A Hitman in Chinatown – a hands-on preview of Hitman: Absolution


By the time you’re reading this, you’ll have seen that trailer. We can’t hide our opinion; we think it’s crass, sexist and just not very 47. The actual game we played, however, was parochial to the other extreme. Square Enix has been demoing two surprisingly similar views of an Asian food market over the past few months. The chattering marketplace of Sleeping Dogs’s Hong Kong, which we got to run through at GDC; and the chattering marketplace of Hitman’s US Chinatown, which we played last week. They may be set on other sides of the world, but it’s a tribute to the lack of local adaptation of Chinese culture that the two scenes are so strikingly similar. Or to the desperation action developers are experiencing, as they run out of interesting-yet-familiar settings for their whitebread audiences.

Of course, Hitman is a very different beast from the action-racer Sleeping Dogs. Hitman is about spotting the opportunity and getting away with it cleanly, making as little noise and drawing as little attention as possible. The ideal Hitman mission result has the police scratching their head over the accidental death of the target, so it’s interesting to see how it plays out in what appears to be a huge Chinese food court, where there’s never a moment when you’re alone.

Y’see, the market is packed with MSG-chasing civilians, literally hundreds of them and the target, the self-styled ‘King of Chinatown’ knows he’s a target – perhaps because your contact Birdie has made it clear how angry he is at this wannabe King muscling in on his territory. The King is standing, surrounded by a paid-off police bodyguard, in a pagoda in the middle of the market. He’s in plain view, but if you try to attack him you’ll be shot down in seconds; it’s doable, but not very 47. So what are the options for nobbling him?

Well, The King’s human, specifically a degenerate gangster, and he has urges and they’re all weaknesses. In decreasing order of stealthiness, his urges are cocaine, fast cars, urination, and comestibles (food and drink).
Cocaine; if you loiter near him, you’ll hear him ring his dealer, who lives just above the market in a bedsit guarded by a single lazy copper. While the dealer’s walking down to meet your target, you can pop up to his apartment. Here you sabotage his lights, sneak past the cop and avail yourself of a convenient sniper rifle the dealer’s been keeping. From the window, you can put a single bullet through both of their heads.

Or, if you wander over to the King’s prize custom car (you’ll need to sneak past, subdue or kill a cop guard), you’ll find some remote explosives your contacts have dropped in the trash nearby. Give the car a bash to set off the alarm, drop the explosives under the car and wander over to a nearby takeaway stall to wait for the King to investigate what’s happening to his prize and joy. While you’re munching on your ho-fun, click the remote and the King will leave the building.
By the appearance of the table in the pagoda, the king is something of a coffee nut, but just too difficult to poison (within reason; you’d have to nobble a cop, steal his disguise and burn up your instinct to get near enough). But it does make him desire ‘micturation’ (that is, a wee. A piss. A slash. To urinate!) and the place he chooses to relieve himself is beneath a crane suspending a swaying, overladen palette. We didn’t try this one, but we suspect a silenced shot through the rope would interrupt him mid-tinkle by making him flatter than Johnny Depp’s singing.

All of these options trigger the arrival of a SWAT team immediately, which makes escape much more difficult. If you want to make it appear accidental though, you’ll need to work harder. Perversely, in this mission, costumes made it easier to get spotted; we tried dressing as a chef (using a spare costume) but the other chefs recognised us pretty quickly (as we hadn’t worked out the instinct-burning mechanic).
Instead, we were more brazen and more sneaky. When one of the chefs wasn’t looking, we stole a sample of fugu – the rare Japanese fish that, if badly prepared, can kill in seconds due to a lethal neurotoxin. Then we simply found the place where the King was going to eat, distracted the chef and mixed it in with his dinner (we could also have tried his coffee or his cocaine).

Then we placed ourselves near the exit and just waited. Eventually, a message popped up telling us that he had suffered a terrible accident. All very sad. Cue many cocaine dealers out of business, disappointed advertising executives crying into their sushi. Then it was a mere matter of sneaking out to the entrance to Chinatown and hiding behind some bins while the cops guarding it ran to see what the commotion was about.
To do the perfect crime, of course, you need to remove all the evidence of your presence, so you’ll also need to make a detour to the dealer’s apartment, who’s been taping the whole thing. Grab that tape and there’s no record of 47’s presence at all.
It’s worth noting that there’s been some substantial interface changes since 47’s last outing. First, there’s a leaderboard at the top left of the screen, showing how you’re doing relative to the world, your country, your area, your friends and so on. Second, there are challenges in each level, not all of which can be completed on a single playthrough; for example, you couldn’t get the ‘two guys, one shot’ challenge as well as the silent assassin achievement. Finally, there are five difficulty levels, with the range of clues, chances and enemy awareness changing as you move up.
Hitman’s looking good but at the moment, we still need to see the dark humour and perfect vignettes of Blood Money before we’re sold. This Chinatown market was solid, but as its similarity to Sleeping Dogs shows, we’ve not seen something that’s dodged clichés yet. Given 47’s pedigree, we’re sure he can do it.

The Hitman: Absolution PC release date is November 20th. For everything we know see ourHitman preview,forupdates see the PCGamesNHitmanchannel and follow ourHitman Twitteraccount. Check prices forHitman downloadat Green Man Gaming.