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Hitting on the Saints: how sexy becomes sexist

IO Interactive's CGI trailer is a horrible contradiction

Heterosexual men of the internet, hear my voice: you are allowed to enjoy the sight of breasts. Ditto thighs, buttocks, hands, feet, ears - whatever floats your sexy boat. Nobody can begrudge you these basic biological rights, any more than they can begrudge you the desire to eat or wear seasonally themed hats. Why, then, should anyone take issue with your ogling the raunchy Catholics in Hitman: Absolution's latest CGI trailer? Where does "sexism" begin? The answer, it transpires, isn't miles off the answer to the Eternal Question of penis length: it's not what such trailers offer - it's what they're doing with it that's the problem.

In theory, the Attack of the Saints trailer is designed to introduce you to one of the game's new enemy factions. "In theory" because by the time the video's over, everybody save the ever-efficient Agent 47 is a broken lump of viscera. They might as well have just emailed over the coroner's report along with a cautionary note about organised religion. The Saints rock up dressed as nuns - bastions of celibacy - but strip off their habits to reveal bondage gear and heavy weapons as they approach the runaway hitman's motel. Reaching the foreground, the assassins fire a rocket into the building and are subsequently shot and punched to mush by our slaphead hero, who has somehow managed to teleport himself to their rear.

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Considered separately, these events are just about beyond reproach - cause for wincing and rolled eyeballs, sure, but not angry tirades. In real life as in Hitman, women are as liable to meet a bloody end as men, and if we seldom read of gangland victims clad in fish net stockings and PVC corsets, I doubt the Grim Reaper enforces a dress code. But as RPS's John Walker observes, there are some rather nasty undertones when you join everything together.

The violence in the Hitman trailer is staged like a direct response to the thought of ostensibly sexless women getting their kit off, flaunting their flesh. In the absence of a spoken context, at least, it feels like punishment, a wildly disproportionate masculine reaction to the tantalising yet unseemly presence of the female form. The camerawork makes the connection plain: both before and after the point at which titillation turns to blood lust, the methodology is the same - lingering close-ups of spotless, sculpted, rain-slicked, exquisitely fragile flesh. "Women have bodies that can be broken," is the subtext. "Let's revel in those facts."

You can defend it on the grounds that it's calculatedly 2D, blackly comic exaggeration, after the example of Rodriguez and exploitation cinema in general, but as Matt points out in the latest Double Take, the trailer tries to have it both ways. After disposing of the Saints, Agent 47 lingers to close their leader's eyes in what was presumably meant to be a sign of inner humanity, but simply creates the impression that you're meant to take the foregoing carnage seriously. It's a cheap attempt to raise the tone that blows up in IO's face.

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Attack of the Saints is, of course, the oozing tip of an enormous iceberg. Among third-person action games in particular, with their helpful manual cameras, opportunities to gawp at passably animated hips appear as vital as lock-to-cover. It's saying something about the prurience of connoisseurs that even so-called "arthouse" fodder like Ninja Theory's Enslaved feels obliged to squeeze into a boob tube, and hunker forward in promotional artworks like it's trying to grind your face off. But again, context is everything. It's all about how you use it.

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