Hitman: Absolution Review
Get down with the sickness.
Stepping into the polished shoes of a suited sociopath – or psychopath, depending on your chosen play style – is one of the few twisted treats that video games like Hitman: Absolution can provide. And, even though gamers have been joyously killing all manner of creatures and creations ever since Mario sprung into the air and squished his very first Goomba, few deliver the delight of death as effectively and as originally as Io Interactive’s Hitman series.
Hitman made killing an art form, not a meaningless, carefree pull of a trigger. It focused on the primordial relationship of the hunter and the hunted. And specifically, the thrill of the hunt.
The follically challenged, barcode-branded assassin, Agent 47, was the ultimate predator; a ruthlessly cold and calculated individual, devoid of any sense of compassion, fuelled only by the lure of a prized-bounty. Your contracts were his prey, often hidden in plain sight, but always devilishly unobtainable without proper and thorough planning.
Like a ravenous lioness patrolling the Serengeti, licking her lips at the sight of a herd of grazing gazelles, your energy and time would be fruitlessly expended if you charged in with reckless abandon. You had to meticulously observe your prey, isolate them and capitalise on their moments of weakness. You could even utilise the superficially safe environments around your victims to devastating consequences.
Crucially, how you disposed of your targets was entirely of your own volition. You could be as loud as the crack of thunder, or as silent as a shadow. Would you massacre those who stood in your way, one bullet at a time? Or avoid confrontation at every opportunity? Hitman encouraged players to use their own initiative and gave them the freedom to do so.
Welcome Back, Agent 47
After a six-year absence, the smartly dressed, contract killer has finally returned to deliver his signature brand of homicide. But has Agent 47 been out of the game too long? Does Hitman: Absolution cough and splutter like a garrotted victim? Or is 47’s long-awaited return a perfectly executed hit?
Agent 47 is still a throat cut above Ubisoft’s acrobatic assassin and gadget-geared, grizzled veteran; the original assassin is as maniacal as ever. Nevertheless, time has negatively impacted areas of Hitman: Absolution’s design. The beating heart of player choice still thumps vigorously throughout this undoubtedly flawed, but worthwhile display of wet work.
A Killer Tale
Hitman: Absolution departs from the static vignettes and minimalist storylines of the previous games, introducing fully-fledged cutscenes and even continuity between levels. Sadly, and perhaps unexpectedly, the game inherently suffers due to Io Interactive’s decision to pursue a meaningful plot.
Agent 47 is assigned his biggest contract yet: to dispose of his handler, Diana Burnwood. Diana recently turned rogue, exposing the agency from within and vanished amongst the confusion with one of the agency’s key assets, a young girl named Victoria.
Bound by his contractual duty and years of habitual killing, 47 accepts and executes Diana as agreed. However, during her last dying breath, 47 shows that somewhere, hidden behind his lifeless eyes, morbid expression and understated sense of style, our bald headed anti-hero actually has a heart.
47 makes Diana a promise to protect Victoria from the hands of the agency, a decision heavily influenced by past loyalties and the cruel common ground he shares with the young girl; she, too, has been subjected to the horrors Agent 47 once suffered at the hands of various scientists and devious doctors. 47 is left with no choice but to turn his back on his employer, changing from hired hand to fugitive and protector, determined to fulfil his promise to Diana.
A dark cast of distasteful individuals and sinister souls litter Absolution’s tedious plot, and at times, it makes for uncomfortable viewing. Credit should go to the voice actors, who convincingly portray each member of Absolution’s underbelly of vile villains with aplomb, but when Agent 47 represents the only beacon of light against the backdrop of dark delinquents, you know something’s gone awry – he is a mass murderer after all. Hearing him whisper words of assurance to Victoria as he carries her to safety is probably the most disturbing moment in the game.
Frustratingly, Absolution is laden with cutscenes, sometimes even robbing you of the elation of a hard-worked kill at the end of a level. Considering how easy it is to despise your antagonists, it borders on the belittling when your kill escapes your leather gloved grasp, courtesy of a cinematic. Worst still, however, is the unavoidable need for continuity between levels to ensure that the story can be intrinsically woven into the gameplay. This is where the Hitman series’ core formula suffers significantly.
