I play a lot of video games throughout the year as you might imagine, but when I got the confirmation from Square Enix that a review copy of Hitman: Absolution was on its way, I was excited to say the least. I’m a huge fan of the Hitman franchise and consider it to be one of the few true stealth franchises. Everything I had seen up until now lead me to believe that even though Agent 47 had been gone for a while, he hadn’t lost a step. I’m glad to report that not only has he not lost a step, he’s learned a few new tricks.
Hitman: Absolution is the most personal look into the man that is Agent 47 that we have ever gotten. This is the first time in the franchise where it’s not all business in terms of his targets. This time around, Agent 47 is working for himself to keep a promise he made to his longtime friend and handler, Diana. The circumstances under which that promise was made was one that I’ll admit shocked me, but then again this is Hitman we are talking about. In terms of the story, its well paced and solid even if it isn’t extremely imaginative. To be honest, considering how objective based previous games have been, this may be the most complete and compelling story in the series to date. Let’s be honest though, the Hitman franchise is one of the few franchises that doesn’t need a superior story to deliver an excellent experience. In Hitman, it’s all about the gameplay.
At the beginning of my playthrough I got frustrated and was beginning to form the opinion that the franchise had lost something, had gotten away from what made it great. After playing a bit more, I figured out that there was nothing wrong with the game, it was me. In our current gaming environment, Hitman has no equal in terms of the skill, patience, and strategy that must be combined to achieve success. With that being the case, I discovered that I had become lazy, expecting things to be able to be accomplished faster and easier. But that’s not how Hitman is played, no Hitman is played in precisely the opposite fashion. Once I gave myself a good talking to, the game and its beautiful possibilities suddenly came alive right before my very eyes. The new “Instinct” capability allows you to see different things of interest in your environment and while some folks may find it extremely handy, I hardly ever used it for anything other than confirming my targets and staying hidden when enemies got suspicious.
Once I started to slow down and really think about my objective, I started to see things that I hadn’t seen before. No matter how impossible a mission seems in terms of pulling it off without a hitch, if you look around you it can be done. I’m not saying you won’t die a few times as you develop the right approach to a mission because you will but once you figure it out and it all comes together it’s absolutely beautiful. To truly become a silent assassin, you have to fully explore each map (most have pretty big secrets if you look), learn the guard patterns, and then strike with precision and decisiveness.
Now on to the part you really want to know about, the assassinations. Every target in Hitman: Absolution can be killed in a multitude of ways. Ultimately, it comes down to how much finesse do you want to have. In a lot of situations, it’s fairly easy once you learn your targets movements to get them in a secluded area and take them out via obvious methods such as a bullet to the head, a choke out with 47’s handy garotte, or an always effective neck snap. These methods work and will achieve the primary objective but if you want the big points, you’ve got to be more creative. The truly silent assassin eliminates his target and nobody even knows there was a hit at all. In this cases, the poor guy just had a terrible “accident”. Every mission has what are known as Signature Kills, these often take some doing but are extremely satisfying when executed.
I was so happy to hear that Hitman: Absolution didn’t have multiplayer because I just don’t think that every game needs a multiplayer. What Hitman: Absolution does have for you after you’ve finished the main story is Contracts mode. Contracts mode allows you to create assassination challenges and then share them with the rest of the world. The mode is excellent and just the kind of thing that a game like Hitman needs, it expands replayability but fits the overall theme of the game and I think the folks at IO Interactive should be commended for that. They could have shoved in another shoot em multiplayer mode but that just wouldn’t be the Hitman way now would it. Contracts mode will have folks busy for a long while as those who may be more talented at creating than playing vie to create the toughest contracts and those extremely talented assassins will try to conquer those contracts.
For all the things that Hitman: Absolution gets right, there were a few areas I felt could have had improvement. My biggest issue was with the scoring system which gives you almost immediate feedback on how you are playing, either gaining points for ultra stealthy gameplay or losing points for doing non-stealth things such as being spotted or killing non-targets, even if they are enemies. From time to time you will find a disguise just lying around but the majority of the time its a lot easier to quickly take out a guard and steal his clothes. It doesn’t matter whether he sees you or not, or whether you kill or subdue him, you will lose points. I know what the best assassin’s try to keep collateral damage to a minimum, but I feel like if you sneak up on someone, subdue/kill them, and then hide the body that should be considered a non-penalty action.
The other beef I had with Hitman: Absolution was disguises. Disguises are often times the only way to get into certain areas but they aren’t risk free this time around. Disguises only completely work against people that are not part of whatever group that disguise is for. For instance, if you put on a cop disguise, everyone except other cops will be completely fooled. Cops on the other hand can see through your disguise if you get to close to them for too long. I understand the need to not make disguises too powerful but the method they took hurts the immersion and suspension of disbelief. There will be times where you are in a disguise and its possible that everyone knows each other and in that case I could understand them noticing someone different. In other cases though, there is no reasonable way to assume all the folks in that group could know each other in which case I don’t think that enemies should be able to see through your disguise.
In the end, neither of these two criticism do a lot to take away from what is another great installment in the Hitman franchise. Hitman: Absolution stays true to the core gameplay that gave it a huge following while introducing several new features that continue to drive the franchise forward. If you are a Hitman fan like me then I think that you will be extremely satisfied, though if you are new to the franchise I would advise you to be cautious, this is not a game for everyone. If you aren’t an extremely patient person, then this game may frustrate you more than anything though that has been true of every Hitman game. Bottom line, Agent 47 is back and better than ever.