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
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.
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.