Preview: Hitman: Sniper Challenge

May 12, 2012

The world may only have officially learned of the existence of pre-order bonus Hitman: Sniper Challenge today, but thanks to Namco Bandai Partners & Square-Enix, I’ve had a few days to learn the ins and outs of this new stand-alone mini-experience. And what did I come away with? For a freebie that comes with your pre-order of Hitman: Absolution,  it’s actually pretty cool.

Don’t expect too much from Sniper Challenge. There’s only a single level, one gun, and the same scenario playing over and over again within a 15-minute timeframe. It’s more of a mini-game than a fully-comprehensive Hitman experience, but you can’t really fault the game for that given that it’s spelling the scenario out for you in its title.

Sniper Challenge positions a comfortably sitting Agent 47 on a Chicago building’s rooftop, overlooking a party on another rooftop where his presumably deserving target arrives by helicopter. The goal is to eliminate the target as well as his 14 bodyguards by sniping them at long distance with your ridiculously high-powered sniper rifle. A time limit is imposed, and if you so wish you can just start opening fire as soon as possible and try to finish the challenge in as short a time as possible, but you’ll undoubtedly cause a panic and make things harder for yourself as everyone starts running for the evacuation points.

Having patience is key, and the only way to get really good at Sniper Challenge is just to play it over and over again. Knowing each guard’s patrol cycle will aid you well, as you become able to pick them off at precisely the right moment to not only take them out, but hide their bodies as well. Your bullets can carry bodies a fair distance back upon impact, so if you can get a guard near a ledge your bullets will carry them right over the edge. Comically, this also works on dead bodies, so even if your first attempt fails, a few follow-up shots to a corpse can be enough to push it to where you want to go.

Your only means of interaction with anything in Sniper Challenge is your bullets, which can be used for several other purposes than simply causing bodyguards’ heads to disappear into a fine mist. You can distract targets by shooting something close to them, cause environmental changes (such as firing at conveniently placed barrels or pulleys) and even forcibly open elevator doors to set up some of the more amusing kills.

It’s admittedly very addictive finding out the different ways you can obtain a higher and higher score. Getting through a run without alerting guards nets you a ‘Silent Assassin’ 2x multiplier to your score. Using the environment to conk out enemies affords some neat bonuses, as does several quick clean headshots in a row.  Hiding as many bodies as possible also yields a continually very important bonus, although there is another way you can also permanently increase your scores.

You see, within Sniper Challenge are several, well, challenges. These range from getting through a run using only headshots, to finding one of the many easter eggs strewn about the level (including rubber duckies, punching bags and a ninja). Completing these also gives you a permanent percentage bonus to your scores from there onwards, so it’s a good idea to go after those first before you start seriously taking on the leaderboards. In fact, a dedicated Australian leaderboard is promised, with fortnightly prizes being handed out to the best snipers until the release of the game, and a Global Grand Prize to be announced. The more you play, the more you’ll also unlock sniper-related bonuses for Hitman Absolution, including ‘Controlled Breathing’ (reducing sniper scope movement), increased clip size and faster reloading and bolt action speed.

Hitman: Sniper Challenge is a surprisingly addictive slice of Hitman gameplay, and hard to knock as a freebie. There’s not an enormous amount of content, but then again there’s a lot of fun to be had in pulling off ridiculous kills, finding cute easter eggs and battling your friends for a higher score. If you’re looking at getting Hitman: Absolution, make sure you pre-order it come 16 May to net Sniper Challenge.