Hitman Absolution: Sniper Challenge is quite an oddity of a release. It's only available as a bonus for those pre-ordering Hitman: Absolution, set for release this November. It only consists of one challenge which can take mere minutes to complete and there's that faint whiff of marketing gimmick in the air. So why all the excitement? Because it's gripping stuff. While simple on the surface, it's the kind of thing that will test the old grey matter as well as the ability to react quickly to ever changing situations.
The mission is a simple one. You, as Agent 47, must assassinate Richard Strong Jr, a powerful chief executive of a major weapons manufacturer. As the dossier explains, the man is hardly ever seen in public except for during the annual company party which just so happens to be on a very open roof this year. Agent 47 has to take out Strong along with as many of his bodyguards as possible, all without raising any alarms. It's a tall order indeed, but fortunately players have the power of a Silenced Agency Kazo TRG sniper rifle to complete the mission with. This sniper rifle is unlocked in the main game for owners of Sniper Challenge, immediately setting in motion a very good reason as to why they should pre-order.
You'll be seeing this kind of thing a lot
Depending on how you play Sniper Challenge, it's not actually that taxing. The mission ends once all the bodyguards have evacuated and if you really want to, you can just bump off the CEO and be done with it. That's not the point though. The point is two fold and comprises of two of the most addictive forms of encouragement out there. Being rewarded for your efforts and being able to gloat to friends afterwards.
Sniper Challenge is very keenly targeted to appeal to these base instincts. Sure, you could just rush through the mission and be done with it in a matter of seconds but that's not where the fun comes from. The fun stems from treating the game as a puzzle. Bonus points are rewarded for headshots but they're also rewarded for being stealthy and undetected. Shoot all 14 bodyguards and the CEO without ever being spotted and you'll be greatly rewarded through complex score multipliers.
This requires some very careful planning, the likes of which I'll happily admit to being terrible at. Actually sniping is the easier part of the game. It's not too realistic with only the need to hold Agent 47's breath, rather than having to worry about wind directions or taking into account the distance of the target. This all ensures that the sniping is immensely satisfying. Headshots are always rewarding but how about shooting a target so that they fall off the ledge of the roof, thereby leaving no trace that they were ever there? Or shooting the cables to a series of barrels propped up above the targets' heads? It's these kind of relatively subtle touches that greatly encourage experimentation. The game appreciates the effort required to figure these ideas out and boosts the score multiplier accordingly. You gain extra points for going the more imaginative routes than just taking everyone out with headshots and body blows, plus it's a lot more fun to figure out.
This ties in perfectly with the combination of leaderboards and challenges. At the end of the mission, the score is totted up and sent through to a global leaderboard. As a sign of the possibilities, you'll gain around 100,000 points for a basic kill operation, while the highest score currently on the global leaderboard is at around the 3,000,000 mark. Such high scores will only come if you work exceptionally hard to be imaginative and invisible to your foes. Like all good score based games, there's always that urge to go back and attempt to beat a friend's score. These scores also provide unlocks for within Hitman Absolution. Simply playing the game unlocks the sniper rifle and silencer. Scores from 10,000 to a mind boggling 50,000,000 unlock perks to use in the full game. It's going to take a lot of time to perfect this one mission.
The inclusion of challenges do help with boosting the score thanks to adding multipliers upon completion. They also make the game feel much more like a puzzle than shooter. Challenges can be relatively simple such as shooting all the pigeons in the arena to completing the mission in under 2 and a half minutes. Others are more vague in their description such as the mysterious Mr X challenge. These require a lot more thought, the kind of lateral thinking we would expect from a slow paced adventure game than a violent hitman simulator. Player interactivity is further demonstrated here with a message board allowing you to check in on how friends are performing, giving you that all important impetus to be even better.
Being a hitman really shouldn't look this cool
Asides from such conventional ideas, Sniper Challenge does deviate slightly peculiarly by including the instinct ability. Tap RB and Agent 47 gains the uncanny ability to see through walls and other obstacles. It's a useful trick when keeping an eye on a hit but it does juxtapose awkwardly with the rest of the more earthly side of the game. It'll be interesting to see how such abilities are implemented in the full game.
For a game that can take mere moments to complete, there's an impressive amount of depth to Sniper Challenge. With a time limit of only 15 minutes, it'd be easy to assume that there wasn't much to this pre-order bonus but the sheer wealth of challenges and unlockables means it's a very easy game to get wrapped up in. A cursory glance at the internet demonstrates just how much players are talking about this small piece of DLC, desperate to figure out the best way to accomplish certain goals. From a business point of view, it's a fascinating way of encouraging hype for a title but one that I strongly hope will become more common.
The sweet smell of success when you beat a friend's score.
Platform Played: Xbox 360
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The sweet smell of success when you beat a friend’s score.Platform Played: Xbox 360