It’s been six years since the last Hitman game. Since then, publisher Eidos was purchased by Square Enix, and developer IO Interactive had a few hits and misses with their Kane and Lynch franchise. Now Agent 47 has finally returned to rekindle the hearts of stealth gamers everywhere. Spoiler alert: it’s awesome.
Hitman: Absolution starts off with 47 being sent after his former agency handler Diana Burnwood, who, for unknown reasons, decided to betray the ICA and steal one of its most valuable assets; a young girl named Victoria. All is not how it seems, however. 47 has to travel across the world trying to save Victoria from the clutches of the Agency he once served and a nefarious southern businessman named Blake Dexter.
The story is told through a mixture of in-engine and cinematic cutscenes. Both do an excellent job of immersing the player in the Hitman world with lush detail and impactful cinematography. Sadly this immersion is at times broken by some very glaring glitches and clipping issues in the in-engine cutscenes. Sometimes to comedic effect.
David Bateson reprises his role as Agent 47 along with an excellent cast of voice actors. Keith Carradine as the antagonist Blake Dexter does a particularly good job. The writing itself isn’t going to win any awards. But It’s one of those stories where you acknowledge its incredible predictability and ham, but you just can’t help but enjoy the absurdity of it all while rooting for the bald super-assassin underdog.
As you infiltrate Diana’s mansion, Absolution reintroduces all the critical stealth mechanics of the past few games along with a few new additions. Happily, it never feels like a forced tutorial level, and instead does a good job of informing the player of all the gruesome possibilities available, while still leaving the choice of how to proceed wide open. This philosophy is carried through the entire game. Any one objective might have anywhere from five to 20 methods of completion, and at all times there are a number completely stealthy options available.
One of our major complaints about the past Hitman games was the way Agent 47 controlled, he always felt unnaturally stiff and dismissed from his surroundings. In Absolution, this problem has been completely resolved. 47 feels appropriately agile and moves with a sense of purpose. While he isn’t quite as mobile as he was in Blood Money, he can still scale walls and shimmy along ledges. New to the Hitman franchise is also a Gears of War style cover system, which is more useful for stealth gameplay than it is for firefights. When behind cover it’s harder for enemies to spot you, and jumping from cover to cover takes less time than walking past the gaps, reducing the chance of being spotted.
Helping you remain undetected is the new instinct mode which turns the screen black and white and highlighting everything interactable. Players can spend instinct points to predict enemy patrol patterns, obscure your face from curious guards, and launch into the games “point shooting” mechanic, a Splinter Cell: Conviction style time freeze where you designate your targets before having 47 perform some very cool looking gunplay. Once your instinct pool is depleted you can replenish it by silently assassinating enemies and completing mission objectives. It’s a good system that, while not particularly inspired, adds some much needed leeway to the games otherwise rigid mechanics.
With the exception of a handful of levels, completing your objective usually involves avoiding detection by the numerous guards between you and your target, and finding some inventive way of eliminating whoever’s unfortunate enough to have gotten on your bad side. All but one of the over 30 targets in the game can be assassinated stealthily, and most with all kinds of different methods. You’ll get to poison, crush, choke, drug, electrocute, burn, and blow up targets, among other gruesome tactics. Some assassination techniques will undoubtedly have repeated by the time you finish the game, but all in all it’s a very well designed and varied experience.
Of course you don’t have to sneak everywhere at all times, and should you be spotted there’s always the option of simply fighting it out rather than restarting from the last checkpoint. Absolution is clearly a game designed with stealth in mind, and for that reason the gunplay and cover system isn’t up to par with games like Gears of War or Uncharted. That said, after a couple of hours of playing in the shadows, few things are as satisfying as pulling out your dual Silverballer Pistols and just going nuts.
Our one major complaint about the game comes from the enemy AI. It’s inconsistent. At times the AI will react with superhuman awareness during even the most chaotic of situations, while other times you can perform hits right under their nose and they’ll be none the wiser. Disguise gameplay also has its quirks. Donning the same disguise as an enemy will cause them to almost instantly become suspicious, while other enemies are completely oblivious. This becomes particularly annoying walking through a crowd of hundreds just to be spotted as an imposter by a street vendor that shouldn’t have been able to see you through the crowd. It just doesn’t make sense that a civilian would suddenly raise the alarm just because he saw a new face. Ultimately though, the inconsistent AI isn’t hard to overlook.
At the end of every level the points you’ve earned will be added up and uploaded to a global leaderboard. Every time you kill a non-target enemy or civilian, points are deducted. You also can’t be spotted or have your disguise blown if you want to achieve the highest possible score. Fortunately: hiding bodies, performing headshots and silently killing enemies gain you points, meaning that, for some of stages you will be able to nullify unfortunate stumbles. On the one hand, we appreciate the transparency of the system, but on the other it strongly discourages playing the game like Rambo, which while not unreasonable for a stealth game, is kind of limiting. Also, being asked to show mercy to a bunch of gang members who just killed and raped the Nuns of an orphanage seems irrational considering 47’s character.
Absolution features a challenge room style mode called Contracts where you can create your own assassination missions and share them with the world. You do this by playing through a level and designating targets. Whichever way you assassinate the targets will be the mission objective for the other players. As you play through another player’s missions, you will be rated depending on how closely you matched the circumstances of his or her game. You then earn credits which can be spent towards upgrading your weapons and purchasing new costumes and abilities. It’s a fantastic feature that encourages experimentation, perfectionism and finding the most difficult way to kill your target.
Graphically Hitman: Absolution contends with the best of them. Some textures here and there might be a little low resolution, but that’s easily remedied by the sheer scale and beauty of the levels. The number of locations found within this game is staggering. There are 20 chapters in total, each one taking place in completely unique and exotic locations. IO Interactive have chosen to bathe the game in a hefty helping of bloom, glare and depth of field effects, creating a smooth and sophisticated atmosphere. At times the glare can be a little overdone, but it’s nothing too intrusive or distracting. Sadly Jesper Kyd’s magic touch is missing from the soundtrack this time around, but newcomer Thomas Bartschi has done an admirable job. Just make sure you keep the volume at a reasonable level, as the audio tends to spike randomly throughout the game.
Your enjoyment of Hitman: Absolution all comes down to what type of gamer you are, while we’re not prepared to say that playing the game like a run-and-gun third person shooter isn’t enjoyable, it’s clearly not the way it was meant to be handled. If played “correctly”, Hitman Absolution is a fantastic game that has an almost endless amount of replayability. While it’s not going to convert anyone who doesn’t like stealth games, we cannot recommend this game enough for the ones who do. Happy Hunting.
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- Name: Hitman: Absolution
- Available on: PC, 360, PS3
- Developed by: IO Interactive
- Published by: Square Enix
- Release Date: November 20th, 2012
- Price: $59.99
- Elder-Geek Score: 4 out of 5 / Worth Buying