The missions that do revert to the core formula of placing you in a large level with multiple targets and assassination opportunities, are definitely the highlights of the game’s turbulent campaign.
Hitman games have always thrived on the fact that each level and contracted hit was essentially a blank canvas. Players never had the urge to gain a greater insight into the targets’ personal history or Agent 47’s emotions; the succinct text and brief background information was all the subtext that was needed. Because of Hitman: Absolution’s rude reliance on a story, numerous levels are now strictly linear affairs, focused on escaping or traversing from A to B, completely devoid of what Hitman games do best: meticulously formulating and executing the perfect assassination. If there’s one gripe purists will have with Absolution, then this will most certainly be it.
The missions that do revert to the core formula of placing you in a large level with multiple targets and assassination opportunities, are definitely the highlights of the game’s turbulent campaign, acting as a stern reminder of what could have been.
Unsuited To Stealth
Absolution is heavily focused on stealth action. Yes, the dreaded ‘action’ word is applicable here.
The game features a modern-day slick cover system – a la Uncharted and 90% of other games on the market -enabling 47 to sleuth like never before. Flicking between cover can be performed with effortless ease, allowing you brief respite to plot, plan and progress through levels without stumbling over complicated controls.
As an essential gameplay element, the cover system works admirably. And so it should, as you better get used to being pinned against, or crouched behind a wall, because unless you’re wearing a disguise – which is still susceptible to being blown by those who share the same uniform – it’s impossible to roam freely around the levels without alerting unwanted attention. As soon as you step into a hostile or trespassing zones – a must if you’re to make any sort of progress – you have to be hidden from sight, as the AI have fearsome eagle eyes and can ruin your hard work in a cruel, unpredictable instant. An indicator will point to the vague direction of prying eyes, but, unless you can quickly disappear in time – with the window of opportunity sometimes a matter of split seconds – your perfect score will be scuppered. On the flip side, tension is dramatically increased, though the trade-off isn’t worth it.
This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if the game didn’t feature such a disastrous, broken checkpoint system. Unavailable on higher difficulties, three checkpoint beacons are scattered around the levels in the most obtuse locations imaginable. You’ll have to make substantial progress into a level to find them, and it’s more than likely you’ll be apprehended multiple times along the way. Consequently, the game deters you from experimenting and taking risks, as the price you pay is too great to justify messing up.
When you do eventually discover a checkpoint, activate and decide to use it, the level’s scenario bizarrely resets. Guards will return to their original starting positions, often leaving you a disturbingly clear path to the exit or an unexpected obstacle to contend with. Waiting for the fifteenth time for a target to finish their conversation and make the laborious journey over to your location due to the scenario resetting is an agonising affair.
Inside The Chrome Dome
You’ll still have choices to make throughout the game, with alternative routes and solutions readily available, but most of these will involve figuring out the best way of getting past unseen. Distractions, timing and avoidance are the key themes to almost every level. Chuck a glass bottle at a wall, sabotage a generator, turn on a radio; the art of killing has been usurped by the art of distraction in Absolution.
If you tire of the stealth route you can always whip out your weapons and unleash bloody havoc, as the game is an able third-person shooter – though why you’d want to commit Hitman blasphemy is anyone’s guess. Weapons are varied and deadly, with Agent 47 able to utilise point shooting: a slow-motion, execution system, similar to that of Splinter Cell: Conviction’s mark and execute mechanic. Sadly, the erratic and frankly, mental AI, who, for some reason or another, are rendered ridiculous when weapons are drawn. They’ll shoot wildly and blindly and have no discernible sense of danger at all. Absolution is competent but by no means exceptional when it comes to handling a firefight.
