Hitman: Absolution Review
Agent 47 is back! I, for one, couldn’t be more excited to be back in his bald head…I mean shoes! The Hitman series has always been the pinnacle of the stealth/action genre, rewarding patience and skill rather than a propensity to rush in, guns blazing. The newest installment, Hitman: Absolution, follows this trend. However, at the same time, 47 has more toys at his disposal, and therefore more ways to assassinate his targets than ever before. Combine that with a revamped control scheme that gives unprecedented control over our favorite hitman and I’ve rarely felt as lethal. Absolution also serves to evolve the series, something that is rarely accomplished well. It’s not quite a reboot, but it’s as close as can be without crossing that line.
Absolution begins with 47 dealing with a problem at the office. There isn’t much to the story so I don’t want to spoil any details, but he takes on responsibility for a young girl who has more in common with him than he initially realizes. The rest of the game is spent getting closer and closer to her while eliminating those who are also pursuing her. There is a clever narrative at play, but I kind of feel like you really have to know the history of the series to truly appreciate it. The story touches more on his human side – never mind the fact that he is a ruthless, virtually sociopathic killing machine.
The point of these games is to be the true definition of the silent assassin – he who strikes and is gone without anyone noticing. Be the ghost and you gain a higher score, but get spotted or kill non-targets (or worse yet, civilians) and your score goes down. It’s odd when you see a negative score halfway through a mission… odd, but not uncommon.
Absolution requires forethought, patience, and subtlety to be done properly, but that’s not to say you can’t still have fun with it if things don’t go to plan. Just like any other stealth/action game, when you lose the stealth and all you have is action. Agent 47 finally handles like an action hero. He can even take cover! The cover system works astonishingly well, especially when used to sneak up on your opponents to take them out. When things devolve into an all-out firefight, it’s nice to know the mechanic is functional.
Fortunately, 47 has honed his skills to veritable superhuman levels. As a result, his instinct powers give him a heightened sense of awareness to his surroundings. Essentially, this allows him to see the location of targets, points and people of interest, as well as through walls and other obstructions. One could argue that the inclusion of this sort of thing is designed to cater to a more casual audience as it nerfs the game somewhat, but at the same time it’s easier than focusing on the mini-map. It’s one of those things that you begin to wonder why they just don’t leave it on all the time. This is something that will most likely annoy hardcore Hitman elitists, but I think it adds a fun element to the game. It allows for more time to plan an attack, and therefore, more satisfaction from a successful hit.
Having the option to “fake surrender” is a nice touch for when things go wrong. Agent 47 puts up his hands and when the poor sod that thinks he has him gets too close… well, that’s that. I like the fact that you use your would-be captor as a human shield first, just in case he has back up.
Then there is the controversial “point shooting” mechanic. This allows Agent 47 to go from bad ass hitman to a virtual deity by giving him slo-mo powers to boot. Basically, you have an action gauge that depletes when you enter this mode, but before it runs out you can tag enemies, which then culminates in an awesome takedown sequence. It’s plenty awesome, but the fact is that it makes the game almost too easy. Again, die-hard Hitman fans will almost assuredly use this as little as possible.
Usually Agent 47‘s best option is to hide in plain site. The “blend” mechanic makes things go much more smoothly. If you disguise yourself a certain way, then everyone else dressed that way will recognize that you are not one of them. In other words, if you dress up like a cop then you have to be wary of other cops around you. If you disguise 47 like a chef then other chefs will know you can’t cook; that sort of thing. However, by blending, 47 can disappear into the crowd at the cost of depleting his action gauge. In either case, this gauge is a finite resource, so make sure you use it when necessary… hence the reason reconnaissance is so important.
The key to Absolution is patience. Be sure to watch the guards, even let them make a full circuit of their routes so you know where to expect them to come from if you are detected. The stealth action can be quite white knuckled. Trying to exfiltrate a hot zone, switching disguises while a guard has his back turned less than ten feet away, is intensely harrowing.
