Hitman: Absolution marks the return of gaming’s original assassin, IO Interactive’s bald and barcoded killer known only as Agent 47.
It’s been ten years since the folically challenged Hitman first graced our screens. Since then the stealth game mechanic has been done to death, with the likes of Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, more recently, Dishonored refining the genre. The big question is does Agent 47 still have the chops to satisfy?
In truth, I’ve never really got on with Agent 47’s previous exploits. I’ve always felt that the Hitman games suggested that I had the freedom to execute missions as I see fit, but in reality I did not at all.
Agent 47 could carry out assassinations in many ingenious and creative ways as long as it was one of the outcomes the developers wanted me to use. IO Interactive’s lofty ideals always seemed constrained by the limitations of the technology.
With Hitman: Absolution that restricted gameplay is still apparent, but the improvements to the AI have created a game environment that is much more alive, and thus unpredictable, than before. The result is a fresh take on what is still classic Hitman gameplay; and it all works very well.
The story is the familiar tale of conflict, betrayal and redemption that seems to be retold with every single Hitman game.
Essentially trying to humanise a merciless killer and I can’t say that it works on that level; but it does serve excuse to travel between interestingly authored locations and assassinate folks.
Agent 47 growls his way through the tale with his usual complete lack of charisma, although there is some evidence of dry wit this time that I never noticed before.
But it doesn't matter if we care little for what he says, or the why, it’s what he does that matters. And what he does can be good fun.
Hitman: Absolution’s mission structure is pretty straight forward, and in keeping with the other game in the series. Each level is basically an arena which Agent 47 must negotiate as he sees fit, under your control of course.
The environments are filled with bad guys, and sometimes civilians: that’ll either ignore you or alert the guards. Most levels can be negotiated without firing a single unnecessary shot, as long as Agent 47 doesn’t do anything that’ll draw attention to him (like kill someone).
Agent 47 is armed with the tools of his trade plus other items that can be picked up during play. The garrotte, a length of wire can be used to throttle a target when approached from behind.
Agent 47’s signature weapons, the Silverballer pistols can be used individually as a silenced pistol that van be precisely aimed, to dual welded in a gunfight situation when all stealth is out the window.
In the field there are many objects that can be picked up and thrown to distract guards. There are also weapons lying about, such as conveniently positioned sniper rifles sitting near open first floor windows.
Look out for the rather entertaining proximity charges, as well. Fallen bad guys are also a good source of weapons as well as disguises.
Yes, Agent 47 has realised that his grim expression and black suit screams hitman and so he now has the ability to wear the clothes as any of his male victims.
Whilst this works up to a point, get too close to those that he needs to fool and they’ll ask questions, leaving no choice but to pretend to give up and enter into a shootout or lead the nosey-parker around a corner a quietly dispatch him.
Once one person sees through the disguise he soon spreads the word to all unless you finish him of quickly.
The ultimate point of the game is to be a silent assassin, which means that you sneak in, kill the target and get out.
Points are deducted for each unnecessary kill. However, if you must kill a non-target, it is only proper to dispose of the body. And for that very purpose there are a number of dumpsters, cupboards and wardrobes littering each level.
The same can also be used to hide in; but they only take two people, so if you fill them with stiffs you are not going to fit.
Whilst many of the environments are moody sneaking predator style areas, some are set in hugely populated areas crammed full of crowds of people just getting on with their lives.
It’s really something special, the crowds feeling so alive, it’s like they were there before you arrived and, as long as you don’t mess things up, they will sit be going about their business long after the target has been dispatched.
OK, so we’ve seen crowds before in the Assassin’s Creed series, but not done as well as this.
Coming from the more forgiving (and arcade-like) Assassin's Creed 3 it took a while to understand how Hitman: Absolution worked.
But after a while the game reprogrammed my brain to think like Agent 47 rather than Altair, Ezio or Conner. I was soon walking into a room full of guards and, depending on how I felt, either sneaking passed undetected or silently picking them off one by one.
Hitman: Absolution is a polished piece of work; the developers have taken the time to produce a very robust and entertaining gaming experience.
But there are still a few eyebrow raisers in there that with a bit of thought could probably have been worked out. For instance, Agent 47, after slaughtering a victim, can easily avoid detection by hiding in a cupboard or dumpster right next to the scene of the crime.
I couldn't help but laugh when the cops stood right next to Agent 47, who was hiding in the most obvious place to look, asking themselves "where'd he go". OK, so it's an essential game mechanic, but that doesn’t stop it from being silly.
Other eye rolling moment was when confronted with a hit in a huge crowd. My target stood there in full view of guards and bystanders. Any attempt to pick him of was doomed to fail. But wait, he started walking into an alley and stood there, conveniently located next to a dumpster. Like a good little boy I opened my mouth as IO Interactive spoon fed me with their game.
The above betrays that, for all the games fancy AI and crowd simulation technology, under the hood Hitman: Absolution still has one foot in the past.
Seasoned Hitman players may find this reassuring, but for the majority of players used to the stealth-action gameplay of Assassin’s Creed 3 or Splinter Cell Conviction, are going to find Hitman: Absolution’s pace excruciatingly slow.
As with previous Hitman games, Absolution walks the knife-end of being cripplingly hard, often to the point of frustration, but at the same time so incredibly addictive and rewarding when you succeed against all odds.
For some the success of beating a level will win them over, but for others the sometimes to torturous difficulty will be too much.
The game does try to accommodate all tastes with difficulty settings from cuddly to nutter. The harder the difficulty setting the more guards and the less help the game gives you.
One of the useful abilities that the harder settings switch off is Agent 47’s instinct. When triggered, instinct allows Agent 47 to see enemies though walls as well as their patrol routes.
It also prevents enemies from seeing through disguises. Instinct can be used to perform multi-hit kills, in a similar way to Splinter Cell Conviction’s target tagging. Of course, when in use the instinct meter depletes, so it should be used sparingly.
Hitman: Absolution also ships with Contracts mode. Originally intended to be an “online pass”-style feature for owners of the new game only, the Contracts mode is now available free to all via a code with new copies of the game or a free patch download.
As good as the campaign is, the Hitman Contracts part of the game is what got me really excited. I've often played levels in games and thought that the area would make for a great multiplayer arena. IO has, sort of, thought the same way with Hitman Absolution.
The Absolution campaign is made up of a series of areas strung together by a narrative. The beauty of the game is that each one of these areas is a living entity. There's nothing in there that is scripted. None of the NPCs are waiting for you to do anything; their just get on with their business. And that is where Contract comes in.
You can enter any one of these self-contained areas from the campaign again in Contracts. Only this time you get to choose your targets, what you are wearing, what weapon to use and what level of collateral damaged is allowed.
Successfully completing your own custom challenge allows you to save it to try again or post it up for other players to have a go on. You can even challenge your friends in a competition to see who get the highest score on your contract.
Whether Hitman: Absolution’s gameplay is still relevant alongside its contempories is open for debate. Regardless, what we have been offered is undeniably Hitman.
IO Interactive have stuck to their guns and avoided reimagining the franchise for the Gen Y attention deficit crowd. An honourable stance, but I only wish that they’d budged a little.
Hitman: Absolution is still a very good game. It does have a steep learning curve, requiring a level of patience to get over that is beyond most people. There are glimmers of something special, but is feels a bit retro against some of the recent stealth games out there at the moment.
In a world where the likes of Dishonored can offer such creative and open stealth gameplay the likes of Hitman: Absolution feels restrictive in comparison.
The excellent Contracts mode is inspired, adding an infinite amount of replayablity for all levels that is, in my eyes, the game’s saving grace.
Lasting appeal: 9.0