Is it a glorified demo? Doesn’t it have zero replay value? Isn’t it hugely simplified, technically? The answer to all three of those questions, is no. A stand-alone mission that isn’t part of Hitman: Absolution’s campaign, Sniper Challenge is essentially a (surprisingly gripping and extremely moreish) score attack mode. The scenario doesn’t change: a notorious, evasive and ever-punctual international arms dealer arrives by helicopter at a rooftop terrace party, in order to conduct a brief meeting with a shady colleague. You’ve got fifteen minutes to take him out from a vantage point atop an adjacent skyscraper – along with his small band of bodyguards and more than ten rooftop security personnel – and all without causing any immediate commotion.
Obviously there are innumerable different ways for you to to do this, but in dependable Hitman style, employing stealth will plant you on the the proper route to success. It’s very enjoyable to go loud immediately – and then attempt to pick off everyone before they manage to permanently escape to cover – but doing so won’t result in a particularly high score, even if you execute nowt but headshots on moving targets. Security are always moving around so you have to be careful that a goon doesn’t wander into earshot whilst you’re sizing another one up for a kill, and where possible you need to look for kill shots that also dispose of the body; such as waiting for someone to take idle pause beside the terrace’s decorative, crucifix-shaped duck pond. There are so many variables present that a definitive “solution” to the whole thing probably doesn’t even exist.
So as a taster (and pre-order perk) it’s rather a smart one, because it’s not something that you can really binge on; you’re either in the mood for its taut, pensive wares or you’re not. It’s the sort of thing that’s going to be great to dive back into every time you feel a pang of anticipation for Absolution, and a pretty sizeable host of challenges and unlocks encourage you to persevere. None of the unlocks are anything game-changing – most of them seem to be pretty specific to the sniper rifle that you unlock straight away – and the challenges are deliberately vague and ambiguous, which is most welcome. With only short, bizarre clues like “Gnomes are invading the apartment” to go on, you’ll have to experiment and endlessly modify your gameplan if you want to figure out what on earth they all mean.
And rather than simply assigning another button to it, holding your breath – to steady your aim moments before a kill – is achieved by very lightly squeezing the trigger, a downright brilliant design choice that constantly shoves care and precision to the forefront of your tactical checklist. You’re also never pandered to by the gameplay; when you perform a pitch-perfect headshot on an enemy who’s sprinting for cover, it always feel like a result of your own aptitude, rather than the game trying to make you feel all-powerful without forcing you to do any groundwork first. So Sniper Challenge is a surprisingly tasty morsel, and one that should keep many of Agent 47’s most ardent fans intermittently busy until the full game launches in November.
Hitman: Absolution is currently due for release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on Tuesday, November 20th 2012.
Watch the “Sniper Challenge” trailer for Hitman: Absolution below: