E3 2011 first look: Hitman Absolution

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Never underestimate the element of choice. Agent 47 never does. Earlier today, we sat in for a closed door session at with IO Entertainment and Square Enix, the developer and publisher of Hitman Absolution, the next tale in the Hitman saga. The built we saw was pre-alpha and for the PS3, but it gave us a pretty good idea what to expect from the upcoming stealth shooter.

Though I was skeptical of Square Enix’s decision to purchase Eidos, it may be one of the smartest decisions the company has made. Like Tomb Raider, this new Hitman’s high production values are instantly apparent, from the visual flourishes of IO’s new Glacier 2 game engine (developed specifically for Hitman) to the thought out gameplay scenarios and impressive AI. Quality seemed to ooze from every corner of the screen during our closed door session.

While we didn’t get a chance to play the game, the essence of Hitman seems to be intact and enhanced. In the new game, Agent 47 is betrayed by his agency and hunted by the police. The demo we saw took place in a very dank old library, filled with policemen searching for the barcoded assassin. Each of the officers has a distinct personality, and from the AI conversations we overheard, few of them seem happy to be hanging out in an abandoned building searching for a killer. Fortunately for them, we didn’t really feel like being there either. Our goal was escape.

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While we were told it’s possible to go out guns blazin’,  the IO team chose to play stealth, crouching behind bookcases and watching enemy patterns. The game’s context sensitive ‘Instinct’ mode comes in handy several times during this level. Instinct lets you press a button to tap into the knowledge of Agent 47. During one section, Agent 47 shows where enemies might walk next and later, when you are disguised, hitting Instinct helps keep your cover by making you act natural, such as tipping your hat to a fellow police officer.

My favorite part of the demo was after Agent 47 was discovered by police. He ran up the building and into a room filled with caged chickens. As a helicopter begins pummeling the room with bullets, the chickens go berserk and feathers literally fly, all to the beat of the game’s Inception-like, bass-pounding soundtrack. While this was happening, I had the full knowledge that with some better sneaking, this visual treat could have been avoided entirely.

Square Enix could have cashed in on Eidos’s franchises, but it has chosen to heavily invest in their most unique assets, revamping both series completely. We’re very impressed with Hitman Absolution so far and can’t wait to check it out on PS3, Xbox, and PC in 2012.

Though it shows no actual gameplay footage, we’ve included the game’s pre-E3 trailer below for your viewing pleasure.

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