I see my target, standing in the middle of a crowded Chinese marketplace. The scene is littered with dozens, if not hundreds of people. How do I take care of him? I know there's a sniper rifle on the other side of the square, and if I look out through the window, I should be able to get a perfect shot of him. So, I walk through the crowd and make my way into a dark alley.
A cop spots me. I'm not supposed to be here, apparently. I raise my hands, feigning surrender. As the officer draws near, I snap his neck and go for a quiet kill. I didn't want to, but he left me no choice. Of course, there's not much I can do with a dead body--except take his clothes and hide his body in the nearest dumpster, of course.
It was all a bit too easy after that. Getting into the building was easy--although, thinking back, I wonder if I had checked for security cameras. Lying on a desk was a sniper rifle, and I had a clear shot on the target. I pull the trigger, and the crowds start screaming and scattering. I have to get out of here, I tell myself. So I rush out of the building and look for the nearest exit. Cops are starting to come in, but I'm in luck. I'm already wearing one of their uniforms. I manage to casually walk out of the level, completing my kill in under a few minutes.
But that was sloppy; I killed an innocent. There were so many other ways I could've taken out of my target. Hitman: Absolution is a toy box of murder--and there are lots of toys. In one playthrough, I saw someone plant a bomb on the target's car. He triggers the car alarm, causing the target to run to the car... and, you can figure out what happens from there. That's a messier kill, with a lot of collateral damage and civilian deaths.
There were other options I saw, highlighted by on-screen prompts. For example, there's an area with some scaffolding. If I could somehow lure the target under that and shoot a weak hook, I could make it tumble down on him. Another interesting option: I could poison him, by feeding him a laced piece of fugu. Best of all, this method shouldn't draw any attention; it would look like an accident.
The appeal of the Hitman series has always been in finding the perfect kill. And yes, while Square Enix is promoting Absolution with ninja assassin nuns, the game is less about the spectacle, and more about exploring the environment and figuring out the best way of taking out your target. A running tally shows your professionalism, and every innocent you kill mars your score.
I was especially impressed by Absolution's visuals. I'm amazed to see how much today's new engines are able to push old hardware. Glacier 2, IO Interactive's new engine for Absolution, produces some fantastic results. The crowd rendering tech built into the engine is definitely impressive, even if there are a few shortcomings (stiff animations, repeated characters). I don't think I've seen so many characters on screen before. Seeing them run away when I fired my sniper rifle was especially satisfying.
Absolution doesn't really reinvent the wheel as much as its six-year absence would suggest. But that's certainly not a bad thing. I was surprised at how natural it was to pick up and play Absolution. There will be multiple difficulties, each offering varying amounts of on-screen advice. The default setting I was set to gave me a comfortable amount of information on the screen, without being overwhelming. It's rare for such a complex game to be immediately accessible. I need to play more than one level to get a better appreciation for the game's nuances, but I'm definitely impressed by what I saw so far.
Watch the Shacknews E3 2012 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. This preview is based on a hands-on demo shown at a pre-E3 event.