Hitman Absolution preview

Hitman Absolution preview

Detection is less binary than it was in previous Hitman games. Players are notified of guard suspicion by a circular splodge close to a shooter's hit notifier. AI characters piqued by the presence of a crouching baldy in their midst cause spikes in the circle – let that spike grow too large and you're busted. It feels more organic than Blood Money's unpredictable suspicion bar, more analogue. And psycho-47 doesn't care for it.

He's too busy popping shotgun cartridges into the stomachs of his foes. After making his way down to the bloodsmeared chapel, psycho-47 finds himself behind a glass door, eavesdropping on the invading thugs' leader's briefing. They're here to find the same girl as he is. IO wouldn't explain exactly why she is important, but it's likely to be something to do with Diana Burnwood.

Burnwood was Agent 47's handler for his earlier career, and one of Absolution's first targets – 47 doesn't let something petty like years of friendship get in the way of his kills. The thugs seem to have another leader outside the orphanage, and the man berating his colleagues behind the glass door doesn't seem to think he'll be happy with their efforts.

Those efforts are diminished further by 47, who springs from behind the door with his shotgun spraying. I didn't get to try out Absolution's shooting, but it looks understandably similar in feel to IO's Kane and Lynch series, the camera snapping to 47's shoulder as his shots tear through soft thugflesh. The boom of the shotgun draws enemies from around the contained area, and corpses pile up in doorways as they come to investigate the noise.

Back on the more sensible side of the tactical divide, a sneakier 47 has to be more careful with his bodies. He catches one behind a thick bookcase, snuffling him to sleep with an insistent “shhh!” before nabbing his clothes, taking him gently by the wrist, and pulling him into a freezer. This is Absolution at its most Blood Moneyesque. Like that game, 47 is free to put on the clothes of most people he subdues, giving him some level of immunity when wandering around in the open.

Hitman Absolution preview

Previously, donning an outfit would give you near-invisibility, with the game conveniently ignoring the fact that your peers would notice when Santa' changes from a short fat man into a 6ft killing machine with a shiny head. Wander Absolution's hallways in someone else's clothes and people will squint at you, trying to work out if you're actually meant to be there.

To counterbalance this, the game is seeded with interactions that let you hide in plain sight. 47 saunters into one of the orphanage's larger rooms dressed in his new clothes. It's stuffed with enemies: most are busy with their own concerns, but one's wandering around. His eyes alight on 47's hairless head, a spike appearing on the suspicion notifier. In response, 47 ducks his head down, suddenly extraordinarily interested in a leaflet stand. The guard walks past, happy to believe the new guy loves leaflets.

But sneakier assassins won't always have leaflets to hand every time they need to avoid suspicion. Instead, they can dip in to 47's new 'Instinct' bar – this resource is earned by doing good things like avoiding patrols, performing silent takedowns, or getting headshots. Using Instinct in the face of guard suspicion lets 47 cover his face for a second, affecting a stifled yawn or a head rub. It's somewhat artificial, but it does offer a handful of escape opportunities to otherwise perfect players who've put a foot wrong. Harder difficulties shrink the amount of Instinct you gain, making such moves more difficult – especially when it can be used for other vital purposes.

Hitman Absolution preview

For instance, 47 can use his spare Instinct to fuel a few seconds of Magic Vision, which lets him anticipate patrol routes, picked out on the floor in a line of flames. It's a mechanic that turns Agent 47 from the superhuman to the supernatural, but it fits in well with his suite of abilities. Blood Money forced dedicated players to watch and wait to learn patrol routes, wasting time to hardwire movements into their brain. Absolution still has the space to let players on harder difficulty settings use this manual method, but those with less time to burn can spend some of their Instinct to preternaturally anticipate routes and come up with a plan.

IO demonstrated another Instinct usage during 47's time in the orphanage – one that's better suited to a less cautious playthrough. With his signature Silverballer pistol in hand, 47 pops into an occupied room and stops time for a moment. During this pause, he starts to queue up headshots, pumping a few spare bullets into exposed gas canisters in convenient locations around the room. As the shots rattle off into faces and necks the camera follows, giving a gorily cinematic viewpoint of each messy kill. Once the dust settles and the blood has finished spraying the walls, the room is clear and 47's Instinct metre has been drained.

From what IO have shown so far, Absolution's level design is sniper riflefocused rather than machine gunexpansive. That will scare fans of the previous game, but Blystad argues that as the game gets closer to launch, IO will start to show the open environments and inventive murder tools that the series is known for. Blystad assures us that there's no need to worry, as he and his company know their audience: “Our hardcore fans, the first thing they do is turn around on the spot and go in the opposite direction to see if it's possible. We're trying our best to accommodate every conceivable way of playing the game.”

Even with such a tight play area, the range of choice open to the player's own Agent 47 – be he careful, psychotic or any of the shades of grey in between – make Absolution look like a comfortingly professional job.