Hitman: Sniper Challenge – How Can Something Be So Advanced Yet Feel So Dated?

When I heard that pre-orders for Hitman: Absolution would be rewarded with a code for a standalone mission called ‘Sniper Challenge’ I immediately jumped at the chance – admittedly already considering doing so anyway – to play as Agent 47 in this intriguing concept, namely a ‘demo’ that would allow items and benefits to be unlocked for use in the full game. As such it would be an hour before I felt I understood exactly what was on offer, had tried a lot of stuff out and had formed a solid opinion. Hitman: Absolution is the best fun I’ve had sniping in a game, ever. IF we don’t count Sniper Elite V2. 

The biggest issue in the Hitman: Absolution is not the presentation – it is brilliantly realised, with nuances and details that impressed – or the gameplay – which was competent and rewarding. Instead I found myself judging the game with a critical eye following Rebellion’s master class in how to make a sniper title with the aforementioned Sniper Elite V2.

What was ‘missing’?

The inability to control your breathing.

The kill cams.

The enticement to be creative.

The excitement.

All of the above are in Sniper Elite V2 in spades. None are in Hitman: Sniper Challenge. To a point, anyway.

See you can control your breathing, if you unlock the perk (in stages) by performing well, and even then it isn’t as well implemented as the same feature in Sniper Elite V2. You are supposed to be a professional hitman, and yet you have to jump through hoops to act according to the job description on your natty little business cards.

You can be creative with your shots, but only in areas specifically designed for the purpose – whereas S.E. V2 allowed for creative killing in most locations and situations. In Hitman: Sniper Challenge I was able to shoot the junction box for an elevator, causing the doors to open on the empty shaft, which in turn raised the suspicions of a near by bodyguard. Wait until he’s close to the void and bam, he’s shot and falling to his resting place. Similarly a guard can be lured below a lift carrying barrels of alcohol, which shooting the cables supporting it enable a ‘Tequila Slammer’ kill. Other than these two specific examples – not including activating land mines on pedestals (it’s the party of an arms dealer, launching a new weapon range) – you don’t really have to do much other than time your shots and avoid detection. When you do pull off a creative kill – as has always been the case in the Hitman series, the payoff is worth the patience, but I wanted more freedom in the short game.

Similarly the lack of any kill-cam did hit the enjoyment somewhat, given how thrilling it is in Sniper Elite V2 when you not only pull off a great shot, but get to see it in slow motion (even without the X-Ray damage animations). With Hitman: Sniper Challenge it’s little more than a rifle range, a shooting gallery inhabited by partying types with low morals and expendable guards (oh and the target).

The biggest shame is that had I not played Sniper Elite V2 this review, if you can call it that, would be a glowing report on a mini-game that manages to fill a short scene with a lot of side challenges and funny quirks (ninjas on rooftops, tinfoil hat-wearing paranoid types with a penchant for gnomes and the obligatory rubber ducks to name but a few). Instead I’m left noticing the stuff I now want in the game, and probably will never see – unless IO Interactive get round to borrowing some ideas from Rebellion anyway.

From start to finish Hitman: Sniper Challenge is a joy to play, and with practice I became better and better, taking riskier shots and the reaping the rewards in the form of point bonuses. Completing challenges – eg shooting four garden gnomes, or shooting that ninja – will give you a permanent score multiplier, and the higher the score, the better the unlockables you can, well, unlock.All of which, I hasten to add, are then available in the full retail release of Hitman: Absolution later this year (or next year if this trend of delays continues unabashed). The animation in the title is great, with solid AI and destructible environments that satisfied the ‘shoot that and see what happens’ gene I was born with (from my Father’s side, naturally).

I thoroughly recommend that everyone at least gives the game a try – pre-order on-line, get your code and then cancel your order if the game doesn’t impress, after all that’s what a demo is for, surely? – and get involved in the high-score chasing an e-peen leader board dominating. It isn’t a patch on the sniper action of SEV2, but then it never was intended to do that, instead it plays as a fairground duck shoot, with ‘real’ prizes to be won. Just don’t expect to pop any testicles in slow motion. Or to chase Cheeky Hitler with your rifle scope.

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