If you're worried this is not the assassin you remember, don't be.
Agent 47 has been very quiet since 2006's Hitman: Blood Money. (No, we're not going to discuss the movie.) He reappeared at last year's E3 with Hitman: Absolution, sporting some very pretty graphics. Unfortunately the demo was hands-off to most so it was hard to get a sense just what sort of game this was going to be. The sequence that was shown seemed relatively linear, with not a ton of player choice. Was this really the Hitman fans have been hoping for?
That question was dashed at a recent press event, when IO Interactive let journalists play Absolution for the first time. The playable level took place in China. Unlike the linear museum level from last year, this year's demo was set in an open-air pedestrian market, complete with stalls selling raw fish, vendors barking out deals and what appeared to be a few hundred innocent bystanders.
The new tech behind Absolution is pretty astounding, capable of rendering full street scenes, packed to the brim with people, without so much as a hitch. Agent 47 is able to move through the crowd, Ezio-style, with a few polite shoves. He can start running, sure, but that's likely to arouse the suspicion of his target.
Ah yes, the target. This level followed the more traditional structure of the Hitman games. Agent 47 is given a target to assassinate in any way he deems fit. The more subtle the better, though.
Unfortunately the target was located smack dab in the middle of the marketplace, sitting calmly in a gazebo surrounded by guards.
As with every Hitman game before Absolution, there are many, many ways to handle this situation. The most obvious: get up close, pull out your pistol, pop him in the head and run like hell. On harder difficulties this is probably a guaranteed death sentence.
But subtle is better, right? You can, for example, note that the target calls up a drug dealer living nearby. You can track the dealer down, follow him to somewhere secluded, choke him out with your garrote and steal his clothes. From there you can hit the dealer's apartment, where you'll find some drugs you can mess with, causing the target to overdose when he takes them. An alternative, less sneaky option: a sniper rifle sitting in the drug dealer's apartment on the second floor makes for an easy, long-range headshot.
I went another route, with mixed results. I was able to knock out one of the more remote food merchants, stealing his clothes in the process. (I actually lost points and increased by visibility because I didn't hide the body well enough. Whoops!) With my new disguise I stumbled upon some fugu fish (a Hitman favorite!), which I prepared horribly, making it ultra poisonous. Then, with my disguise and my fish, I walked right up to the target and, while his back was turned, slipped some fugu in his wine. Moments later, he was dead and I was a few blocks away.
After this 30 minute demo, it became clear that IO isn't reinventing the Hitman franchise with Absolution. No, as with every installment thus far, this is yet another refinement. Good news for fans and newcomers alike.