Hitman: Absolution Review (Xbox360)

It’s weird watching game worlds get smaller as technology gets better: it’s no surprise that early footage of Hitman: Absolution showed a game that was more linear and ‘corridor’-like than previous iterations, as the reality isn’t so far from the truth. Settings and locales have been scaled down, levels are broken up into stages and sections, some of which involve you simply going from A to B, others that involve you killing someone, and it gives off a very compartmentalised feel to everything. I’m sure IO would argue that there’s less space, but more detail, but almost from the off fans of the original games may be disappointed by the onset of ‘modern’ gaming.

To be honest, Absolution is a bit of a weird game in general – if you take various components individually, there are a lot of fun and unique elements to the game. Start to look at it as a whole product though, and you can’t help but feel as emotionally detached as the people you end up killing. It’s way more narrative driven than any of the previous games, and that has a natural effect on where you go, and what you do when you get there.

Pffft, Noob. Always go for the silent kill.

The basic premise you already know (and if you don’t, you’re told before even starting the game): Diana, your ever so faithful handler from previous instalments, goes rogue and it’s your job to go kill her. This is actually taken care of right at the beginning of the game (and serves as the tutorial), but the events immediately following sparks off a grand adventure of conspiracies, betrayals, and Agent 47’s own personal journey for truth and moral absolution as you Garrotte as many people as possible.

Which seems like a bit of wasted effort really, as a moral journey for someone like Agent 47 is about as relevant as what the Master Chief face looks like. As logical as it is for IO to want to finally give some character to their stoic mass-murderer, the narrative in Absolution pulls you through without really engaging you, with the end result being similar to when you’re forced to watch a slightly naff/preachy film. Even IO’s attempt to engage you in the moral undercurrent of the world is half-hearted – do you kill this guy before he kills that civilian? Do you kill a son for the sins of his father? Considering gamers have spent years getting used to the morally detached mentally of Agent 47, it’s a bit jarring to suddenly find out that you’re supposed to care about what you’re doing.

Absolution’s biggest triumph is also its biggest weakest – the Rating system. As you go from mission to mission, section to section, you’re given a score based on how well you perform depending on what you do. Completing objectives gives you a lot of points, as does completing them in style. Being spotted is bad, as is killing non-critical targets and civilians, and so on. It’s an addictive and utterly compelling and the bane of my life and wonderful, just like a good score-attack mode should be. Your score gets further modified by completing in-game challenges, which also serve as a hint as to what you can possible do in the game. Usually these only add a 5% modifier, but if you complete enough of them you can really rack up the points.

It’s not possible to get all the challenges all in one go either, so there’s added replay value for certain segments (the boring ones remain boring, no matter how many challenges they throw in). The weakness here is how it proscribes the points. Being spotted or having your disguise blown results in a pretty hefty negative, and the OCD among you (which, by the time you finish with this game will be all of you) will probably want to start the section again just to get that ‘perfect’ run. However self-imposed, it does lead to frequent frustration and several ‘trial’ runs just so you can get a lay of the land before restarting and doing it ‘properly’. Which feels like cheating, in a way.

Yeah, these ladies are actually in the game, just FYI. I’ll leave you to form your own opinions on that one.

Speaking of cheating, let’s talk about instinct for a second. My instinct tells me I shouldn’t really be very happy with the Instinct feature – it also feels a little too much like cheating, in a way. In short, it’s a fillable power bar that that has two main functions: It allows you to perceive enemies through walls and objects, and highlights things of note (it can also show the paths roaming NPC’s will take, but that can be switched off), and it lets you blend into crowds better and avoid suspicion.

NPC’s who are of the same ‘type’ as the disguise you are using get suspicious if you get too close, but provided you have enough instinct you can just hold the button down to walk past them with ease. The former part isn’t so bad – it makes sense as far as context goes and is actually pretty useful, but the blending thing… it seems like a too convenient way to get around mechanics that are designed to force you to think more carefully about what you’re doing. In previous games, a guard guarding a door you need to get through would be considered a puzzle you need to solve. In Absolution, provided you have instinct (to be fair, the availability of instinct differs on higher difficulties), you can simply walk past him and on to the next challenge. Personally, I felt bad every time I had to use it.

Absolution isn’t just about the single-player though – IO has provided asynchronous multiplayer in the form of ‘Contracts’ mode, which is their answer to user-generated content (Word to the wise: you need a pass code in order to access it. Second-hand buyers beware). In essence, you choose any level or section from the main game, and you play through it once to set up the ‘Contract’ – you get to choose up to three targets in the level out of all the available NPC, and you can take them out in any way you want.

One of the ‘moral’ quandaries that was mentioned – do you help him or just move on?

The game will then record all of the specifics and lets you decide which conditions you want to keep, and then the whole thing is saved and pushed online to your friends and/or the rest of the internet. They can either try and do it the same way you did (if it was especially wonderful/hard) or simply try and beat your score. You can even set up competitions between a select group of friends, and IO themselves will be sorting through all the user-made contracts and promoting especially dastardly ones. It’s a decent mode, the only thing we could say is that it’s a shame they’re only keeping it to existing levels in the single-player. It’s a hard balance between giving gamers tools to create their own content and it being so complicated that only a handful of people actually bother, but there’s still room for expansion here.

So, Hitman: Absolution then. IO would maintain until the day they die at the hands of a hitman that it’s a game full of choices. On one level that’s true, but if some choices are really choices that no sane person (or someone wanting to do things ‘properly’) then is it really a choice? This game has its share of interesting and mundane sections, and whilst it does a few key set-pieces quite brilliantly, on a whole it’s a fairly underwhelming experience. It’s hard to really give a final say as to whether or not you should buy it – maybe if you can find it cheap? The Contracts mode is really what’s going to keep this game going though, so perhaps we’ll see some interesting content and updates appear there in the months following release.

Top Game Moment: There was one particularly interesting set piece that involved killing someone who was in the middle of a wrestling match. Shame that kind of set up isn’t consistent throughout.

Platform Played: Xbox 360



By noobst3R (SI Core) on Nov 19, 2012
I was so excited for it, but like I feared, and you feared, 'modern gaming' caught up with it. When did they did the first gameplay demo I literally shouted "What the f*ck is that see-through vision doing there? We don't need Batman's Detective Mode!".

I'm sure this will be fun, but still sad that it broke away from the formula that made the previous four game so awesome.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 19, 2012
I see a pretty good game, but not a good hitman game. Dissapointed in that :/
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 20, 2012
Thanks Joe, an enjoyable review to read.
The Instinct system you describe doesn't sound too much like cheating if you look at it from another perspective. Like the time John Dillinger walked into the Chicago Police Station, at the height of his infamy (in fact the day preceding the evening in which he was gunned down), proceeded past all of the cops and into the Detective Bureau of Investigation's (later to be the FBI) Dillinger Squad Office, walked around looking at various items and even spoke with several detectives present. The only disguise, a moustache, not really a disguise at all. Perhaps it is meant to reflect something like this, but then I haven't played this particular title, only two previous titles and must admit my impatience over puzzles usually got the better of me and I cheated.
Definitely worth a look in the near future, on PC though, naturally.