Humanizing a killer with Hitman: Absolution

This time it's personal.

It may be one of the worst taglines ever, but for Hitman: Absolution, it's an apt summary of a demo given to me in San Francisco last week. This time around, Agent 47 isn't accepting contract kills -- he's on his own mission.
%Gallery-143976% This decision gives IO Interactive a unique opportunity not afforded to the developer before, lead producer Hakan Abrak said. "Agent 47 makes the call," Abrak said. "He decides what the next step is. The mission and the story was progressing through the contracts before, but in Absolution there are no contracts. He needs to figure out what the next steps are and that really gives us an interesting way of progressing story. Also it gives us an opportunity to get you guys closer to Agent 47."

While that's the goal, I wasn't able to get much of a sense of that in my demo, which focused mainly on 47's new skill set. For how long Agent 47 has been in the murder game as arguably the world's greatest assassin -- well, in the game's world he is the best, obviously -- he hasn't really changed much. Same suit, same bald mug, same garrote wire.

There is some advancement for him, finally, in Hitman: Absolution. It seems 47's downtime has mostly been spent playing video games, as two distinct new features are highly reminiscent of those found in Splinter Cell Conviction and the Red Dead series. 47, like Sam Fisher, can see through walls -- even the plotted patrol paths of enemy AI -- and, like in the Red Dead series, has a firing mechanic that slows down time and lets him tag several enemies and objects before unloading in a spectacular flurry of bullets.

"We tried to to communicate his super keen senses into mechanics in the game," Abrak said. "The Instinct mode is kind of the umbrella that communicates this -- Point Shooting is also part of Instinct mode. Real-life elite squads can train to shoot with their instincts. Or it's like sensing that somebody is on the other side of the wall. 47 doesn't have super powers but he has these extremely keen senses that we really wanted to show."

But even these new tricks don't change the game's emphasis on stealth; they just bring the action side of the series more on par with the stealth side. "First and foremost, what we're trying to convey is that Hitman is still very much about stealth," Abrak said. "If you liked that in the earlier installments, you're definitely going to get that here. But we also want to present compelling action, if you're that type of player. In earlier installments, if you went into action, every enemy would come after you -- you felt like a failure, like you had done something wrong. We really wanted to do that differently here, so if you play action, we think it should be a compelling experience and we think we've achieved that. If you want to switch between stealth and action, you should have the freedom to do so." Firing a shot won't magically call every enemy in the entire level to your position.

This particular mission was set in an orphanage and showcased one of the more linear levels players should expect in the final game. It isn't all sandbox environments this time around, Abrak said. "Later on, we will show you things to come, such as freedom in environments seen in Hitman games before. There are open environments that you know from earlier installments."

If my time with Hitman: Absolution proved anything to me, it's that IO Interactive isn't afraid to take bold steps with this latest installment. Whether that upsets you or not, I can say that it excites me personally. IO could've easily put out another cookie cutter game and satisfied fans, including myself, but they chose the more difficult path of innovation and that should be celebrated.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.