Hitman: Sniper Challenge review

When preordering a game you know you’ll buy anyway, it’s hard to complain about what comes free, especially when plenty of titles offer no extra content at all, in-game or otherwise. Publisher Square Enix has announced a hearty amount of bonuses already, considering Hitman: Absolution doesn’t release until late November, but one is of particular note. Starting May 15 (or August 1 for PC), anyone who preorders Hitman: Absolution can instantly redeem Sniper Challenge, a “standalone experience” that tasks players with completing a unique assassination mission any number of ways (check out our interview with product marketing director Cord Smith for more details). The more creative and skilled the approach, the higher the score, and the better chance players will win exclusive prizes from month to month by ascending the leaderboards.

By our count, that’s one free content download and the possibility of even more goodies, so you’ll probably find more value in Hitman: Sniper Challenge than you would a keychain or a soundtrack you’d never listen to twice. Square Enix and developer IO Interactive certainly have the right idea here. The question is how does Sniper Challenge fare from a design and gameplay standpoint?

Well, you get exactly what’s advertised: an incentive. Sniper Challenge is little more than a teaser of what’s to come in Absolution. It shows off the high-resolution graphics and the improved style of play, at least from a stealth/sniper standpoint. You won’t be running around strangling guards with a wire or dragging them off to some dark corner before stealing their clothes.

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In fact, Sniper Challenge is exactly one challenge: shoot down Richard Strong, Jr. and his group of bodyguards from afar before the target escapes or his lackeys successfully evacuate the building, and spare as many civilians as possible doing it. You have one scenario to replay in your desperate longing for Absolution — just one, and that’s both good and mind-numbingly bad.

If you think of Sniper Challenge as a refresher for series veterans or an introduction for novices (hands-on and without the verbose chatter), then it’s a clever method of easing players into Absolution without them ever touching it — and then they can, presumably, dive right into the game when it arrives in November and know exactly what they’re doing. Sounds like a great way to avoid the tutorials that bog down so many game openings.

For newcomers, Sniper Challenge is especially useful. If, like me, you’ve never been graced with a natural talent for stealth and tactical maneuvers, then Sniper Challenge forces you to break that habit fast. Picking off the main target is easy, but it’s the bodyguards who escape like slippery eels, always evading your shots and retreating to safety before you can even spot them in your scope. Killing them all can prove the greatest challenge, but trial and error will teach you better ways to approach the situation at large, and that’s a lesson only learned through experience.

To truly succeed at Sniper Challenge, you’ll have to consider both timing and your environment. Waiting until Strong enters the crowd will induce a bigger, more satisfying shockwave when you finally do fire; humorously, your rifle scope gives you superhuman hearing, so you can savor the panic you cause when the bullet makes impact. Guards also behave differently depending on where they are and who’s nearby. If Strong never makes it a foot from the helicopter, the guards scattered across the rooftop will never flock to meet him, rounding themselves up for the slaughter.

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Of course, once you assassinate Strong, the guards will immediately try to bolt off the premises because, frankly, you’ve just killed their only reason to stick around. Taking the ones on the sidelines out first will make your task easier later, but waste too much time and Strong won’t be out in the open.

You’ll earn more points, too, by avoiding detection and maintaining the “Silent Assassin” rank. Little tricks like pinging a bullet off a wall will, for example, force two guards to turn away from one another and look in a single direction, allowing you to kill one without the other seeing.

Sniper Challenge is open-ended in terms of how you handle the assignment, but therein lies the limits of its depth. Scoring well will unlock weapon upgrades at specific point tiers, and those rewards will be yours to keep when you bring home Hitman: Absolution later this year. It’s a good training exercise, but one that will probably only sustain the most dedicated fans for more than a couple play sessions — monthly prizes or not.

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