PS3, xbox360

Hitman Absolution

When most video game players think of the Hitman franchise, they picture a silent assassin choking an enemy with a power cord, or sniping from a shadowy space, or covertly taking them out with a bong (no, really).

So it’s interesting to watch lead character Agent 47 pop into a room, with no interest in staying hidden, grab an ax and start whacking away at foes.

But don’t think the franchise has completely embraced the open approach to “conflict resolution” in Hitman: Absolution, developed by studio IO Interactive. Players who enjoy stealthier tactics will find this game still seems to deliver.

During a recent, hands-off demo hosted by publisher Square Enix, I watched as Agent 47 infiltrated an orphanage disguised as a priest to rescue a young girl, who happens to be a key target for your employer, among others. It starts with the assassin sitting inside an elevator shaft as he watches two gunman slay a defenseless nun.

My first run through the demo took a “professional” route, which follows Agent 47’s standard operating procedure. He moves carefully through the orphanage, chucking a toy toward the ground to create a distraction, taking down enemies with silent choke holds and stuffing them in a closet or other nearby hiding space.

A meter representing Agent 47’s Instinct fills as this happens, which lets the player study the movements of enemies when activated. There’s also a suspicion mechanic, represented by an arrow that grows narrow the more nervous enemies become. For the most part, the experience was textbook Hitman.

The second, “violent” approach to this demo revealed a bit more about what happens when Agent 47 is out in the open. It looks covert at first, until he announces his presence by splitting an enemy’s head with an axe. And in case Agent 47’s lumberjack impression wasn’t enough, a warning pops up to remind players his position has been “exposed.”

Another sequence featured Agent 47 mowing down a group of enemies with a series of slow-motion, execution style gunshots aimed at blowing up explosive cannisters and quickly dispatching enemies. The demo played more like a third-person, cover-based action title.

The “violent” approach showcased the game’s flexibility, beyond just using a different route for completing a mission. Hitman reminds me of another stealth series, Metal Gear Solid, specifically because I never felt I had completed a mission correctly unless I stayed hidden the entire time or didn’t follow the correct formula.

Based on the demo of Hitman: Absolution, it appears players can move through missions, slip up a couple of times, and not feel as if they’ve made a critical error. However, those who crave the tougher challenge can still find opportunities to approach the game in a more rigid manner.

Hitman: Absolution launches this year for, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

By Brett Molina for USA Today

@purplejoystick

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