I knew something was up with my preference in games when I started enjoying playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Suddenly I was sneaking around, taking cover, avoiding confrontation, and thinking strategically. My Deus Ex save game was lost in a misunderstanding between myself and the Steam client, but I will revisit at some point (probably on the Xbox 360, since it was a free game a while back).
Since then, I’ve jumped headfirst into Hitman: Absolution, which I’ve found to be a revelation in terms of how I play and enjoy games. I played through the whole game on Easy, but in hindsight I realize that my play-through on Easy was sort of a simulated Hard. I was unforgiving, relentlessly resetting to the last save point if I was spotted. And I also now realize that I was far too hard on myself in terms of avoiding enemy attention.
The game easily passed my Media Test (do you want to re-watch or re-play from the beginning as soon as you’re done?) and I took the test literally, firing up a new game almost immediately and playing through on Hard. I’m well past halfway through on Hard, playing a little differently (a little more dirt under the fingernails being tolerable to me when game mechanics are less accommodating by design).
At least at my (gravely limited) natural ability, Hard pushes you to push the system. On my first play-through I would have looked down my nose at crouching and sneaking when in disguise (looks weird, wouldn’t actually work in person), but on Hard I’ve learned to work the system to my benefit. The AI is pretty shabby in this game (much is being asked of it, and the general high-quality nature of the rest of the game definitely casts some shade on this weak point), but in its limited way it acknowledges that these types of behaviors are frequently required to get through in more clamped-down modes. You get the occasional “Dude, stand up, stop sneaking around” AI heckle, but you can generally cruise on by, huddled up to the wall, scaling covers in front of your “peers”, and make it through without consuming your precious blending-in “Instinct” power.
You also learn the finer points of things like disguise: a disguise is only suspicious to those who are also wearing the same outfit. So - in guard outfit last night - I sneaked past the guard booth into the locker room for lab techs. Finding a lab tech disguise in a locker, I put that on, sneaked away from the other techs, and backtracked through the guard room without issue. This is the sort of low-end non-linear thinking that is rewarded in this class of game: you’re not solving Zork puzzles here, but they are pushing you to notice an air vent as you slip past a guard, or perhaps consider grinding up the sleeping pills into the pizza rather than clocking the guy in the head.
The “signature kills” are becoming an obsession of mine. Every time I choke somebody it feels like a missed opportunity to trick them into urinating onto an electrified fence or ignite a leaky gas pump.
And the game does throw you some bones to keep you out of stealth mode all the time. I did a ninja run of a certain factory scene on my Easy play-through, deftly distracting and knocking guards unconscious, slipping through narrow passages, climbing through vents, only to discover in my Hard play-through that a sniper rifle was perched next to a wooden tower. On Hard I picked up the rifle, took cover, and cleared my curious opposition out, walking confidently over their remains on a clean path to the plant. The genius of a game like this is that it’s not overly judgmental: I took a ding on score for doing it that way, but it was cathartic after juggling disguises and crafting movement plans in previous levels. It doesn’t lose sight that it’s a game, not Mission Impossible, and sometimes you can break some eggs.
Now considering delving back in the Hitman corpus (ha) for previous titles…