As the Hitman franchise celebrates a dozen years of existence, a new game in the series will be released sometime this year. Using the stealth mechanics crossed with a healthy dose of gameplay options, Hitman: Absolution should satisfy longtime fans, and attract new ones as well. But other than a few screenshots and some impressive looking trailers, we haven’t really had much of a chance to see what the game would be all about until now.
This week at CES, Square Enix showed off a bit of the game, which is due out later this year. The story will probably strike a chord with fans of the series, as it begins with the hitman known as Agent 47 embarking on his most emotionally demanding mission yet: to kill his longtime handler, Diana.
In the demo being shown, 47 honors a request from Diana and heads to an orphanage to speak with a mysterious young girl named Victoria, but he is not the only one after her. A new antagonist named Blake Dexter (voiced by Keith Carradine) also wants the girl, so he sends a squad of thugs into the orphanage. When 47 arrives (dressed as a priest), the place is a blood bath, but the girl hasn’t been found yet.
The demo showed off what Hitman: Absolution is all about. It should feel familiar to fans of both the series as well as stealth games in general, but it does have a few new tricks too.
Common everyday items litter the environment, and 47 can use them as weapons—broken glass can become a makeshift knife, fire extinguishers can be used to beat on people, and (in a slightly blasphemous vein) things like crucifixes can bludgeon enemies to death. This game was probably going to offend someone somewhere anyway, so the developers might as well go all in.
As with previous Hitman games, the method of completing missions is up to you. If you want to turn it into a third-person shooter, you have that option, or you can take enemies down quietly. Where the game really shines though is in stealth–you could complete most of the game without confronting a single enemy. It won’t be easy, but you have options that can help.
Disguises return, and after taking out an enemy, 47 can then take their clothes and wear them. He can then join a group and hide in plain sight to gain information or quietly walk past enemies. Alternatively, there may be other ways to progress like air ducts, or he can sneak past enemies using cover. Making this easier is one of the biggest new mechanics is the “instinct” ability, an element somewhat similar to Batman: Arkham City‘s detective ability.
When 47 uses the instinct ability, he can see the path people are going to take, then move to avoid it or set up an ambush. It can also be used to get a look behind walls and around corners. But rather than keeping it on all the time, the instinct ability is powered by a gage that can only be filled by doing certain things like a headshot or a stealth kill.
The demo also highlighted the tiers of NPC enemy awareness. Some will be keenly aware of their surroundings, while others be less attentive. In one section, 47 (wearing the clothing of the thugs) snuck up behind an enemy while another enemy was talking on the phone. The first enemy wasn’t paying attention and was easily dealt with, but the sound tipped off the other thug. On a reply though, the first enemy was quietly dealt with, and the second enemy turned around and spoke to 47, thinking he was the now dead thug. Walking into a group still dressed as that enemy barely raised the eyebrows of most, but a few were a bit suspicious. You also have to be careful with leaving bodies, as some NPCs will make more thorough searches than others.
Once the combat kicked up, the game plays like a somewhat standard third-person shooter with a cover system. In certain instances there is a bullet time-like effect that can be especially useful when you have environmental targets like a tank of pressurized gas that will explode when shot.
Above all, the game emphasizes choice. You can attack, sneak, or be a ghost depending on your preference. The graphics also look great on the game’s proprietary engine, Glacier 2. The lighting effects are solid, but more importantly, the audio has been upgraded. As you enter certain situations, the sound—beyond just giving you hints as to the surroundings—will also change based on the level of tension. If someone suspects you, the music will change slightly. If they are looking for you, it will change completely. It is a mechanic that has been used before, but it is integrated incredibly well.
Check out the video below of the developers discussing their creation, and look for Hitman: Absolution later this year.