Despite scoring an eight in Dan’s review, as a purist fan of the previous Hitman titles, my experience with Hitman: Absolution was drastically different to most. It wasn’t the best game of the year, nor was it the worst, but in a year of exciting stealth games, IO Interactive’s release was one of the most disappointing of 2012. From a purist perspective, Absolution was a middle of the road action-shooter instead of the clever, twisted stealth fantasy it should have been. I don’t want to slander the good people at IO; but I would like to dissect their game and highlight the key areas in which Absolution failed to deliver for the hardcore Hitman fan.
First and foremost, Absolution butchered Hitman‘s established core gameplay mechanic – the clothing system. The ability to wear the blood-stained uniforms of fallen enemies allowed Agent 47 to hide in plain sight and meticulously stalk his targets. Hitman isn’t so much a stealth game, more so a blending in game. Sure, it doesn’t make sense in reality that armed mercenaries fail to notice that the overweight Mexican chef has morphed into a tall white man with a barcode tattoo, but it makes game-sense. Almost like in FPS’s when you automatically pick up ammo by running over it, or how in RPG’s you have an inventory without any visible means of storage. It just worked within the rules of the game. Besides, altering the clothing mechanic so that enemies wearing the same outfit recognised 47’s intrusion created as many problems as it solved: do all the chefs in Chinatown really know each other well enough to spot an imposter from thirty yards?
By trying to make Absolution work in reality, IO compromised the franchise’s unique core and changed the very nature of the game itself. The result is that you can no longer simply stalk targets like before by hiding in plain sight. 47 is forced to resort to conveniently placed waist-high walls and an uninspiring breed of line-of-sight stealth in order to remain undetected; a method unheard of in Hitman games of old. And when compared to the best line-of-sight stealth games, Metal Gear Solid and, more recently, Dishonored, Absolution fails miserably. Limiting the clothing mechanic is like limiting the number of jumps allowed in a Super Mario game – it changes the experience drastically.
Another substantial issue was Absolution‘s refined shooting mechanics. Whilst the game rarely forced 47 into direct confrontation, usually offering a stealthy solution to most obstacles, its very presence impacted heavily on the game’s design. Arkane proved with Dishonored that it is possible to craft a coexistence between stealth and action, but other successful games keep the two styles divorced: Rocksteady’s Arkham titles for example, have clearly defined stealth and combat sections, allowing the developer to perfect each set of skills individually. IO’s attempt to accommodate both styles in a single playground meant that neither style flourished.
Both sets of mechanics were watered-down to accommodate the other. For stealthy players, this culminates in frustratingly short, restrictive level design and a lack of options (the mission in the strip club being a prime example); and for players with a heavier hand, the game was a linear shooting gallery that offered no real challenge. That the Hitman games of old refused to offer a genuine guns-a-blazing option allowed the levels to be optimised purely for stealth gameplay. Whilst IO managed to fuse the two play styles into something resembling player choice, I can’t help thinking that it could have made a far greater game had the focus been on just one aspect.
Other, smaller annoyances included replacing the level map with a proximity radar, which promoted making decisions on the fly over careful planning. The shorter levels and the lack of a manual save system favoured trigger happy players that don’t care for prolonged consequences and alienated forward thinking players looking to perfect the few murderous puzzles included. Plus, the lack of an equipment selection screen prior to each mission limited player choice and removed the feel of being a premium assassin for hire. Individually, these gripes aren’t deal breakers and to an outsider they might even seem absurd criticisms. Like always however, the devil is in the details and they are all small steps away from the established Hitman formula.
As a stand-alone game under a different title, Hitman: Absolution would have been an unexpected treat and well deserving of its praise. With the Hitman name attached however, comes a wealth of responsibilities. IO Interactive has clearly attempted to transform its successful cult series into a flagship brand that appeals to both existing fans as well as the average Call of Duty warrior. Whilst this fusion was met with generally positive reviews, I’m sure there is a minority voice somewhere out there demanding a recount. Devoted fans can only hope that these changes to the Hitman formula are not in fact absolute and that IO can figure out how to make the gloriously punishing, brilliantly frustrating classic Hitman gameplay appeal to the shoot-em-up gamer without simply adding a wealth of bullets. Absolution was good – there is no denying that. But it certainly wasn’t Hitman.
So what do you think of Hitman: Absolution? A stellar entry into the franchise or a pure disappointment? Let us know in the comments below!