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JLB1987 01-03-2013 09:41 AM

Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
Hitman Absolution - Second Opinion

High: The opening to the orphanage level, both the cutscene and the following, barely interactive, gameplay segment.

Low: The disguise system overhaul.

WTF: The enemies being able to see through a disguise that covers every inch of Mr. 47, but not having a problem with him crouching out of site right in front of them.

It’s surprising that aside from the (now infamous) “Saints” trailer, Hitman Absolution has managed to avoid controversy. Previous games in the franchise have always been very similar, with only minor improvements in gameplay- the developers, IO Interactive, have always relied on changing the feel of the games to keep each sequel fresh and different. For example, the dark, depressing visuals and electronic soundtrack on the majority of the stages in Contracts were a stark contrast to the often bright, normal, and orchestral Silent Assassin. An admirable approach, perhaps, but by doing this, the minor, yet undeniable, flaws of each game were always overlooked.

Absolution has changed this formula. The feel of each level can differ from one another, and the game almost comes across as a “best of” of the previous games. The opening of Absolution is strongly reminiscent of the first level of Silent Assassin, with it’s clear blue sky, beautiful scenery, and a huge mansion being an oddly cheerful backdrop to the murder 47 is about to commit. Another level asks the player to murder the owner of a strip club- the rain and a dark twist during the level reminding us of “The Meat King’s Party” from Contracts. It doesn’t keep the game as fresh throughout as you might expect, and also takes away the identity the other games in the series had.

One theme Absolution does have, however, is linearity. The tutorial that introduces the player to the game is done very well- whilst it differs from the “learn as you play” style of prior Hitman games, it guides the player through their first kill, their first change of disguise (and inadvertently, how broken the disguise system is), and shows off the shiny new shooting and cover mechanics. Not everyone will appreciate this new style of introduction, but it works. Unfortunately, the very rigid structure of the opening doesn’t really change throughout. There are rarely alternate paths through a level, from the opening tutorial to the final showdown. At best, the player may be given a choice of an obvious entrance to an area, or a slightly less obvious route.

Thanks to the newly broken disguise system, only the path least populated by NPCs is ever viable. As is the hallmark of the Hitman series, disguises can be taken from corpses or found in other places to help Mr. 47 take the professional approach to a hit, rather than the more obvious tactic of killing anything that moves. In the past, 47 could wear a disguise, and if the player acted suspiciously, it was possible for anyone to work him out as a fraud. Now, the player will not come under any suspicion from anyone, assuming they are wearing a different costume and he is not in an area that who he is disguised as isn’t supposed to be in. However, if 47 is dressed as, say, a police officer, any other police officer in the level will immediately begin to suspect him, as indicated by an on-screen arrow. After a few seconds, 47’s cover will be blown, often leaving a well-thought out plan ruined. As has been well documented elsewhere, even if 47 has *entire* body covered, the AI will suddenly develop x-ray vision and still be able to see through 47’s mask. It’s a terrible oversight by the developers, very nearly causing me to stop playing before the second chapter.

This problem can be bypassed- it’s just a shame that even this is flawed, creating further problems for the player who wants to play the game using stealth and brains, rather than wanton murder and brawn. Absolution introduces “instinct”- a commodity that is earned by certain activities (most commonly, killing guards and hiding their bodies), and is shown via a meter that can be filled and depleted on the HUD. Using this whilst similarly dressed enemies are close by will cause 47 to cover his face with his hand a bit and – hey presto! – make him become invisible to the enemy once again. This instinct doesn’t last long, however, and the game forcing one to kill people so they can earn the instinct needed to fool enemies in the first place feels odd, to say the least. The choice is, essentially, willingly kill those needed for the player to be able to progress, or get as far as you can by fooling NPCs, until more instinct is needed and the player has to bump of a few people just to be able to carry on as such. It’s mad, and has completely removed the tension that was such an appeal for me in the previous games- stealing a costume, walking around the place like I owned it, but always having a niggling doubt at the back of my mind that I *might* be discovered any moment. The temperamental nature of taking the thinking man’s attitude to the game is made all the more frustrating by only one checkpoint being provided per level. This often caused me to lose my patience, and just take the easy route of killing those that got in my way, simply to get to the end of the level. Why IO decided to change this from the “save whenever you want” style of previous games (which not only allowed but also encouraged experimentation) is another devolution from Blood Money.

