It has been 6 years since the release of Hitman Blood Money. Fans have been eagerly awaiting the next chapter in Agent 47’s saga. Now under the caring roof of Square Enix, has Hitman Absolution brought us back to what made the series classic, or has it gone too far from its well-established course?
Agent 47 begins the game (tutorial mission) tasked with infiltrating and killing his former handler as she showers. After doing so, a revelation is given and Agent 47 accepts the charge of hiding and protecting a young girl who might just share a similar past with 47. Recognizing this connection the two share; 47 embarks on a tense set of atonement missions to track down information, and subsequently, targets who are interested in the young lass. Your adventure as Agent 47 will take you across various well-designed locales, from deserts to small towns and a trashy strip club. The various characters you encounter will range from interesting to making you roll your eyes slightly. Sure the voice acting holds up, but there was a certain generic quality to a lot of the villains and targets you are hunting. Agent 47’s personal quest isn’t a very deep one for who he is (as has been explored previously in the series). However, it is a good story and worth spending your time with. But make no mistake, the gameplay is the big draw here and is what will have you coming back for more each time.
The game does a perfect job of explaining how things work during the tutorial mission and how you need to play, if you intend to play as a true Hitman. I will say this up front, people who believe a hitman is supposed to go in guns blazing, please play another game. Hitman Absolution is how stealth is meant to be played…patiently. If you loved the open-endedness and plethora of stealth choices when traversing the Deus Ex Human Revolution missions, you will love Hitman Absolution. It has been a great year for stealth games with Dishonored and Mark of the Ninja leading the pack. Hitman Absolution will be absolute heaven for those of us addicted to stealth gameplay.
47 feels more connected to the gameplay and environment than in previous Hitman games. As a late comer to the Hitman series, one of the biggest challenges I had playing the older games was that 47 felt like he was slightly outside the world he lived in. I had the same issue replaying the original Max Payne after playing the brilliant Max Payne 3.
However, with Absolution, Agent 47 feels like he has organically evolved to be a better part of the world at large. The cover system feels very natural and is easy to get in and out of in those tense situations where quickly hiding can mean the difference between success and failure. There is a point system in the game that will judge and grade you on how good of a Hitman you are. Go in guns blazing killing everyone and you will see your score plummet faster than Mel Gibson’s career. However, remain silent (as an assassin should) and you will be rewarded with greater point bonuses at the end of every mission which result in a higher aggregate total that will allow you to spend points on leveling up your abilities. Think about it for a moment.
Why would you need to level your abilities and gain new killing and stealth moves if you just run in guns blazing killing everyone and everything in sight? It would be pointless (and boring) and it is not how the game is meant to be played. This is not a modern military or sci-fi shooter. This is Hitman. Gamers who are impatient and lose interest quickly because there are not enough explosions happening, need to be honest with themselves about why they are wanting to play Hitman and accept it may not be for them.
Agent 47 can once again put on and use disguises to get past guards and other interested parties who are actively searching for him in his signature black suit with blood red tie. The variety of disguises is really great and there are even some that are tongue-in-cheek, yet fun to drop the seriousness and just play in. The amount of replay-ability is enormous, as you can repeat missions and no doubt find a different way to reach the objective every time. However, with all the various tools at your disposal, none of what you do feels like you are cheating the system and creating shortcuts to trick AI. There are however some more linear levels which are fun to play, but seem to break the open-endedness of previous environments and do create some of the cons of the game in terms of having to just push through to complete without a lot of variety in how you do it. But these are necessary evils to move the story forward and shouldn’t be allowed to dampen your experience.
There is an in-game point scoring system. I will admit this is not my favorite. I have a bit of stealth OCD when it comes to games and when I’m being graded for how well I perform during the game and not at the end of each mission, the OCD gets even worse and it completely breaks my immersion. I preferred Dishonored’s end of mission scoring and performance reporting. It made the gameplay feel more immersive and wasn’t making me second guess my decisions all the time.
Just being spotted by a suspicious NPC caused my score to drop around 1250 points. Now, in the bigger picture at the end of a level, this would be a small number compared to the point gain I was set to earn overall. However, I’m obsessive enough about it that I would rage slightly and restart the checkpoint until I got it right without losing points from stupid things like being noticed. After finding myself doing this on every level, I realized that I needed to stop fighting my play-style and just get better at situational awareness and planning.
If you are an OCD stealth gamer and not Mr. Perfect (as I’m not) when it comes to pulling off missions with absolute perfection, you will be challenged and pushed to your limits by how hard the stealth can be on harder difficulties. This is not a game with cones of vision and mumbling guards who are easily fooled and repeat the same inane dialogue. This is as realistic as a stealth game gets. When you do pull out the Silver Baller pistols and start dishing out the headshots, the game allows you to have your fun (albeit with point deductions unless you thoroughly clean up your mess afterwards). The gunplay is impactful, weighty, and a hell of a lot of fun to engage in when it is necessary or required. However, it is not perfect. Enemies, once engaged, will often shoot at nothing and the combat isn’t as refined as in other 3rd person shooters. But then again, as I said, this is not a combat game.
Contracts mode is the sandbox of Hitman Absolution. Here you can create your own levels and play through those created by other users. Since there is no more loadout selection before starting each new level in the campaign, Contracts mode fills this gap by allowing you to select which weapons and objects are available throughout your created mission. What’s even better is that these created levels can be shared and you can challenge others to complete your own missions better than you, the designer. Naturally, you can show up other creators by finding better ways of completing their own custom missions as well.
Sound and Graphics:
Hitman Absolution is running on a new engine and what a beauty it is. I played the PC version on Steam and the lighting and ambience in darker levels was really engaging. The sound design is great too and you will find yourself carefully listening for every little thing that will either aid you or possibly hinder your progress.
After playing through the game and replaying my favorite missions, I was just blown away by the smoothness of the crowd mechanics. I rarely look at NPCs in a crowd in a game. But with Hitman Absolution, I was checking out everyone to see what little thing they were doing, or listening to what they were saying on the cell phones. For me, it was one of those, just stop and smell the roses things. Certain aspects of the lighting and graphics reminded me of the Witcher 2 on PC’s look on a medium to high setting. I’m not one to nitpick graphics that get the job done. Hitman looks great.
If you love stealth, Hitman Absolution is for you. The story holds up and keeps you engaged as you slink along through the missions. Certain villains had a very deliciously evil streak to them. But there were moments were they were a tad on the generically fictional and 2-dimensional side. This isn’t some complex tale where the lines between good and evil are blurred and every decision is a possible moral conundrum. This is Hitman. You are on a path of atonement and redemption, but you will still do what you do best in order to get there…razor wire in hand.
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