If you’re like me, you probably couldn’t wait until November 20th. Ever since Hitman was announced, I patiently waited to pick this game. The series took a very lengthy break since Blood Money, but even back then, it was a cult classic. Now, Agent 47 is back, he has a lot more tools up his sleeve and seems to have caught up with the times. Is his return a triumphant ballet of death or should he have planned out his approach with a lot more care?
From the start, it becomes clear that Absolution is a fairly ambitious project. The commitment to narrative is evident, although it does fall apart a few places. 47 is back in the employ of “the Agency” even though things didn’t end too well for both parties last time out. Don’t worry, it won’t stay. Right away, you’re tasked with killing your long time handler Diana Burnwood who flipped on your employer and shacked up somewhere with a little girl know as Victoria. After killing Diana 47 suddenly has a change of heart and decides to protect Victoria from the Agency and other handlers.
This is the first time that hitman himself shows any sort of emotional resonance through the story. The game tries hard to paint him as a more human character through his relationship with Victoria, and at places it works. Unfortunately, sometimes the story veers too far off its path, throwing in some head scratching moments and characters. It is clear that the inspiration is very noir, very gritty and it tries to keep that tone. Unfortunately, certain sections simply do not have good enough writing to keep it up.
Voice work is great as IO recruited some top notch talent for the game. Everyone handles their parts sublimely, even though some of the bigger names aren’t given as much to do as you’d expect. The in-game audio is where sound truly shines. Closed doors muffle the blare of the dance floor and opening them assaults you with loud music right away. These kinds of transitions help to set up the ambiance of a living, breathing world as 47 goes about his business.
Visually, the game is up to par with most of the modern shooters. Character models aren’t the best, but they are passable and the small details on certain characters certainly look good. Where the Glacier 2 engine really does shine is the environments. The lighting interplay between shadows is great, as it should be in most stealth games. Most of the places you visit will have an abundance of little touches to them to make you marvel. The most jaw dropping element is still the crowds. Absolution is able to squeeze an unbelievable amount of NPC into any given environment. Whether it’s a packed subway platform or a strip club dance floor, there are plenty of people walking around.
The gameplay is where IO takes the most liberties, but the core mechanics that made Hitman so fun are still there. Because of the commitment to the story, not every mission will have an assassination target and larger levels will be broken down into smaller, isolated sections. Often, you will find you’ll need to get from point A to point B a few times then assassinate a target and then get from point A to point B again. All in their own small isolated levels. It’s interesting to see 47 concerned with something else aside from killing, and gives you a nice breather, but it also eliminates some of the great assassination moments on each level.
Assassinations, as expected is what you’ll have the most fun with in Absolution. All of the core elements are there. You can approach every kill as quickly or as methodically as you choose. There are plenty of options on every level to take care of your opponent. You can always go in guns blazing, or snipe from a distance. Those looking for more of a challenge may want to get up close and personal to garrote the victim. Then there are the accident kills here you can sabotage a stove and then shoot the gas to explode, rig a fence to electrocute a poor sob, or even push someone into tar. The choice is yours.
The game will rate you on everything, with the ever elusive “Silent Assassin” rating being the highest accolade. The achieve that you’ll have to be extra careful, study the guards patrols and use appropriate disguises to get the drop on all of your targets. This time around, 47 has some new tricks too. New to the game is instinct mode, a depleting bar that serves as detective mode did in Arkham games. It highlights points of interest, key targets and guard patrol routes. You can also turn it on to do point shooting (kind of like the Red Dead system of quick shot) if you choose to go in guns blazing. Instinct meter also helps you with your disguises. It depletes though, and you only earn it back by completing mission objectives.
47 still maintains the ability to change into almost any outfit he finds, and for the most part it works fairly well, but at times it’s just baffling. It is safe to assume that a close knit group of security guards would know most of their coworkers on sight. In which case you will usually have to it the instinct button for 47 to cover his face. Where it falls apart though is where every Chicago cop will instantly recognize you as an impostor. Or better yet, there is a level where you deal with masked goons. When you kill one and put on the outfit, 47 forgets to put on the gas mask, and as such remains visibly identifiable. In what world would a professional assassin not put on a gas mask to gain free access to the area? Seriously.
Moments like that do break you out of the game, that and sometimes dumb-folded AI. On lower difficulty levels the AI will sometimes not react to you being suspicious right in front of their nose. Sometimes they will act unaware to your very presence. You can often rectify this issue by raising the difficulty. It will decrease your instinct, put more enemies on the map and overall make the game a whole lot more challenging. The AI will be noticeably smarter, but the game will place all of the extra characters in locations that would borderline on unfair making certain points on the map damn near un-accessible. Oh, and there are quick time events. I don’t like quick time events.
Those with extra masochistic tendencies can play on “purist” mode. It takes away all of the HUD elements and the map, which makes some levels down right confusing. Because you never know how much instinct you have left, disguises will often be useless to you (as you’ll most likely be wearing a disguise worn by all other NPCs in the area (leading most of them to recognize you on site). You’ll rely on instinct to find your objectives, which on the larger levels, will once again prove impossible at the least. It’s the right idea for a higher challenge, but the execution is not the best.
The multiplayer component comes in the form of a highly engaging Contracts mode. You can access most single player maps and create your own assassination contracts on up to any of the 3 NPCs on each map. You can then chose how you deal with those contracts to set the time and score limit as well as any specific conditions for each. It is then up to the world to beat your score. Surprisingly, this was one of the most fun parts of the game. The creativity some people put into their contracts went through the roof as some even put together amazing narratives to go along with the set up. Contracts breathes life into Absolution like no other mode before.
Verdict: The game is not without its problems, and when they happen you can’t help but cringe. At its core however it remains a highly enjoyable title that we’ve come to expect from the Hitman franchise. The assassination missions are packed with content and you will have hours of fun discovering every which way you can skin a cat. Contracts mode unleashes the creativity of the most devoted fans and breathes a new level of life into the game. It’s fun and it’s highly addictive, and yes, you should definitely play it.