Developer: IO Interactive
Release Date: 20th November 2012
Hitman Absolution Review (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
It’s been six years since we last had the chance to step into Agent 47′s shoes for another bout of murder and raucous fun. In that time, governments have changed and regimes have collapsed but if there’s one thing that’s withstood the test of time, it’s Agents 47′s ability to pull off the perfect kill with complete satisfaction and precision. Absolution feels like the next step in the necessary evolutionary process for Hitman, but whether that’s a good thing or not depends on which angle you look at it from.
Absolution is a more personal story for 47 than any of the previous Hitman titles. Whereas the earlier games had a story that merely felt like it was there to give the levels a sense of purpose, Absolution has made it a much larger focus that while providing a set of interesting characters and allowing 47 to develop outside of strangling his victims, feels largely unnecessary.
We don’t need to see 47′s human side, his compassion for Victoria or any other side of him. When he’s throttling his targets or sprinkling poisonous fish onto someone’s drugs, it’s not important as to why he’s doing it. 47 is an emotionless person conditioned to kill and it’s just not necessary for us to see him as anything different.
There’s also the fact that despite moments of intrigue interspersed here and there, Absolution’s story really just isn’t that interesting. The characters are interesting enough for the most part, namely 47 himself and Dexter – the villain of the story – but it’s not enough to not make it feel almost out-of-place in a Hitman game. For a newcomer to the series, perhaps not, but not for somebody already affiliated with Hitman before Absolution.
The true heart of any Hitman game lies not in how engaging the connecting story is but in how the levels are designed and how open they are. You’ve probably already heard that some of the levels are ‘linear’ and smaller than earlier games and that’s true…for some of them. When you reach one of the more sandbox-like levels, however, that classic Hitman formula bleeds through.
Absolution’s bigger levels are connected via several smaller, more confined levels that have you going from A to B with as minimal attention as possible. Even though some of these connecting levels are rather small and, in some ways, linear, a lot of them still offer a degree of choice in how you proceed through, and choice is what makes or breaks a Hitman title.
The first example of one of Absolution’s bigger levels is The King of Chinatown. Your target sits in the centre of the area surrounded by corrupt cops and a fine example of the fantastic new crowd system. How you kill him is entirely up you. You can gun him down outright, wait till he meets with his drug dealer than dispose of them both, lure him to his car then blow it to smithereens, poison the food he’ll eventually eat and many more. These levels demonstrate why Hitman has such a compelling gameplay formula and these levels are what stand out the most about Absolution. It’s just unfortunate that they’re few and far between.
What’s most impressive about Absolution’s levels, whether big or small, is how alive everything feels. The NPC dialogue adds huge amounts to making the surrounding characters feel less like cannon fodder, and the level design is often fantastic. For example, the Cornfield level of the Attack of the Saints chapter has 47 stalking his victims through, you guessed it, a Cornfield while disguised as a scarecrow. It’s atmospheric, intense and above all, incredible fun.
Despite the larger levels easily standing out above the rest, however, the smaller ones aren’t all that bad. Some of them can be ridiculously short and not fun whatsoever, such as the Dexter Industries section, but once you reach one of the bigger areas, you can almost forgive what came before it, for it’s in these sections of the game where Absolution becomes fantastic.
Absolution looks and feels like a Hitman game most of the time, but it wouldn’t make a difference if controlling the elusive 47 and performing the trickiest of kills was a cumbersome process. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Absolution’s control scheme is simple to get accustomed to and performing traditional Hitman abilities, such as dumping bodies or throttling helpless victims, is as fluid as it’s ever been.
You can play Hitman Absolution the way it’s meant to be played – stalking your prey carefully and methodically to obtain the least attentive kill – or you can choose to run in all guns blazing and slaughter every poor soul on the map. The choice is yours, but the scoring system in Absolution tempts you towards one direction rather than the other.
Everything you do in Absolution counts towards your total score for the level. Points are given for completing objectives, killing targets, hiding bodies, collecting evidence and so forth. Points can also be deducted for killing non-targets, getting spotted, having your disguise blown and more. Playing like a professional assassin will raise the score to high figures while playing clumsily will bring it back down again.
Absolution’s scoring system is also linked to a character upgrade system for 47. If you reach a certain score in a level, new abilities for Hitman will be unlocked, such as faster running speed. Absolution clearly wants you to play the game as quietly as possible and it will reward you for doing so, but the choice to ignore that is also there should you feel unable to creep your way through, or whether you just want to annihilate everybody for the fun of it.
One of Hitman’s selling points is that it’s not typically a generic stealth title where you hop from cover to cover avoiding the gaze of any surrounding enemies. Instead, you are able to hide in plain sight by wearing a collection of different disguises to blend in with the environment. Absolution brings back the disguise system but while they were making a welcome effort to not have them as impenetrable as they were in Blood Money, they made them close to useless in the process.
When you wear a disguise in Hitman, you do so with the reasonable expectation that you’ll have a modicum of freedom in exploring previously forbidden areas. However, in Absolution, wearing a disguise is more of a nuisance than it is a help.
