Hitman: Absolution – Review

Title   Hitman: Absolution
Developer  IO Interactive
Publisher  Square Enix
Platform  Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Genre  Stealth
Release Date  November 20, 2012
Official Site  http://www.hitman.com

Times have changed, games have changed, and, whether you like it or not, Hitman has changed. Well, maybe changed isn’t quite the right word to use. Adapted would be more appropriate, but all the same the question remains whether it’s for the better or worse? After all, there have been mixed feelings towards Agent 47’s much belated return, his first outing built specifically for this generation. He’s got a new engine, new abilities and a new online mode, but with all this talk of change, at its core, Hitman remains exactly the game it always was.

Long-term fans will be pleased to know that Absolution keeps the series’ ethos of scoping out a target(s) and finding the most efficient/sadistic/comical means of disposing of them through trial and error, while preferably remaining undetected and intact. Bar the tutorial, you can play every single level without killing anyone but your target, without igniting a gunfight and without being seen, thus earning that all-important Silent Assassin ranking, exactly how Hitman is meant to be played. It just comes packaged slightly differently; more streamlined, shall we say, but streamlined shouldn’t be confused with dumbing down.  Yes, 47 has a new Instinct mode that permits him to see enemy outlines through walls and predict their patrol paths; yes, there is now a cover system; and yes, there are some levels that are more carefully orchestrated affairs than the sandboxes Hitman is famous for. However, these are not concessions made in order to appeal to the more casual market as were initially perceived, but are, instead, natural and logical additions for the Hitman of 2012.

First up is Instinct. Comparisons to Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Detective Vision are inevitable – Instinct highlights useful items in the environment, provides hints and tips, and keeps tabs on your enemies’ whereabouts, even through solid walls, and just like Detective Vision, Instinct is somewhat overpowered, on the lower difficulty settings at least.  However, its uses as a substitute map screen can prove to be invaluable. Where most of your time in the Hitman titles of yore would be spent constantly consulting the map screen to track NPC movement, Instinct is IO’s way of keeping you in the game as much as possible. It means you can plan and improvise where need be on a moment to moment basis, and a limited supply stops you from abusing it to Point Shoot (think Splinter Cell’s Mark and Execute system) your way through every level, or always hide your face from people wearing the same getup as your disguise who may recognise you as an imposter, both of which drain your Instinct meter.

Next, the cover system. Now, let’s be honest here, a game of Hitman’s calibre couldn’t realistically release today without one, so why did so many proclaim during previews that the game has turned into a bog standard cover shooter? Call it a hiding system if it makes you feel better, but know this: IO have ensured that you can crouch your way through the entire game without locking to a piece of cover at all if you so wish. If anything a cover system makes shootouts a more viable option. It’s not the proper way to play Hitman, sure, and veteran Hitmen will likely hit restart rather than go loud (loading times are brief, mercifully) but it holds up enough to make it worth experimenting with on a return visit. There are many thrilling shootouts to be had, with IO tempting you with the convenient placement of weapons throughout the game. The question is whether you take the opportunity to leave a trail of bullet ridden corpses in your wake, or do you keep your cover and continue to sneak your way onward without rousing suspicion?

Finally, and most worryingly, were those more linear levels. You’ve seen the Chicago Library and Orphanage walkthroughs and probably thought to yourself “where the hell have the sandboxes gone?” Rest assured they are still here, even if they’re slightly smaller in scale than before, but sandwiched between them are more straightforward A to B slices.  Just because these sections aren’t of a traditional sandbox nature, however, doesn’t mean the range of freedom has vanished with them. Taking the Library as an example, you can go up or down, left or right, you can slay or incapacitate your way through swathes of police officers, choosing to hide the bodies as you go or not, you can use a disguise and stroll straight through the exit, or you can cause a distraction to slink around. Most crucially, these parts are still a pleasure to play and even if the whole game was just full of these it would still be worth a look.

