place. The level we saw of Hitman Absolution may have been a bit gloomy, but where it captured attention was with the atmosphere it generated.

And that's not to say it didn't look good. An impressive engine houses the latest outing for Mr Forty-seven. It's just that we mostly saw it in blue/grey at night time. A library, packed with guards, warned that someone is going to attempt to break in. That'd be you.

The task here is to take out the guards. And of course, being a Hitman game, you can pick your route. Stealthily sneaking around the shelves and benches, 47 approached each guard, performing silent takedowns while the rest chatted amongst themselves. And what chatting. The guard conversations were frequently very funny, whether reacting to their suspicions that you might be around, or just nattering to each other. A particularly lovely discussion took place over their shared disgust for books. 47 remains silent, but you can still somehow feel his disapproval.

But where it gripped me was as the number of guards was being whittled down, and the others were beginning to notice. I realised these confused simpletons, swinging their torches around and wondering what was going on, were in their own horror movie. And you play the baddy. Although frankly it serves them all right for never spotting the big shiny head sticking out above all the cover.

As with every single game at E3 this year, 47 has an "instinct" skill that lets him see guard positions, through what looks like some form of sophisticated sonar. But it's cleverer than just that. He can even see where they're going next, a fizzling line showing their future path and where they'll stop. Quite how he can do this is not clear - perhaps sharing a publisher with Deus Ex has caused some cross-pollinating - but it means tactical positioning is a fun option.

At a certain point our demonstrator was clearly tiring of hiding, and a large group of guards were dealt with by taking one of them hostage, and backing his way to the exit. Then sprinting. This of course meant there was a lot of heat brought down (and presumably it would be appearing either way, so significant was the following scene), and things ramp up enormously until you're rolypolying your way in an attempt to escape the bulletty attention of a helicopter. A massively loud action sequence still stayed true to the cover system, apart from leaping from one building to another, and in fact its completion was fitting. A downed cop's uniform is borrowed, and then 47 just walks back out in front of the helicopter that was just attacking him.

The rest of the escape required maintaining his cool as he moved amongst the rest of the police, not drawing attention to himself while getting to the ground floor. And along the way making his way through the apartment of a group of stoners, with a rather splendid moment taking out a policeman by smashing him in the face with a bong. Again, throughout this the NPC stoners are providing excellent colour, stuffing weed down the toilet, panicking about the cops outside being about them, and a remark after the bong hit (fnarr): "Police brutality, man! Totally awesome!" And then, rather wonderfully, you just walk out of the front door in front of everyone, as the manhunt for you continues around you, and blend into the crowd.

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