When all is said and done, a few things clearly stood out to me amidst the organized chaos and generally hazy memories surrounding E3 - the strength of Square Enix's software lineup, or at least their Western offerings, being one of them. With titles such as Hitman: Absolution, Tomb Raider and Quantum Conundrum, Square is poised for a strong upcoming year, even if Final Fantasy Versus XIII remains lost in the wilderness.
The first of those honorable mentions, the next iteration in the Hitman series, was one of my most-anticipated games heading into the big show, and I'm pleased to say IO Interactive's rebooted Agent 47 lives up to the sky-high expectations.
Absolution's behind-closed-door showing took us through the ninth level of the game, which is roughly at the halfway point of the story, according to IO. Agent 47 travels to a small, suburban town in South Dakota with the aim of obtaining information from a gang leader currently held up amongst the seemingly wholesome main streets. However, before proceeding to his main target, a number of nefarious townsfolk must be dispensed with in increasingly creative, brutal ways.
The town was setup in a miniature sandbox fashion, allowing players to not only choose how to approach and deal with each target - a staple of the Hitman series - but also in which order to tackle your objectives. This emphasis on player freedom was demonstrated through Agent 47's strategic progression from convenience store to mechanic's garage on the other side of town, attracting and manipulating the police presence along the way. He could choose whether to hide bodies, take up disguises, use environmental distractions and much more. Bottom line: Absolution seems positioned to nicely build on the foundations which made Hitman so revered in the past.
Players are helped through these complex assassination puzzles by making use of Agent 47's knowledge and skill-set, represented in the game's "˜Instinct' mechanic. This overlays visual cues and tips onto the player's vision to highlight interactive objects, patrol paths, key targets and so on. It's a system somewhat reminiscent of Assassin's Creed's Eagle Vision, but is implemented in a unique way that fits naturally into the Hitman universe.
Another new element within Absolution is the deep tracking system which keeps a record of all your actions throughout each level. Players earn points for hiding bodies, silently taking-down foes, remaining undetected and generally making use of the game's tools which ultimately count toward online scoreboards and potential in-game rewards. While far from revolutionary, it's a dependable way to encourage a more methodical approach to assassination, which has always been Hitman's greatest strength.
All of these new features, set within the game's beautifully-realized, detailed and open environments, make Hitman: Absolution an exciting prospect for this holiday season. More specifically, Agent 47 hits store shelves November 20th on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.