How a Hitman: Absolution hands on won me over – an old fan’s conversion to the new game

Hitman Absolution E3 screens

I used to whistle a lot when playing the old Hitman games. A nervous, nonchalant and tuneless ‘dum-de-dum, don’t mind me’ tune driven by the faint worry that everything was about to go horribly and spectacularly wrong.

A guard might discover the body slowly cooling off behind the dumpster in the car park. Or that the exclusively Asian kitchen staff might suddenly question the arrival of a bald-headed, six-foot-tall Caucasian chef wandering into the restaurant with a cleaver.

Why am I telling you this? Because prior to sitting down and playing it, what I’d seen of Hitman: Absolution – various trailers and a top-secret peek back in January – hadn’t made me want to whistle. I’d acknowledged it as a slick-looking adventure, sure. But it appeared to be heavily influenced by modern games – most prominently a mix of Batman: Arkham City’s cover-based bad-guy hunting and Uncharted’s cinematic action. Definitely built on the idea of Hitman, then, but a Hitman game in name only.

Now I’m playing it for the first time and I’m whistling. Partly because there’s a body cooling off behind a dumpster, and partly ‘cause I’m walking through Chinatown dressed as a bald, six-foot Caucasian drug dealer in a sea of five-foot Asian partygoers. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Here’s how Hitman used to work: you played as Agent 47, a genetically engineered assassin working for the International Contract Agency (ICA). The previous games saw you travelling the world offing people for money. A lot of money.

The marks were usually bad people who had sort of brought it on themselves – gangsters, drug lords and paedophiles, for example – but make no mistake: you murdered people. You got in, you did the job, you got out. How they died was entirely up to you. You could go in full ‘guns-blazing psycho’ style, or like a ghost leaving no trace – or anywhere in-between those two extremes.

The fun came from unpicking each level’s intricate clockwork rhythms: patrolling guards might take a cigarette break, a chauffeur could go to the toilet, the mark might go to his office to make a phone call for a few brief, unguarded seconds…

Working out how to manipulate these moments in order to take advantage of them was what made the game magic. Get the right disguise or be in the right place at the right time and you could move through the mechanism without displacing a single tick, until… tock: the bad guy’s dead. A tragic, tragic accident.

Which is exactly what I’m doing now – an old-fashioned Agent 47 hit, where my target is a local hood called the King Of Chinatown. This how he dies (the first time): I enter a square thronging with people. According to producer Luke Valentine there are 500 here, although the tech can manage more. The sense of life and noise is impressive. Crowds of people bustle around food stalls, cops wander through the party, and the whole thing feels busy and organic as 47 pushes and threads his way in-between the mass. In the middle, lording it up in a pagoda is the King, making some angry phone calls to his dealer. I could just pop him there and then but a) it wouldn’t be much fun, and b) the police hate that sort of thing.