On the other hand, Hitman has always been at its very best when IO gives you a sandbox, a target, and more tools than you need to get the job done and let you run wild. Absolution is no exception. As aforementioned, play spaces are lesser in scale than in previous games, and opt for a more segmented structure, but the volume of density and detail are on a level unprecedented in the series so far, all thanks to the Glacier 2 engine, and the scope for Final Destination/Home Alone style “accident” kills is bigger than ever before.

Pulling out a sniper rifle and taking out your target from a distance is always on the cards, especially when they’re precariously positioned over a rather steep drop, taking care of the assassination and body disposal in one fell swoop, but poisoning, electrocuting, burning, strangling, flattening, exploding, bludgeoning, even getting someone else to do the dirty work for you, all while dressed as a chicken (that last part is optional, of course) is more tricky yet ultimately more rewarding to pull off. IO are some of the best level designers in the business, and Absolution only further cements that fact, with more replay value in a single level than there is in most of this year’s games’ entire campaigns.

One area where IO seems to have missed the mark, however, is in the checkpoints. On the lower difficulty settings players can find and activate mid-level checkpoints to save them from starting their meticulous planning from scratch. Yes, true Hitman players will not like them, but bear in mind that they are optional (non-existent on harder settings) and that the more time strapped of players will surely appreciate them. The hiccups lie in the resetting of NPCs when checkpoints are reloaded, rather than saving the state they were in when the checkpoint was activated. It’s not exactly problematic per se, just incoherent. Indeed, there were a few occasions where it benefited, but other times, being a perfectionist and restarting when things went belly up, waiting for certain events to occur and listening to dialogue play out again and again a dozen times in a row can begin to grow tiresome. Also, while I’m in a nit-picking mood, the scoring system could do with a little rejig both in the campaign and Contracts mode.

Contracts is Hitman’s attempt at a multiplayer mode of sorts. For years, Hitman’s community have set challenges within the games themselves: can you kill this character with this weapon wearing this disguise in the fastest time? Well, Contracts allows you to set those challenges and then issue them to the rest of the world. The thing is, you have to perform the challenge first yourself. Mark a target (up to three) and take them out however you please. The game will track how you play, recording your actions, methods, costume, tidiness and time, turning them into the conditions needed to be met by other players who have a crack at your Contract. It’s a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. Unless you’ve got friends who’ll supply and demand you with some truly fiendish challenges, there’s not much reason to play Contract’s over the main campaign itself. True, it’s early days for the mode, so maybe once the Contracts’ library expands with the goods from the most dedicated of players it might be worth another go.

Even though most would be quick to disagree, the addition of Contracts over a more traditional player versus player multiplayer mode is a bit of a missed opportunity. There’s no doubt that Hitman is all about the single player, but when IO can create something as inspired and paranoia inducing as Fragile Alliance in Kane and Lynch, and Assassin’s Creed proving that a multiplayer revolving around assassination can work, it would be interesting to see what they could come up with if they had more time, more budget, and maybe a new generation of consoles. The mind boggles from just the thought.

  • Caters impeccably for all play styles
  • Glacier 2 is one heck of an engine
  • Hitman’s deliciously dark sense of humour remains
  • Pulling off the perfect hit, achieving Silent Assassin, is immensely satisfying
  • The potential of Contracts
  • Levels could be bigger
  • Checkpoints need to be patched

Everything you love about Hitman is back and better than ever in Absolution: the creative kills, the over-the-top characters, the sandbox levels. It also tells a pretty good yarn, too. Things may be different but this feels to me exactly how a Hitman game should feel today. Whether your Agent 47 prefers to manipulate his surroundings to get the job done, go in all guns blazing without a care in the world for collateral damage, or be the Silent Assassin and only take the lives of those you need to, with any luck you’ll enjoy it.

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  1. Richie Rich says:

    I endorse this message!

  2. Edward Edward says:

    Every time I tried to play this game at expos I failed horrifically, but if I ever get a chance to sit down and play it for reals I may have to do so.

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