Absolution’s disguises rely heavily on the new Instinct system. If you get too close to somebody wearing the same disguise as you, you have to trigger instinct to stop them from seeing through your disguise and foiling your entire plan. Sounds good on paper, right? At its core, Absolution’s disguises are the finest of the series to date but where it goes wrong is in how easily a disguise gets spotted.
It takes but a few seconds for an enemy to see through your disguise if you fail to break their line of sight or trigger instinct (which will eventually run out), which becomes shorter with the higher difficulties. Again, mostly good. The problem is in the range at which an NPC can detect you, which is often across entire rooms, when you’re facing the other direction, when they have their back to you and more.
The result is a frustrating process of still having to duck behind cover and hide on walls even while wearing a disguise, rendering the entire process almost pointless. For a game as reliant on efficient disguises as much as Hitman, it’s very disappointing that using them hinders your exploration and progress to such a debilitating degree. Often, playing with disguises and playing suit-only are done the same way and it simply shouldn’t be like that.
Another frustrating aspect of Hitman Absolution is the checkpoint system. Scattered throughout the level, often in obscure locations, are checkpoints that when activated, restart you from that position rather than back at the beginning. But that’s all they do, because if you restart at one, everything you did is erased. Enemies you dispensed with before hitting it magically reappear, even if you’re still wearing a disguise you took from one.
Having a save-when-you-like system similar to the previous Hitman titles might not have been the best way to go in Absolution but the checkpoints would’ve been a decent, and occasionally challenging, alternative. However, when you restart at one surrounding by enemies and little to no instinct, you may as well have not bothered activating it, and that’s a problem.
On the theme of disappointments, it has to be mentioned that the inexplicable removal of several classic Hitman elements are quite noticeable and sorely missed. Things like 47 hiding his weapon behind his back when approaching a target, actually reaching into his pocket when equipping something and even the infamous sniper rifle case have all disappeared into the abyss for reasons that are still unknown.
When you’re dealing with a franchise as well-loved and respected as Hitman, care has to be taken to make sure that you stick to the roots while evolving the formula so that things feel fresh. Removals like this take away from the Hitman-esque nature of the game, even if they are small things.
While IO interactive have failed in some of their efforts concerning Absolution, the sound and graphics were not one of them. Absolution is easily the best looking title in the series and it’s a fine looking game when compared to others. The grain effect that’s plastered everywhere is a little irritating (though unsurprising given that the same developers that created Absolution created the Kane and Lynch titles. You remember those, right?) and the bloom effect is overused, but outside of those issues, Absolution is a magnificent looking title that manages to stand its own ground against the heavyweights from other franchises.
Not content with being graphically impressive, Absolution also features a strong and efficient sound system that makes the experience feel even more alive. NPC dialogue has been improved dramatically, even to such a degree that you’ll want to stop and listen to them talking, David Bateson does a sublime job at giving 47 depth and character and everything, from the gun sounds to the sound of you wrapping fibrewire around someone’s neck, is just designed to a great degree.
There is no traditional multiplayer component to Hitman Absolution but there is the Contracts multiplayer mode. Ever played the earlier Hitman games and picked random targets on the level to stalk and kill off brutally? Well now that’s a feature built into the game and it’s immense fun.
Contracts allows you to enter any of the levels and pick random targets to kill. The game will record how you killed them, what you were wearing when you did it and how stealthy you were. When you’re finished, your contract will be saved and then other players can then try it for themselves to compete against your score or try and meet the bonus conditions, like hiding all bodies or not being spotted.
Most of Absolution’s levels are already brimming with replayability due to the ways in which you can dispense with your target, but the inclusion of Contracts gives them even more longevity. Some of them can be darned tricky as well, leaving you wondering how on Earth the creator ever managed to complete it themselves (you have to complete a contract yourself to ensure that it’s actually possible). With Contracts, anybody you see on a level could be a potential target somewhere and the possibilities that it opens are incredibly vast.
IO Interactive had the difficult job of bringing Hitman back after six long years of absence. They couldn’t make a game too dissimilar to the traditional Hitman formula because the long-term fans that have been with the series for so long would’ve felt left out. However, they also couldn’t just make Blood Money 2 because after so long, some degree of evolution has to occur in order to stop things feeling ‘same old, same old’.
With Absolution, they’ve managed to create a game that feels like the Hitman of old but evolved to make it feel fresh and reinvigorated. It’s unfortunate that in doing so they seem to have forgotten that what people like most about Hitman are the big, open levels that offer any number of possible progression routes. While they’re present, they’re in the minority and as such, Absolution isn’t the strongest Hitman title to date. Yes it’s fun, it makes killing feel far more enjoyable than it should and it offers endless replayability options but in some ways, it feels like they’ve taken three steps forward and then four steps back. It is not as strong as Blood Money, though it never pretended that it was.Hitman Absolution Review (Xbox 360, PS3, PC),