There are countless other annoyances that either make the gameplay less enjoyable, or the game as a whole generally less endearing. Conveniently placed storage crates to hide bodies being in abundance throughout, whether it makes contextual sense or not. How one can cause absolute carnage in one section of a level, but the guards in the next area not changing according to this. The levels being split up into sections *at all*. But there is still plenty to enjoy- gunplay is now fluid and satisfying, and the new cover system makes combat all the more enjoyable. Movement no longer feels wooden, and it’s an undeniable improvement. Shootouts are exhilarating- one memorable moment occurred during in the orphanage level. In the middle of a shootout, injured, I moved from one room to another, and hid behind a counter. The bad guys attempting to kill me moved through the room I was in, into the room they thought I was in. Hitman Absolution isn’t intended to be a straight shooter (the game’s scoring system testifies this), but I found that playing it as such gave me the most joy.

The cut-scenes are also brilliantly done, and there are quieter moments in the game itself which are genuinely something special. I won’t risk spoiling any of them, but there are parts that cause the player to reassess 47’s personality (such as a beautiful moment at the start of the Rosewood stage- the cut-scene and ensuing segment is genuinely moving, and is easily my gaming highlight of the year), or just confirm how awesome he is (such as making one of his victims dig his own grave whilst 47 himself calmly eats an apple). Even the less interactive parts of the game aren’t without their flaws. Whereas before, Agent 47 was a flawless killing machine, whose mistakes only occurred through fault of the player, during Absolution I lost count of how many times 47 messed up missions by himself during cut-scenes. It certainly makes him seem more “human”, but as a passionate fan of the franchise, I don’t know if I was really happy with it. Other fans may be dismayed by some of the other events that occur in Absolution’s story- whilst I was overjoyed by the wrestling match scene, I can imagine parts like this not being for everyone.

The new game is a mixed blessing. I’m overjoyed the franchise hasn’t been forgotten, and I’ve loved most of the non-gameplay orientated aspects of Absolution- I’ve certainly enjoyed my time catching up with 47. However, despite the shooting and cover mechanics being a joy to use, the things that really make a Hitman game are undeniable worse. I would struggle to recommend this entry of the series to other seasoned Hitman enthusiasts, and I would also hesitate before suggesting the title to fans of straight-up third person shooters- whilst the gunplay is done very well, the aspects that do roll over from the previous games in the series stop it from being a pure shooter experience. All in all, it attempts to become a “jack of all trades” style game, but generally fails across the board. 3 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was reviewed on Xbox 360. Approximately fifteen hours of play were devoted to the offline, single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent with the game's "Contracts" mode.

Parents: According to ESRB, the game contains "blood and gore, intense physical violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs".

Deaf and hard of hearing gamers: Subtitles are present in the cut-scenes, and the mission dialogue is accessible on a separate mission briefing screen in-game. The sounds in the game are often useful, but visual clues are also available on-screen.

JLB1987 01-03-2013 09:46 AM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
Looking forward to seeing what you guys think. I'm not really happy with the way I closed this review, but I posted it as it was, hoping for some suggestions. Hope what I have to say is of interest.

Pedro 01-03-2013 07:39 PM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
I was stunned when I highlighted the score at the bottom, the review doesn't read like that at all!

Okay...

I think you have the bones of an excellent review here. I have no issue with the content - the score was a surprise after so much positivity in the review, so maybe you needed to come down harder on the bad parts. This is probably just me though, no action needed unless others agree.

Liked the history lesson and the tying back of the previous episodes to this one - very well done.

Where I feel you fall down is in the sentence structure can be a bit cumbersome and your tenses sometimes confuse. Not sure I can describe it but I'll try.

This para:

Quote:

There are countless other annoyances that either make the gameplay less enjoyable, or the game as a whole generally less endearing. Conveniently placed storage crates to hide bodies being in abundance throughout, whether it makes contextual sense or not. How one can cause absolute carnage in one section of a level, but the guards in the next area not changing according to this. The levels being split up into sections *at all*. But there is still plenty to enjoy- gunplay is now fluid and satisfying, and the new cover system makes combat all the more enjoyable. Movement no longer feels wooden, and itís an undeniable improvement. Shootouts are exhilarating- one memorable moment occurred during in the orphanage level. In the middle of a shootout, injured, I moved from one room to another, and hid behind a counter. The bad guys attempting to kill me moved through the room I was in, into the room they thought I was in. Hitman Absolution isnít intended to be a straight shooter (the gameís scoring system testifies this), but I found that playing it as such gave me the most joy.
The first section reads like a list but isn't punctuated like a list and could be improved with small changes:

Quote:

Conveniently placed storage crates to hide bodies are in abundance throughout, whether it makes contextual sense or not. One can cause absolute carnage in one section of a level, with the guards in the next area unaware of ones actions. The levels are redundantly split up into smaller sections. [or whatever your beef with this is]
The rest of that para is excellent and scans a lot better.

