E3 2011: Hitman: Absolution – bald, beautiful, and tearing Chicago a new one

We missed you, Agent 47

Most notably, they focused a great deal on the series’ new Instinct mode, a sixth sense of sorts that removes much of the frustration that’s plagued previous entries. Earned by scoring stealth skills, Instinct, which displays enemies through solid objects and highlights their suspected paths with heat signatures, can be triggered with a quick button press. Yes, it’s essentially Batman’s Detective Vision from Arkham Asylum – but it’s still a great addition. Seeing where his targets are and where they’re headed enables 47 to stay one step ahead of them, while also keeping players off the trial-and-error treadmill.

This ability appears to be woven seamlessly into the gameplay, yielding a far more organic experience than, say, dying over and over again until you’ve memorized A.I. paths and patterns. A similar skill also helps a disguised 47 avoid detection while surfing through crowds of adversaries. A suspicious look or line of questioning can be countered by an evasive head tuck or maybe pulling up your collar to discreetly hide your mug.

The existence of these helpful tools is justified by the protagonist’s honed senses and years of experience. Based on what we saw, the Instinct feature seems more like an immersion-pushing mechanic rather than a cheap hint system. Still, if this all sounds like BS to hardcore gamers, they do have the option to play without any handholding whatsoever.

Players will probably want to use every trick tucked into 47’s tailored suit, though, as Io’s also promising a huge advancement in their A.I. tech. NPC’s will not only react realistically to suspect sights and sounds, altering their actions on the fly, they’ll also display believable emotions. We got a taste of this when the gun-for-hire took one of the policemen’s own as a disposable meat-shield; panicked pleas and distraught looks washed over the previously cautious, but calm police presence in the library’s lobby. If seething vengeance is displayed just as realistically on the faces of those wronged by 47, we may think twice before killing so indiscriminately. 47’s ultimate escape from this same scene also hinted at a fix for another of the franchise’s major flaws. If detected in previous Hitman entries, you were usually seconds from occupying a body bag; based on this desperate escape, though, it seems we won’t have to always stay hidden to avoid that fate.

On top of promising gameplay as polished as its protagonist’s pate, Hitman: Absolution sports some of the sharpest visuals we spied at this year’s show. Stunning interior environments, detail-drenched character renders, and a teasing taste of a living, breathing Chicago prove Io’s proprietary Glacier 2 engine is capable of keeping up with its horsepower-pushing contemporaries. Hitman: Absolution doesn’t hit until 2012, but based on this early look at 47’s latest neck-snapping spree, we’re already shopping for a new blood-red tie.

Jun 16, 2011

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