Hitman: Absolution In-Depth Hands-On Preview – The First Few Hours of the Campaign & The Beginnings of a Love Affair with Contracts Mode
Written Friday, October 05, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Chances are that if you’ve been keeping an eye on the gameplay vids and previews surrounding Hitman: Absolution thus far, you’ve seen a good portion of the five opening chapters. Well, at least snippets of them. Our aim in this preview of the opening five chapters isn’t to tread over ground we’ve already covered, but just to fill in the gaps. You know, give you an insight into some of the previously unseen environments and deliver the almost final-before-review verdict – of course, spoiler free as usual – on whether Hitman: Absolution is a true Hitman game.
As they say in Hollywood, let’s start from the top… or is that Broadway? Regardless, as far as tutorial level goes, Hitman: Absolution’s is a perfect start for the title. Forget Blood Money’s “Death of a Showman,” which oddly didn’t feel very “Hitman-y,” this is straight into the assassin action from the off. Our mission: to infiltrate a fancy mountain mansion and take down our target. That means sneaking through the tennis courts, through the garden, across the roof terrace, through the greenhouse and into the mansion itself. Once inside there’s a whole host of different ways and distractions you can cause to get through the level to your main objective. This is where things could get a little spoilerific, so we’ll move swiftly on to one of the next missions.
The next level saw Agent 47 head to the Terminus Hotel in Chicago in order to take down his next target – on the 8th floor. It doesn’t have the trademark quirkiness of a Hitman level in truth, like the opera house level or the Heaven and Hell party, with it seemingly more steeped in realism, but with multiple entry points, multiple distractions and multiple disguises, it’s what you’d expect from a Hitman sandbox level. I should also mention at this point that Absolution is a trophy gold mine too, and after only an hour we had several trophies. Yes, they come that thick and fast!
After smashing the bonnet on the car outside the hotel, taking down the guard it attracts and disguising ourself in his outfit, we were able to slip inside without so much as an alarm raised. One of the things to pay attention to in Absolution is how you can get detected once disguised. In Hitmans gone-by, being disguised was often a good way to get wherever you wanted in a level within reason. In Absolution, it’s largely similar, but veering too close to anyone who’s in the same disguise means you'll often get busted. You can use the new Instinct mechanic when close by to blend in and avoid detection, but be warned, when using it in these circumstances it runs down rather quickly. Of course, if you do get detected, the new close-quarters-combat allows you to turn a situation back in your favour, although that’s hardly the mark of a silent assassin.
Having successfully called the elevator in the basement and made our way up to the 7th floor, we were able to sabotage some speakers outside the room of a rowdy DJ, then while he was distracted we snuck inside his room, went out of the window, onto the fire escape and up to the 8th floor. The next sequence of events was eventful, to say the least, and ranged from pulling guards out the windows and recovering from a messy situation, to hiding multiple bodies in the wardrobe and crashing a piano lid to get the attention of another guard. All this, moments before we wrapped up the mission by locating our target.
With challenges for every mission – like kill with this, wear all the disguises, kill with that – Absolution has tons of replayability, more so than any other Hitman game to date. The more challenges you complete, the more you can score on a level, with each complete challenge offering you a small boost in score the next time you complete the level. The fact that you unlock skills as you go, like gaining the ability to get Instinct by hiding in a crowd and Point Shooting consuming less Instinct, there’s always an incentive to complete the challenges and generally play as much as you can.
The next level of note, the “Hunter and Hunted” mission, sees us heading to The Vixen Club to take out our next target – yes, a strip club, again confirming the notion that IO Interactive has opted for situations from the real-world, instead of fun and wacky premises like in Blood Money. We’re not sure we like this new approach, although the moment to moment gameplay is still classic Hitman.
With the rain lashing down around us, we start a few blocks out from the club and make our way in via a series of underground tunnels – stealing a cop’s outfit on the way – sneaking through a cop-infested back alley and then into the bar. Our target was there, loitering by the bar – as you do. Naturally, we don’t want to blast him in the club – incidentally, we could… but that’s not how you play Hitman games! – so when the guy had gone to the toilet, out comes the piano wire and blammo! Or rather, glaargh!
One thing I feel obliged to mention is the attention to detail here, not just in the club, but in the surrounding areas too, with one small altar with clippings of missing girls deep underground being a particular noteworthy example. The club has private rooms where you can rig a glitter ball to fall and kill a stripper, dancers talking behind-the-scenes, and goons playing pool and chatting shit. IO is certainly looking to pull out all the stops here.
Finally, the next mission of note took us back to Chinatown – the second level and the one we previewed pre-E3 – but it’s definitely a bit trickier and more of a bigger environment this time around. Taking place during the Chinese New Year and with three targets, we spent the next 45 minutes or so going about our business. Whether you’re talking about us sabotaging a shipment of fireworks to take down a target, dropping a suspended platform of construction goods onto one or rigging a shipment of drugs to take down the final hit, we were busy chappies.
That’s enough of the campaign though, you get the hint, let’s turn our attention briefly to the hugely impressive Contracts mode – the mode that gives you the power to create hits for the world to play and for you to play theirs. It’s the legs of the game. It’s not a fact of: choose a level, choose who to kill, how to kill them and choose what you’re wearing. You do all that, but in order to create your challenge, you have to perform it first.
So, you could load up the Terminus Hotel level, choose to kill three guards silently with the piano wire and hide their bodies, all while dressed in a mascot outfit – that then would be your created challenge. Remember, everyone can create challenges as well, so the possibilities are endless. As long as they’re not an everyday NPC – i.e. part of the huge NPC crowds – they’re a potential target, whether that’s a cop, a gardener, a chef, a campaign target, whoever. Taking those NPCs who are static and bringing them into play – killing them silently and hiding the body – I sense that’s where the challenge and the fun’s going to come in. We literally spent hours trying out various missions and attempting to setup our own insane challenges for friends and colleagues alike, and we feel like we could spend so many more doing so.
The new Contracts mode is a huge boost to the Hitman franchise and can result in hours of extra fun and replayability, but ultimately the most important thing to take out of it is that IO Interactive has effectively stuck a big two fingers up to the rest of the industry who said that single-player games need multiplayer. No they don’t. They just need innovation like this that is in keeping with the game. Not only does this new mode open endless possibilities, but it adds another leg to the franchise, one that wasn’t really needed but is welcomed with open arms.
Hitman games have always been – and will always be – about the single-player campaign and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the single-player – in fact, it handles superbly and is a classic Hitman experience – the levels do tend to lack the individual creative flair that the likes of Hitman: Blood Money had, instead opting for a more realistic vibe. When I think of Blood Money’s levels I think of the grotto, the heaven and hell party, the riverboat, the suburban Mafia dwelling, the opera house, the psychiatric centre, Mardi Gras, the Southern wedding, the White House and the casino.
From what we’ve seen of Absolution so far, we have backalleys, Chinatown, abandoned libraries, apartment blocks, a hotel and a strip club, all environments steeped in realism, but hardly what we expect from a Hitman game. There’s still plenty of the game left for it to change our minds on this whole issue, but considering Blood Money was a unique and hugely loveable experience from the get go, Absolution seems to be opting for a different tack. Despite that one gripe though, the game plays beautifully, has typical Hitman gameplay and is shaping up to be one hell of a romp. Maybe just not the romp we were all expecting.
Hitman: Absolution is scheduled for a November 20th release.