Hitman: Absolution Review
Hitman: Absolution isn’t quite the Hitman game you remember. IO Interactive has taken its series in a refined direction with its macabre, dark, and often bizarre world contorting to create a game fans and newcomers alike can enjoy.
Hitman has always approached things differently, favouring careful planning over gung-ho theatrics and in that sense things haven’t changed. Agent 47’s methodical approach to murder has earned him a reputation as the thinking man’s assassin, but can his tale of redemption, killer nuns and cloning translate in today’s world of immediate action and insta-explosions?
Part of what makes Hitman: Absolution such a success is the intelligent ways in which IO scales the experience. Hardcore Hitman fans will (and should) baulk at the idea of playing on the normal difficulty, but with three enhanced ‘professional’ modes – Hard, Expert and Purist – there’s a level of difficulty for everyone.
It’s this scalable experience that makes Hitman: Absolution such an interesting proposition. When played on the normal difficulty level, Agent 47 has hints pop-up throughout levels informing players where to go and what to do. The enemy AI is a lot more forgiving and with the Instinct Mode allowing you to experiement with how you approach situations the experience flows, rarely encumbered by the usual Hitman need for perfection.
The ways in which IO attempts to cater and design its levels around this concept is what makes Hitman: Absolution the most accepting game in the series, but it also eventually hampers the game’s overall success.
Hitman: Absolution clearly wants new players to experience Hitman and played from this perspective Agent 47 becomes a much more malleable character than he ever was before. He’s able to adapt to situations as they happen, instead of being faced with insurmountable odds and an enforced trip to the restart screen – as was the norm in previous games.
Though Hitman fans looking for a continuation of the hard-as-nails difficulty will find what they’re looking for, Hitman: Absolution has also found an unstable middle-ground that just about creates a satisfying experience for both types of players – give or take a few minor concessions.
Instinct Mode gives new players a much easier time of infiltration, highlighting suspicious characters and even what they’re thinking.
It attempts to give players a choice in how they approach the game’s levels and providing the chance to play like an assassin or turn to 47’s arsenal, but there’s a natural dichotomy to these designs that Hitman: Absolution has to address.
Hitman: Absolution’s story of redemption begins with 47 targeting his previous handler. After putting a bullet in her, her dying words inform 47 of a young girl that needs saving. It’s as clichéd a story as they come with Agent 47’s humanity brought forward in obvious ways, but this does give more than enough moral justification for taking out the ‘bad guys’ in myriad of ways – and that’s the point. 47 is slowly becomes a more traditional hero, albeit one with serious psychological issues.
Leaving his previous employers (known only as the Agency) behind him, Absolution follows 47 as he attempts to rescue this ‘special’ girl and with the Agency and all manner of undesirables attempting to get at her, he has his work cut out for him.
It can feel at times that IO had a range of fantastic ideas for level design, and some of the scenarios 47 is presented with are brilliant, but it bent the story around them. The plot falls over itself and when the tone changes from the rain-drenched, Se7en-inspired Chicago levels to the Tarantino Grind House heat of small town America, Hitman: Absolution is left with something of an uneven palette.
Its narrative might struggle to present players with a cohesive plot, but Absolution’s real strength comes from the moment-to-moment and often incidental details that 47 witnesses. Without the Agency feeding him targets, 47 has to deal with the colourful cast of characters standing in his way. These guys are evil cartoon characters that are just begging to be put out of their misery and 47 makes it very easy for player’s to oblige.
Combat, both hand-to-hand and gunplay have been overhauled and are much more competent than in previous games.
It’s in the set-up and subsequent design of its levels that IO ensures that Hitman: Absolution never fails to capture the imagination of players and actually allow them to realise their darkest murderous desires. Each hit follows the same formula but it’s the ways in which Absolution shakes things up and the incredible number of choices that are available that marks it out as something special.
Whether it’s spiking a drug dealer’s cocaine with fish poison (recently stolen from the bustling market) or dressing up as court clerk to infiltrate the prison behind the courthouse, there are always straight forward ways of dealing with situations and an incredible number of highly inventive and much less obvious options, too.
Hitman: Absolution’s levels are dense with these choices and with literally hundreds of characters sometimes standing in 47’s way, exploring your options is highly recommended. Listening to characters and taking your time is always preferable to running in blind and hoping for the best, but fans of Hitman will already know this.
Hitman: Absolution attempts to ease players into 47’s mindset but on the normal difficulty level it can feel that shooting your way out of a situation is the easier option and sometimes issues arise with this style of play. Guards will almost always swamp you, seemingly endless streams of them overwhelming 47’s position, but primarily, playing in this manner breaks the verisimilitude of the world.
Walking away from a hundred bodies after a bloody gun battle to the next area, where the oblivious guards sit around looking at each other, can raise more than a few eyebrows. Hitman: Absolution works best when you play by its rules and these are, quite obviously, when you’re being a good hitman and ensuring you stay hidden.
Dressing up will keep 47 hidden from plain sight, but he has a hard job convincing those in similar outfits. Not this one, though, this one’s special.
New players are eased into this mindset with a number of forgiving gameplay devices, but when 47 is continually given rather large guns, a Point Shoot mechanic (not unlike Sam Fisher’s Mark & Execute) and plenty of opportunity for carnage, you’d be forgiven for getting your wires crossed. If you’ve never played Hitman before you’ll learn very quickly that it’s best to play conservatively and Hitman: Absolution has even included a score tally to ensure you don’t miss this most valuable of points.
But that’s really what makes it so impressive. Hitman: Absolution really is able to present an easier experience for new players, showing them the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true density and design of its levels, and for experienced players the game scales perfectly to what Hitman fans expect.
Played on the harder modes Hitman: Absolution’s levels and characters come alive in a whole new way and it’s clear IO has spent a ton of time bringing everything to life in a highly cinematic way. Dialogue between NPCs is revealing in an unobtrusive way and, compared to the cinematics at least, sit much easier with the game’s overall tone.
You’re also far less likely to be confused by errant AI or moments when 47 is given far too much freedom from the characters around him, as he can be on the easier difficulty levels. It’s clear Hitman: Absolution is intended to be played and replayed on its harder modes and IO has ensured that its levels carry enough material to make each trip through a highly enjoyable one.
Hitman: Absolution may stumble slightly when trying to craft an experience for hardcore fans and those just joining the assassin for the first time, but IO shows that these types of games can work and do so on multiple levels, too.
Hitman: Absolution is very accomplished, more than a little brutal and one of the most complex and interesting games in the series to date. If you’re looking for something that will at least give you the option of using your brain, Agent 47 is your man.
Version Tested: Xbox 360