This may seem like major nitpicking, and it is - as I say, you are 90% of the way there, you just need to read it back (again, I know) and see what looks a little rough. There's not much wrong with it - I mean, that was the absolute worst para that I picked out :)

Also - I do not think linearity is a theme - you could say "One thing Absolution does have, however, is linearity" without losing anything. As I say, nitpicking.

Full marks for content - it's a really good critique of the game. With a little polish it is publishable.

JLB1987 01-04-2013 08:55 AM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
Thanks for the feedback, and taking the time to read this, very much appreciated :)

I thought I might have been *too* tough on it, if anything- that's why I made a special effort to include everything I did enjoy in this review. It feels like a barely scratched the surface of what I didn't like about the game (I could have written twice as much), but because there wasn't much to enjoy, I could go more in depth into the good bits. I'll go away and try and balance it out some more, perhaps...

Also, the linearity as a theme comment was a bit of a sarcastic dig at how linear it is. Maybe that one didn't work as well as I thought it would. I think I'll just replace that with more of an explanation why a Hitman game shouldn't be so linear.

Unfortunately, still no internet at the place I moved to last year, so updating this will be a weekly rather than daily thing (it's a pain). I'm sure I'll get there in the end, I really enjoyed writing this piece.

Pedro 01-04-2013 07:40 PM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
It's good that you enjoyed writing it...I am actually a bit troubled by your review as I can't really think of anything substantial to criticise in it - it's probably at the level where you need a real critic to have a look.

Li-Ion 01-05-2013 07:05 AM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
What was surprising me the most about Absolution is how it confused it seems to be what it tries to do. On one hand the shooting and cover mechanics have been improved (there were no cover mechanics in previous hitman anyway), on the other hand the scoring system punishes people trying to use them.

Anyway, to the review: I like it, albeit crowds didn't really get a mention, which is one thing Absolution does really well. I'd go as far as calling it the best 3rd person crowd simulator of 2012. I really liked parts of the game where I could hide in the crowds to avoid detection. Too bad these bits were flanked by awful hide and seek-sections that hammered home how awful the disguise system really is.

I stopped using disguise at all after some point and just tried to get to the next section asap, where all my previous deeds seem forgotten and my sins absolved (maybe that's the reason for the name?). Like in the courthouse, where I killed almost everyone, but that didn't seem to have any influence on the prison below and even less on my attempt to get out of prison again.

Did I already mention how stupid the disguise system is?

http://www.facepalm.de/images/facepalm.jpg

Imagine a bald guy walking past you facepalming being not suspicious. But if he dares to wear appropriate full body armor and helmet it's of course easy to spot him.

JLB1987 01-06-2013 06:02 AM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
Good point, about the crowds- definitely something I overlooked.

Completely agree with your point about everything being improved that shouldn't really be relevant. Instead of the points-based score system, it would have been better if it rated one on their chosen playstyle. So if you do just go around shooting everyone, you get rated on accuracy, headshots, etc.

Another thing that really bothered me was how 47 can now conceal bigger weapons- in previous games, he'd have to carry a storage case for his sniper rifle (which would have to be assembled/ taken apart on use). Being able to carry around a shotgun without it being noticed really took something away from the game's signature charm, for me. Seemed like too small an issue to bring up here, but I'll see if I can add all this without convoluting stuff further.

Li-Ion 01-06-2013 08:13 AM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
The loss of the storage case came hand in hand with the lost ability to choose your own equipment before missions. But there are so many conveniently placed sniper rifles lying around, one wonders why nobody seems to use weapon safes or at least store ammunition apart from the respective weapon. Like any sane gun owner would do.

Pedro 01-06-2013 09:22 AM

Re: Rate this 2nd opinion piece: Hitman Absolution
 
JLB (oops, typed that as JLS first!) - remember you don't have to cram every single thing into the review though - just the more important stuff. ie there isn't a huge need for you to address the content more than you have already done, unless you feel there is


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