There are five different difficulty settings for players of all skill levels. They do a good job of running the entire spectrum, with the default “Normal” mode a good place to start, as the easiest difficulty levels are far too easy. Absolution is a fairly lengthy game, but quite slow overall. The game does a good job of balancing depending on your play style, so the level of challenge you want to try is completely up to you.
The level designs are open enough for you to look around and find different ways to approach the target. Some of the levels are far bigger and more open than you might anticipate, while others are well-designed mazes and labyrinths. It’s also important to pay attention to the patterns of the guards. I literally spent several minutes each mission just wandering where I could without alerting everyone, scoping out the layout and position of my foes, not to mention finding the mark. In fact, there are almost too many options in some cases. For one early mission, I probably spent a good twenty minutes just wandering around, trying to see how many different ways I could come up with to take out my mark.
As with most stealth/action games, sometimes finding the right path or right option is a mixture of luck and patience. Trial and error sometimes leads to frustration, but you have so many options that if something doesn’t work then try something else. The fact that there are segmented levels means you don’t have to start from the beginning when you screw up… and you inevitably will. What’s clever is that sometimes, different segments have different styles, so you might have a true stealth section followed by a traditional hit.
Admittedly, a lot of the time it felt like I was kind of stumbling towards the exit. In fact, even with the use of a mini-map, half the time I was there and didn’t even realize it. I’d like to say this is because I was so focused on avoiding detection, but it’s not always obvious. However, the game does a good job of funneling you the right way, so check your map often.
Unfortunately, Absolution is plagued with all the problems stealth/action games often fall prey to. However, I’ve never felt more in control when things go to pot. 47 is the bad ass you expect him to be. When things go from bad to worse or you find yourself running in circles, you actually feel like you have a fighting chance. To tell the truth, I even tried to just butcher everyone and treat it like an action game, and it performed better than I expected. It is a viable option, even if it’s exactly the opposite of what is intended.
Sometimes the enemy AI leaves you scratching your head. I understand that it is a series of “if/then” actions but they don’t always do the obvious. For example, if the guard finds a dead body, then he will raise the alarm and everyone will start searching. But there were times when they would walk right past me and stand there, waiting to be added to the pile of dead bodies he had just stumbled upon. They will even call for backup and, if the hit takes place in public, a SWAT team. However, the frequency with which they take such action doesn’t always make a lot of sense. In a sense this is okay, real world reactions aren’t consistent either. However, it can be frustrating in a game.
The game looks great! The graphical standard is high, with some well-done lighting effects. The animations are far more fluid than past entries – no longer the stiff, overly-repeated look we’ve seen before. The cast delivers an effective performance. Overall, Absolution is well crafted with great production values.
Absolution is one game where I wholeheartedly endorse the use of a guidebook. There are a lot of fun, different ways that you might not even think of to take out your target. That’s not even mentioning all the hidden collectibles there are. There is a fair amount of goodies and other things to discover. And let me tell you, some of it is deviously concealed. I also had a few occasions where the hit didn’t go as planned, so with everyone dead by 47’s hand, I searched… and searched and searched, but still couldn’t find everything! This is one title I’m keeping on the shelf to replay at some point.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the new “Contracts” mode. The clever thing about this mode is that you can set challenges for others out there playing the game, suggesting that they do the whole Clue thing and try to take out the target in the kitchen with the butcher knife. It’ll be fun to try these interesting kill styles, but the best part is that you can create them as well, so see how original and unique you can be!
The truth is that I’m not a huge fan of games like Hitman: Absolution. I’ve been preaching patience this entire review, but it’s not something I personally excel at. Ironically, I think that’s why I liked Absolution so much. You have such fluid control of 47 that if you get spotted, you can enjoy the action and shooting without feeling terribly guilty. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of the Metal Gear Solid games. When you do it right – when it all comes together and the hit comes off without a hitch, there are few games that live up to the same sense of success and accomplishment. Absolution is a fantastic addition to a series that defined a genre last generation, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with for our favorite bald assassin moving forward.
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a copy of Hitman: Absolution for the Xbox 360 provided by Square Enix.