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Hitman: Absolution Hands-on: we get our hands dirty with the Hitman

The Hitman series has always had a special place in my heart. Right from the days of Hitman: Codename 47 back in 2000, I have been hooked on the series’ open-ended and improvisational approach to, well, murdering people. There were times when I would dip into the games just to go on a shooting rampage with my silverballers, seeing how long I could juggle a ragdoll body against the wall just by shooting the hell out of it. Other times, I’d aim to carry out the perfect hit – silent and clinical – before sneaking off without anyone noticing.

While the adventures of the icy-eyed killer have always brought me joy, there’s no denying that the series hasn’t made much progress. Aside from minor graphical improvements, the Hitman series hasn’t really kept up with the times, with bodies still crumpling in slightly too ragdoll-y ways. With six years since the last game, I was desperately hoping that Absolution would give the series the breath of fresh air it needed.

The PS3 demo I played at the Eurogamer Expo throws 47 into a bustling Chinese market, where it’s your job to take out the King of Chinatown. And by bustling I mean Beijing-style overcrowded. After entering through the main gate, you’re instantly hit by the atmosphere. Woks sizzling, oils causing stoves to go up in flames, and hundreds of people packed into a small market square.

To identify my target, I activated the slightly cheeky X-ray vision, which outlines your target in red and can even see through walls (was it really necessary to blatantly plagiarise from Assassin’s Creed?). This is a feature I have mixed feelings about, but at least it’ll motivate me to immediately play the game through on a harder setting, where hopefully it will be disabled.

hitman absolution chinatownAnyhow, just because I identified my target didn’t mean that I knew what the hell to do with him. Suffice to say there was a bit of trial-and-error as my Hitman-rusty slowly kicked into gear. My initial attempt involved murdering a chef, hiding his body in a bin, then attempting to batter the target to death with an empty bottle. Another effort saw me shoot him in the back of the head from behind a bin as he took a piss.

I enjoyed the fact that hints were optional, and not looking at them is extremely rewarding, as I sniffed around the market square looking for ways to carry out the kill. After walking past chef chopping a poisonous Fugu fish, I thought I’d worked out my approach; poison the fucker! However, a side-alley with a police officer guarding it caught my attention. I blew a fuse to distract him, then snuck past as he went to check it out. Metal door leading to murky stairwell. Things looked very promising…

As I reached the top of the stairs, I overheard dubious-sounding voices through the door. Of course, it could’ve been anyone in there, but in the world of Hitman you don’t just stumble into a family home as they’re huddled around the TV watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire? No, the man behind this door was doomed to die.

Barely looking, I burst into the room and activated the slow-motion Point-Targeting mode. I shot the sketchy-looking guy in the face (who just happened to be my target’s drug dealer), leaving a satisfying blood splatter on his mouth. After hiding the body, I noticed that this guy also just so happens to be the owner of a Sniper Rifle and his window just so happens to be facing neatly towards the Gazebo where my target was chilling. All too convenient perhaps, but the satisfaction of planting the perfect bullet in my target’s head – and the chaos that followed – made up for it.

After clinically carrying out my mission, the market burst into chaos with people dispersing in all directions, with many leaving the area altogether. As I walked calmly towards the exit, the ground was littered with food, and people were cowering and being interrogated by the police. This sense of a ‘crime scene’ being created was convincing, and I opted against going up to the target’s body and playing around with it just to see how the police would react. Back in the Hitman groove (and with my clumsy previous assassination attempts a fading memory), I walked out through the extraction point.

Hitman is back, with better physics, more realistic environments, and, erm, Eagle Vision. The final hand-holding feature aside, the series is looking better than ever! Hitman: Absolution is due out on 20th November on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. No plans for a Wii U version though guys, sorry.

I'm a writer aspiring towards an as-yet not fully determined goal. For the time being, I enjoy writing about film, gaming and technology. Having previously worked as Editor of a Mobile Phone News website, I find it relieving to be writing at Explosion about things that I have a genuine child-like passion for. Despite that, expect to see cynicism towards JRPGs, harsh words for gimmicky Kinect and PS Move games, and ridiculing of the recent trend of games that somehow claim to transcend gaming and 'art' (I'm looking at you, Flower).