We’ve been eager to check out Hitman Absolution since IO Interactive announced its existence earlier this year. The fifth game in the series allegedly will make a marked departure from the previous titles in that the presentation style will be presented in a cinematic style. The newest trailer provides a glimpse of the direction, but did not offer any game play. Luckily, we had the chance to see one of the early levels at E3 and came away impressed.

In Hitman Absolution, Agent 47 is betrayed by confidants, resulting in a citywide manhunt of the assassin. The game was built from the ground up with IO Interactive’s new proprietary engine, Glacier 2, and the pre-alpha build was shown on the PlayStation 3 during the demonstration.

IO Interactive‘s goal is to preserve the series traditional game elements, such as freedom of choice and use of disguises, while adding more modern game mechanics. The cover system and the ability to climb walls or stay hidden in the shadows in particular, strongly resembled the stealth elements of Splinter Cell: Conviction. Agent 47’s new instinct ability, which allows the player to see through the eyes of Agent 47, resembles the x-ray vision of Deus Ex: Human Revolution combined with a Donnie Darko-esque visual future time line of enemies’ movement.

hitman absolution preview e3 2011 IO Interactive

In the level shown, Agent 47 is surrounded by Chicago’s finest in an abandoned library and he has to find a way out out of the building past the police. Agent 47 initially stuck to cover and used the shadows to slowly move past the numerous police in the building. After making his way successfully past some of the police, Agent 47 decided to take some of his pursuers out permanently, by using a power cord to choke a policeman, smashing a bust across another’s head, and pulling one off of an upper ledge. After completing these stealthy kills, he took one policeman hostage and later killed him and then escaped to the exterior of the library. In order to proceed in a less conspicuous manner, Agent 47 took out a policeman from behind and stole the dead cop’s uniform.

Dark humor could also play heavily in the narrative as the next sequence showed Agent 47 barging into a marijuana house complete with stoned hippies who believed that the police were after them. One stoner grabbed a marijuana plant off of a coffee table, and in a futile effort, tried stuffing it down a nearby toilet. As Agent 47 rounded the corner, a whole room full of marijuana plants were revealed. Another hippie then offered a hit from a bong, which Agent 47 took but didn’t inhale. When two real policemen entered the marijuana house, Agent 47 smashed the bong over the head of one of the cops.

hitman absolution preview e3 2011 IO Interactive

After this sequence, Agent 47 continued his way out of the area in disguise. If a person seemed to recognize him, time would slow and you could hear the individual’s thoughts. After Agent 47 successfully avoided a full conversation with a policeman who confused the assassin with someone else, Agent 47 slipped into the crowd and presumably escaped the police for the time being.

The use of music during the demo was used effectively to heighten the tension and bring an element of cinematic importance to what appeared on the screen. Blaring horns similar to those from the movie soundtrack of Inception put an exclamation point on our first look at Agent 47 hiding from what appeared to be an impossible situation. Later, during his escape from a police helicopter raining bullets down on his position, power chords blasted out to indicate the direness of the situation.

Based upon what we witnessed, Hitman: Absolution has the potential to raise the profile of the series for a wider audience. Do the new changes to the game play make you more likely or less likely to buy this title?

Hitman Absolution is scheduled for release in 2012 for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.