Agent 47’s new instinct ability is another contentious addition, though without it, Absolution would be abhorrently difficult; it’s hard enough on normal difficulty as it is. Activating instinct allows 47 to detect the heat signatures of nearby enemies, their predicted routes and context sensitive objects in the surrounding area. It can also be used to shield your face from highly suspicious enemies should you stray to close and is required to perform the point shooting technique mentioned above. In essence, it becomes a crutch for players to lean on, as you’ll being doing yourself a massive disservice if you choose to ignore it. Luckily, hardcore players can experience Absolution without instinct mode if they choose purist difficulty. God help you if you do.
Put On The Silencer
If it wasn’t clear already then loyal Hitman: Blood Money fans take heed: purchase Absolution and you may find yourself vying for the developers’ blood, and demanding your money back. But, before you place a bounty on Io Interactive’s head, the overall experience is still an enjoyable one, firmly grounded on player choice and taking pleasure in others misfortune.
Fundamentally, you can still play the game your way, despite Absolution’s more restrictive nature. Two years ago I sat through a Hitman Absolution presentation where Agent 47 had to escape from the police in one of the game’s more interesting levels. And, even though I was acutely aware of how this level could be completed, I was shocked by how differently I tackled the very same situation.
For the first few hours you’ll be spotted quicker than an aeroplane at a car convention, as you struggle to get to grips with the game’s overly suspicious inhabitants and foreign mechanics. Soon enough, however, you’ll learn to adapt to your new surroundings and find satisfaction in doing so. Beneath the obvious misgivings is a game that’s definitely worth the price of admission, so long as you keep your expectations in check.
In-game challenges promote the player choice ethos with viable alternatives hinted at, encouraging replayability and natural competition thanks to the game’s ranking system. Complete a challenge successfully and you’ll receive a small multiplier to your score. You can also unlock enhancement for 47 such as better health and more instinct. As with previous titles, your actions will influence your ranking and score. And, before each level, you’ll be informed of what the world and region average scores are for a particular level. It’s a simple touch, but effective enough at spurring you on to return and achieve the best possible scores.
Contracts mode is worthy of note, as it’s a fantastic twist on standard multiplayer. You can load up any level in the game, pick three random targets, set a number of rules, specify or prohibit certain weapons and challenge people to better or replicate your score. There’s meaningful longevity and plenty of fun on offer here, owing to Hitman’s creative community.
Ice Cold Looks
Hitman: Absolution looks glorious, too. The Glacier 2 proprietary graphics engine is an absolute marvel, bringing with it sensational visuals, atmosphere and truly impressive technical feats. Environments are alive, littered with detail and believable NPCs, and the reconstruction of Hitman’s typically gritty world feels rotten to the core.
Luckily, the upgraded tech isn’t just used to improve the shine of 47’s bald head. The technology is prevalent in the game design itself. The highlight of which is the crowd technology, a staple of recent Hitman games, which is a jaw dropping spectacle to behold. It makes for some truly unforgettable moments, it’s just a shame it’s utilised so sparingly.
Fluid animations enhance every action you perform, be it the natural swing of 47’s iconic red tie to garrotting a victim and dragging their corpse to the nearest dumpster; Absolution is an extremely polished game. The over use of bloom can be noticeably excessive at times, making swords gleam as though they were platinum lightsabers and can transform 47’s hairless skull into a dazzling light show. But nitpicking aside, Absolution departs from the series’ previously simplistic presentation values and is up there with the best.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video review here.
A review copy of Hitman: Absolution was provided courtesy of Square Enix. The game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Still A Hit, Man
Hitman: Blood Money this is not. Io Interactive were bold enough to cut away the safety net of a replication, choosing instead to walk a tightrope with the hopes of achieving something spectacular. Unfortunately, Absolution suffers from its fair share of worrying wobbles; however, it never plummets to the dangerous depths of mediocrity below. In an industry which is stubbornly resolute on churning out the same worn and weary formulas year after year, Io's attempt to reinvent and adapt a franchise adored by such a hardcore fan base should be commended, not harshly reprimanded. Even though Absolution misses the mark, the original assassin can still be killer company.