It’s been six and a half years since Agent 47 last suited up and went on a good old-fashioned, fibre-wire fuelled garrotting adventure. Six and a half years of sitting on the sidelines watching the gaming landscape go from … third-person shooter heavy to … first-person shooter heavy. Sunrise. Sunset. 2012 sees IO Interactive Software finally dropping Hitman: Absolution, but has it been worth the wait?
Well, first of all, long time series fans may be a little surprised by what they find here. Though it bears many of the signature Hitman hallmarks, Absolution plays out very differently to titles past. It’s a much more focused, story-driven experience and contains more than its fair share of shoot heavy moments. But don’t be fooled by the big budget cut-scenes or flashy high action marketing campaigns, this is still a title for stealth loving purists.
Exploration, experimentation and, above all, patience is what gets rewarded here. This is a game that wants you to take a careful and considered approach with your play sessions. It wants you to take your time and assess the unique parameters of each level before making your move. And although it isn’t without its problems, I’m happy to say that Hitman: Absolution is a success.
Agent 47 wants out of the game and is on the run from The Agency. But, as Hootie & The Blowfish will tell you, there’s no such thing as a clean break, especially if you still care for a person. So in order for 47 to secure his safe release, he must first get his hands dirty. Real dirty. Like Blood Money before it, the bulk of Absolution plays out in true Hitman style: At the start of each level you’re given a target, placed in a sandbox and given free range. Each stage contains subtle, often very inventive, methods of execution and exactly how you handle the task of snuffing out your mark is up to you.
Every aspect of the game, however, has seen significant improvements. From the movement to the combat, everything in Hitman: Absolution feels significantly more refined. Complementing this is a suite of new abilities for 47 himself and they go a long way towards connecting the character (and therefore the player) to the digital world around them.
The first, and the most radical change to the franchise, is the introduction of Instinct. Basically a visual representation of Agent 47’s situational awareness, Instinct replaces the classic mini-map and highlights clues, patrol routes, weapons, disguises – basically anything that could be used and exploited in pursuit of a target. New players will find it to be an invaluable tool, as you can use to plan movements and track enemies through walls, whereas seasoned Hitman vets will likely refer to it sparingly, dropping in and out to double check locations or interesting quirks in the level design.
Another addition is the snap-in cover system, which can be used effectively as both a stealth tool, springing form cover to cover, and a crutch during fire-fights. Point Shooting. A slow-mo ability to mark your targets and down an entire room. Fake surrendering, to lure in and disarm would-be captors. And finally you’ve got the new and improved disguise system, which is more of a tweak than a new feature.
Now you see me
A staple for the Hitman series, disguises allow 47 to don level-appropriate clothing and hide in plain sight. In past titles the system was very hit or miss. Enemies would either be completely oblivious to you once you’re in guise or hyper alert, inexplicably blowing your cover from a mile away. Absolution’s revised system, by contrast, is much more balanced yet still doesn’t feel fully formed.
The basic set up is that NPCs wearing the same clothing as you will recognise 47 an imposter – if you get too close. It makes sense on the small scale, a group of local gardeners would obviously recognise a chrome-domed, athletically built, jagged-faced psychopath mooching about the gaff. “Steve! You look different today …You have a shave?” But it makes less sense that every beat-cop or anonymous henchmen can instantly identify an intruder with nothing more than a quick glance.
Instinct can be used to maintain your ruse in close calls, 47 subtly covering his face or dip his hat in these situations, but it’s by no means a perfect solution. In quite a comical twist, it’s actually more effective to allay suspicion by rolling between cover, even while in full view, than it is relying on Instinct. Cops and guards are all over the chap casually strolling through the grounds but don’t seem to mind the frantic dipshit doing barrel rolls between their legs. “Hrmmm that guy seems legit!”
Mission structure is also different to other titles in the Hitman series. Instead of offering up enormous sandboxes – like the classic Lee Hong Assassination or the Heaven and Hell Club – Absolution will often give you little pieces of a level at a time. These segments usually have you completing a specific goal in order to advance and often include secondary targets, sections of story-based high action, or stealth.
For example the highly publicised ‘Attack of the Saints’ portion has you taking down the seven S&M nun-assassins two or three at a time across several distinct areas.
Likewise, in the opening stage, you must first make your way through the grounds of an extravagant manor, reach a clearly defined midway load point and then head inside the home proper to get access to the target. This segmented structure gives a much more focused experience but still allows a certain degree of exploration and experimentation. Exactly how you choose to tackle each segment is up to you, after all.
Just sign at the bottom
For those among you who may find this tightened experience restrictive, there’s Contracts mode. Absolution’s answer to multiplayer, Contracts allows players worldwide to create custom levels with specific parameters then upload them to the web for others to enjoy. This will really be the feature that dictates the game’s longevity, as there’s really no limit to the number of interesting or quirky assassinations a player can make.
On the technical front, the game looks great, sounds amazing and performs admirably.Bloom lighting effects are a little overdone, kind of ironic since this is darkest Hitman to date, but everything holds up well throughout. Crowds are used to great effect and the cut-scenes are quite well produced.
Sound, again, deserves an extra special mention as the score rises and falls with the on-screen action. I’ve always been a fan of Hitman’s varied soundtrack and Absolution delivers some of the series best. (The Inception horn could have been dialled back a bit though.) It’s quite an impressive visual and audio treat to transition from a quiet back alley to a bustling market, the game suddenly springs to life and in many cases left me wide eyed.
I played my copy on both Xbox 360 and PC and could find nary a technical issue between them (It’s also nice to play a game that’s well tailored for multi screen support straight out of the box). The biggest complaint I have with the game, by far, actually has nothing to do with the story, gameplay or basic formula, it’s the lack of Quick Saves. For some baffling reason, IO have taken out the ability to Quick Save your progress and have replaced it with a checkpoint system. Even on PC.
Checkpoints work as you would expect but they reset the entire level. So if you spend five minutes patiently waiting for a conversation to play out so guards disburse and go their separate ways, then stuff up and blow your cover five seconds later, you’re stuck listening to that conversation again and again, every single time you reload. It’s mind boggling and is sure to infuriate perfectionist players like myself.
Hitman’s strength has always come from the freedom if offers players. While that degree of freedom has been somewhat scaled back by Absolution’s tightened single-player approach, Contracts mode provides a nice balance.
- Reviewed On