Walking into a room filled with masked goons, Agent 47 casually picks up a fire axe. An unusual tool of the job, you might think, but a standard day at the office for gaming’s original assassin. Slamming the axe into his target’s forehead, his enemy’s accomplices reel in surprise, letting off dozens of rounds of pistol fire in his direction. He pulls out his trademark Silverballers, mowing down a handful more in a torrent of bullets and gun powder, the camera swooping around their limp bodies as they plunge to the ground. For the grand finale 47 tugs the axe out of the lifeless thug at his feet before throws it at the head of the lone gangster. The target falls to his knees. Job done. Back to the office.
To rearticulate Bleszinski’s infamous turn of phrase, Hitman Absolution is bigger, it’s balder, and it’s definitely more badass. It’s Jason Statham: The Videogame, and a title that will inevitably be host to countless YouTube videos ripped over the top of ‘Let the Bodies Hit the Floor’. If you’ve ever oohed and aahed at the gunfights in The Matrix, Face/Off or Hard Boiled, you’ll be left in awe by this. Simply put, Absolution’s one of the coolest games ever made. But equally, it isn’t Hitman as you know it.
What we described earlier was just a small, 20-second sequence, a snippet of a level that sees Agent 47 breaking into an orphanage under attack from the cronies of cigar-smoking industrialist and all-round bad guy Blake Dexter. Rather than being broken up into individual cases, Absolution is the first game in the series to follow a storyline; a linear sequence of events that sees 47 trying to find the reasons behind the death of ex-handler Diana Burnwood. Dexter’s the big bad villain, the guy who you’ll (presumably) carry out the ultimate hit on during the game’s finale, and a character who is eager to get his hands on a young girl named Victoria who shares undisclosed connections with Burnwood.
Victoria’s housed up in the Rosewood Orphanage, a children’s’ home turned mass grave just prior to 47′s arrival. It’s a gruesome sight; bloodsplatters cover the walls and empty cots line the dorm rooms, as the bodies of carers lie dormant across the abandoned hallways. The only sign of life comes via the gangsters plundering the rooms for Victoria, and a security guard being tortured in one of the bedrooms. Save him and he’ll direct you to a hidden weapon, or ignore him to slip by unnoticed. It’s your choice.
We’re shown two playthroughs of the level: the first is an aggressive run through with 47 swiftly and stylishly dispatching his foes via a vast armoury of weaponry and household objects, including the aforementioned axe and a fire extinguisher (and via a new Red Dead Redemption Dead Eye-style targeting system ‘Point Shooting’). The second is a more ‘professional’ run, sneaking through the level, silently taking out goons using syringes and via chokeholds.
Beyond the differing levels of violence though, both playthroughs are very similar. It’s all gone a bit Splinter Cell: Conviction, a stealth action game with the emphasis on murdering up the place in style, and unlike previous Hitman games, where plotting your route and working out a particular path was key to success, here the path the player takes appears almost linear.
“It’s more dictated by the story as to what happens and exactly how it happens,” says Gameplay Director Christian Elverdam of the game’s flow. It’s a controversial decision by the developer, but one which Elverdam thinks helps rather than hinders the overall gameplay. “In the old gameplay we had this mechanic that when you were spotted everyone knew who you were and would run to you from the furthest corner of the level. All of that stuff is gone. I don’t think there’s necessarily any conflict here about building something that feels extremely cinematic.”
Cinematography is key to the Absolution experience. Slow-mo camera pans set the scene at almost every turn, as the camera bounces and swoops during every shot of 47′s ‘Point Shooting’, and a spookily mesmeric orchestral score adds to the suspense of the grisly atmosphere. “(We have) a music system that can hook up to the brain of the AI,” says Elverdam. “If you mute our playthroughs you can feel how much impact it actually has.” Turn up your 5.1: IO’s going to raise the game when it comes to audio.
And talking of impact, Elverden is keen to stress to the series’ most hardcore fans that Absolution won’t disappoint following the negative tongue-lashing after its E3 showing last year. “I definitely understand the concern about whether it’s going to be linear or too different from the formula,” he says. “I think some of the stuff is more controversial when you hear about it than when you actually sit with the controller and try to play it. I wouldn’t worry, we’re not going to disappoint.”
But regardless of whether or not it feels like a traditional Hitman game though, there’s no getting round the fact that Absolution looks like an astonishing slaughter-’em-up romp. Expect IO’s finest work yet when Absolution launches later this year, and a hit you can’t afford to miss.
Hitman Absolution releases on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC later this year.
Tags: Hitman Absolution
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