Hitman: Sniper Challenge gives you a taste of what's to come
There's nothing worse than pre-ordering a game and waiting for as long as a year to get your hands on it. Publishers are more than eager to take your cash up front, but offer little-to-no incentive for doing so. The promise of “cool” merchandise leaves the worst kind of taste in the mouth, and while stuff like “exclusive” beta access isn't bad, the stress-test periods are often a little too close to a game's launch date. While contests and lucky draws are well and good, there isn't an immediate, tangible benefit in leaving things to chance. To the rescue come Square Enix and IO Interactive. Pre-order Hitman: Absolution today on Steam (PC) or through select Indian retailers (PC and console), and you'll get unhindered, immediate access to Hitman: Sniper Challenge, a 1GB standalone download that gives you a taste of what's to come later this year.
Sniper Challenge doesn't tie in directly with the story of Hitman: Absolution. Agent 47, after all, is an assassin who does assassin-based things all the time, and in this particular case, he turns into the sort of person professional gamers all over the world love to hate: a “camper”. Perched atop a high-rise, everyone's favourite bald-headed assassin sets up his silenced sniper rifle. His target: CEO of Stallion Armaments, Richard Strong Jr., who happens to be surrounded by several bodyguards all of whom await gruesome, and occasionally comical deaths — not just for your pleasure, but also to make sure you score a sufficient number of points to place high on the online leaderboards. If you manage to end up very close to the top (first or second), promises have been made to fly you down to warm and sunny Copenhagen to visit the IO development team. Here's a quick run-down of some gameplay stuff to get you started: you gain additional points for skillshots, environmental kills and hidden object kills, while there are style-based multipliers as well. The points you notch up unlock upgrades such as larger clips, faster rate-of-fire and the like. The PC version also sports achievements you can show off to your friends. There's a decent amount of content to experience and some cool stuff hidden away for you to discover (glance over at the achievements list for clues), and despite its brief length in absolute terms (a maximum of 15 minutes), it's fairly replayable.
As a tech demo for the Glacier 2 graphics engine, Absolution serves its initially intended purpose. The game does look fairly impressive with some nice lighting effects, but the key feature of the engine, the ability to have over a 1,000 interactive character models on screen at the same time, isn't something that can be experienced first hand (the fair amount of cannon fodder included in Sniper Challenge isn't close to what the engine is capable of doing theoretically). But in the end, it's free content that's part tech demo, part mini-game, and a superb incentive to pre-order a game that you're probably going to buy come November anyway. Might as well enjoy it now.