Hitman Absolution Hands-On: Stealth & Action Playthroughs Trialled
After a six-year hiatus, Agent 47 finally returns to exact revenge on the agency that betrayed him. But has the baldy assassin spent his time off wisely, or is this just Splinter Cell: Absolution?
After playing the game for days and speaking to the gameplay director Christian Elverdam, we’re more confident than ever that 47 can get the job done.
The Terminus Hotel isn’t one of Chicago’s finest, that’s for sure. Ancient and dilapidated, it looks like the sort of place you’d say at if you wanted to be murdered in your sleep.
To Hitman players worried that Absolution might have slain the series’ trademark stealth at the altar of mass appeal, however, it’s a thing of beauty.
Rain-lashed and distinctly one-star, it looks ready to fall down at any moment. Bad for tourists; great for contract killers who like to dissect their environments as much as their targets.
The dilapidation of the hotel provides opportunity: entry points, distraction mechanisms, dark corners to lure unsuspecting guards into, plenty of scope for devious play styles to take shape. Welcome back, 47.
Our target is Blake Dexter, Absolution’s big bad guy. He’s holed up on the eighth floor of the hotel. All we’ve got to do is get to him.
The main door is too obvious: Dexter’s men have locked down the entire building from the front, and don’t take too kindly to strangers wandering in unannounced.
Two entry points remain. The side entrance is guarded, and passing hotel mechanics provide a further complication. This being Hitman, there’s always another way – you just have to look for it.
It’s not long before we find it: tucked away to the left of the entrance is an open manhole.
Sliding down into the sewer, we navigate a broken waste pipe and haul ourselves up into the hotel basement.
In the past this would have been grounds for termination by the guards, but in Absolution you’ll merely be asked to leave. (There are now various stages of alert, and even if you are caught in the act, killing the witnesses will solve the problem.)
Not that we plan on being spotted. Now, almost everything you see can be picked up and used as a lure or distraction.
Grabbing a nearby wrench and pinging it against a wall, a guard comes looking for what made the noise. One sneaky fibre wire kill later and we’ve got a new set of duds.
We’ve also lost points for non-target kills. Absolution’s mechanics might be much more refined than before, but that Silent Assassin ranking isn’t just going to fall into your lap. Your score is shown in the top left of the screen – a handy reference.
In previous games a disguise would have offered you a certain level of protection, although you would never truly know when you would get busted by genuine guards.
In Absolution it’s much more firmly defined: get too close, marked by a rising threat level with a definitive tipping point, and the guard in question will harass you to confirm your identity.
Keeping your distance, hiding in a crowd or using Instinct to act like a guard will stop your cover from being blown.
NPCs are also broken down into factions. If you’re dressed as a guard, for example, as long as you’re acting like you’re supposed to you won’t have to worry about, say, mechanics, since they don’t know you’re actually a phoney.
The basement is crowded with people from the various groups; hotel staff, mechanics, and hired guns mill around, their patrols overlapping.
Spying a broken-down lift being attended to by a mechanic – and wary that the top floor will invariably be filled with guards who will see right through our current disguise – we lure him into a side room.
This time we merely subdue the unlucky target, by tapping X constantly until he’s choked out.
Again, we lose points for this, but by hiding the body successfully we regain them. It’s now possible to stash two bodies in one space, be it a cupboard, bin, or anything else, and one of these bodies can be 47: leaping into the cupboard, we check that the noise hasn’t alerted the guards. We’re clear, and set off in the elevator.
Stopping on the seventh floor, a whole new set of options opens up in front of us. Going directly to the eighth would have been too risky, so we’ve got to get upstairs somehow.
Scoping out our surroundings, we find a massive, conspicuous speaker outside a room. We tamper with it, and a bewildered DJ runs out to fix the problem.
Taking our chance, we slip into the room, out the window, onto the ledge and up the emergency exit to the eighth floor.
And that’s where, to avoid spoilers, we’ll leave it.
In this one level Absolution showed us that, despite the changes, at heart this is the same Hitman that came before. We may have climbed out of the window this time, but on our first playthrough we set off a fire alarm on the seventh floor, sending panicked guards running from their posts, enabling us to sneak up the stairs.
From there, we could have tampered with a movie projector to blind and distract the guards, enabling us to slip by, or dressed up as a hotel cleaner, giving us free rein over the place.
Or we could have gone in the front door, sneaking through the receptionist’s office, hopefully bagging a disguise on the way. The open-ended nature of play is still there, lending Absolution a comforting familiarity.
Not everything is the same, however. In other levels we played through, IO Interactive has made some striking, if logical, changes.
Not all of your assignments play exactly like the large sandboxes found in the previous games; some are a series of smaller areas connected by linear ‘funnels’ that link them.
This could be a bit confusing for seasoned Hitman players, but it does open up a new challenge: multi-part Silent Assassin runs. The stage ‘Hunter And Hunted’ has you engaging in multiple missions, each requiring you to adapt your style.
In one part you’re infiltrating a strip club in a bid to kill its proprietor, ‘accidentally’ offing him with a falling disco ball if you’re a true pro, while the next you’re playing cat and mouse as the police close in on you in a far smaller environment, using fireworks and other distractions to make your escape.
Then, just as things start to feel like they might be getting too linear, you’re back to the larger environments.
The preview code finishes with another assignment in Chinatown during Chinese New Year: a multi-target hit with satisfying scope for devious accidents and cunning executions.
Sabotaging gasoline pumps for taking care of those pesky smokers, throwing knives into the back of heads and… uh… dressing up as a giant chipmunk before infiltrating a corrupt cop ring was the order of the day, and that’s not even the half of it.
We’re still not sure we’ve found everything to do in the level, even after more than ten attempts.
What we are sure about is that the Hitman we all know and love is back, tweaked to better suit the narrative and the demands of a broader audience.
Instinct mode seems like a win button at first glance, but when you consider that it’s just an improved map and is hugely reduced in power on harder difficulties, and that you’re still reliant on your planning skills, it becomes second nature to use it.
Everything is clearer and more explicit in Hitman: Absolution, from the game warning you when you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, to marking out what items in the world you can and can’t use. How you use these tools, however, is up to you, and the vast replayability is still there.
The front doors of the Terminus Hotel swing open like saloon doors, and the cowboys inside wheel around to see who’s entered. There, in the decaying, downmarket lobby, wet, pissed off and carrying a snub-nosed revolver, is Agent 47.
The guards yell for backup, but it’s too late. Using Absolution’s new third-person targeting mechanics, we swiftly drop a couple of them – aided by some COD-style target-snapping – before a too-close-for-comfort shotgun blast sees us head for safety.
Prefer to use your trigger finger more than your brain? Hitman: Absolution has you covered.
Whereas in previous Hitman titles Agent 47 was curiously inept at ‘going loud’ – he only learned how to throw a punch in the last game, cheats for Hitman 2 aside, and the shooting has always been awful – here he’s much more like the trained killer he’s always been made out to be.
IO’s new Glacier 2 engine has improved both his stealth and action capabilities, as is obvious from the aforementioned balls-out shooting and when we snap to cover to avoid the incoming fire that our actions just brought down on 47.
He may be a genetically altered super soldier, but the Agency’s finest isn’t invincible, even on easier difficulties.
Blind-firing over the reception counter, we peek out and pop an accurate shot right into an onrushing guard’s face. He cartwheels backward in grimly satisfying fashion, a big red hole where his cheek used to be.
Blood pools beneath his body, the bullet entry point visible for all to see. More than a little disturbing, even for us.
There’s no time for pesky things like conscience, however. Rolling around cover and SWAT-turning past an open door, we pick up some ammo, reloading for the next assault.
The fastest way of reaching the eighth floor and our target, Blake Dexter, southern industrialist and all-around bastard, is via the lift.
The lobby is still teeming with guards hunting us, and we can’t proceed until their alert status calms. Down in the basement, though, the entire floor is now a confused mess of angry guards and panicked staff.
We use this to our advantage. A mechanic runs past, and we grab him as a human shield, dropping two more guards over his shoulder before subduing him by hammering X – hey, we’re not animals.
A little message pops up on our HUD, telling us more guards are inbound. We duck into the reception area where, mercifully, the manager of the hotel keeps his shotgun.
Grabbing it, we head confidently out into the back, unloading round after round into bad guys. Without wanting to sound too much like we need a visit from the men in white coats, there’s a methodical sense of power to 47’s killing sprees these days.
Maybe it’s the solid shooting mechanics. Maybe it’s the way he nonchalantly carries his weapons. All we know is that, in his latest incarnation, 47 is not to be messed with.
After letting the heat cool for a moment – by taking a break in a cupboard, of course – we get in the lift. It stops at the seventh floor, opening to gang members sitting around, shooting the breeze.
They’ll never know what hit them: another volley of gunfire sees them dead in their seats. The maid and guests scream, and more guards come running.
At this point, in the moments before the rest of the gangsters pour in, we’ve got options. We could lure one into a guest room, hide on the ledge and pull him out of the window as he comes to investigate.
We could grab a knife and throw it into the back of someone’s head. We could even pretend to surrender, grabbing the hapless fool that comes too close, and use him as a human shield.
Stomping up the stairs to the eight floor, we fling open the door, hosing the two guards in a hail of gunfire that pierces a grand piano in the ballroom.
A huge gunfight erupts, and pinned down towards the back of the room we’re given a first-hand look at the new AI: swarming, flanking, shooting from cover and working in pairs, we have to use all our skills to put them down.
Holding down RB, we tap X to start Point Shooting, similar to Red Dead’s Dead Eye system. After painting our targets, we drop them all in slow motion. It’s how John Woo would have wanted it.
Standing outside the presidential suite that hides our true prey, our mission draws to a close. We daren’t even glance at our score.
It was quite a rampage, but even when you’re doing your best impression of the Terminator vs the Los Angeles Police Department, you’ve still got options.
In previous games, going in all-guns-blazing was a last resort, and even then the game’s mechanical deficiencies meant that it wasn’t a truly satisfying experience.
The opposite rings true here, and just like playing it stealthily, you have the option of adding your own murderous signature via creative kills, such as electrocuting a guard knee-deep in water in the hotel basement.
Chinatown is absolutely teeming with people – who’s going to notice if you, dressed as a chipmunk, run up behind someone and double-tap them?
The immediate crowd might recognise that something’s up, but you can use the confusion and the people to your advantage, blending in to slip away. Just don’t let off any explosives…
‘Guns loud’ might not be in the true spirit of the game, but it is totally possible and utterly enjoyable. Hitman used to be a fantastic stealth game with a ropey action element. Now, it’s brilliant across the board. Welcome back, 47.