Killer Instinct

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If I screw up a mission in a game, I am usually the type to keep rolling with the punches provided my screw-up didn’t result in my instant death. I made the mistake and I can live with it. The lone exception to that rule has always been the Hitman series. Even if I am near the end of a contract, if a piece of the mission isn’t executed with the preciseness of a professional killer, I will restart the mission. It’s one of the few games where I absolutely lose myself in the world and character.

After watching the demo for Hitman Absolution, I began to realize just how detached Agent 47 was from his environment. Thinking back, I can remember large, open environments offering lots of paths towards a successful kill, though now it seems like 47 was just a random blip in those worlds and not a part of them.

One of the core elements at play in Hitman Absolution is the idea of seeing the world through Agent 47’s eyes. Dubbed “Instinct,” the mode shows you everything in the world the way Agent 47 would. You’ll see flaming trails indicating where he thinks enemies will move, routes to an exit, and ways to hide in plain sight. As small as the feature seems, it adds an entirely new layer of strategic depth. It is not just about finding a target, but how you approach every situation involved in the hunt.

I got a first-hand look at Instinct in action during a short mission. The setup involved Agent 47 taking a job that ends badly. He’s been betrayed and is now on the run in Chicago. The cops are after Agent 47 and have tracked him down to an abandoned library. Agent 47 sits perched on a column with a police sergeant barks orders to scour the place.

Almost immediately, I got a sense of the organic feel missing from previous games. It wasn’t the stiff objective-to-objective gameplay that I remember from the last game. Instead, Agent 47 is an integral part of his environment. After dropping from his perch, Instinct mode is activated. The already drab library darkens as the officers and their patrol paths light up.

With Instinct activated, Agent 47 stalks a patrolman who has broken off from the main group. Watching the cops work through the area offers a great example of the game’s new comprehensive A.I. system. Characters are more aware of their environments and will react to changes in the environment. This includes a new awareness system. In past games, stealth was binary. You were either seen or not seen. Now, if you get someone’s attention, you have a chance to get out of sight before you’re caught. Once again, the changes like this help illustrate the mechanical nature of past games.

As the cops search the area, the sergeant tells one cop to search for the fuse box. There’s constant banter between the cops and it pays to listen to every detail. They’ll offer clues on how you should proceed through the level and even tip off where they’re headed. Using Instinct Mode as a guide, Agent 47 makes his way to the fuse box – which is now highlighted – and takes out the cops who had just finished repairs. You’re now left with a choice; you can leave the fuse box alone, trading in some of you darker hiding spots for lower awareness, or destroy the box, keep the dark on your side, but tip the police off that something isn’t quite right. The two options are another massive improvement to the series. Choice has always been an option, only now those choices are more natural and varied.

The demo continues with 47 taking out cops with various degrees of efficiency. He chokes out one, knocks the other in the head with a bust and breaks another’s neck. One cop drops a gun, offering the option to turn the stealthy escape into a shootout. It is a viable option and if you want to go that route, you can. The idea isn’t to saddle players with a certain linear path, but offer them the opportunity to tell their own story through the mission.

Eventually Agent 47 uses the gun to bargain his way out of the library. He grabs a cop and uses him as a human shield. Once outside, he knocks the hostage out and makes a run for the top of the building. Along the way, he has to cross a few narrow beams and, using Instinct mode a guide, shoots out a chandelier, sending it crashing on the police in pursuit below.

Once he reaches the rooftop, gameplay takes a dramatic shift. It is no longer about stealth, but about finding cover as a helicopter sprays the upper floors with bullets. This goes on until Agent 47 makes a giant leap into the next building. He then kills the lone police officer on guard and takes his uniform. It is an idea that has always been a part of the series, though now you have to learn to think like the person you’re disguised as.

Similar to stealth, uniforms were a black and white element. People either bought the disguise or they didn’t. Now you can keep the charade up for much longer. The first time you slip up, someone will take notice. If you keep slipping up, everyone will know. But, if you can maintain the persona for the rest of the mission, you can erase your original mistake.

One great example of the mechanic in action involves Agent 47 walking through a lobby crowded with police officers. As he passes groups of cops, he has to use Instinct mode to hide his face. He eventually comes to a table with both an assault rifle and box of donuts sitting on it. You can grab the gun and open fire on the crowd or grab the donut and make your way out of the lobby.

It’s not over though. Before exiting to the street, a cop notices Agent 47 and recognizes him as Foster. Confused, the cop questions 47, mentioning he thought Foster had left years ago.

Agent 47 coolly replies, “I never left,” and walks into the streets.

Hitman Absolution comes out next year for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.