IO Interactive have given us Absolution. Should gamers return the favor?
Two years after the headache-inducing atrocity that was Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, IO Interactive have finally released Hitman: Absolution, the fifth installment in the popular series. But does this new entry absolve IO Interactive of their past sins?
The game begins with Agent 47, the titular hitman, having assassinated his former handler, Diana. Stricken with remorse for the first time, 47 obeys her dying wish to find and protect a mysterious young girl named Victoria. The ICA, his former employers, realize he has gone rogue and relentlessly hunt them both throughout the game’s 16-hour campaign. This is a nice change from Contracts and Blood Money, whose storylines were tissue-thin framing devices for a series of unrelated, albeit enjoyable and brilliantly designed, missions told through flashbacks.
Absolution’s plot gives a deeper insight into the character of Agent 47, brought to life through David Bateson’s superb voice acting. He seems more human, subject to the same emotions and impulses we all are, unlike in Blood Money, where it felt more like I was controlling a prim and proper, bald-headed fridge in a fancy suit. His badass, stoic demeanor is still present in Absolution, but toned down to a more believable level so he no longer seems like a robot. However, it seems that this deep characterization only extends to 47 and the main antagonists, as some of the assassination targets are rather bland, and feel more like roadblocks between the few major antagonists. After assassinating a major target, you will then immediately spend the next two or three levels taking out several minor targets. I had no idea who these people were, and only had a very vague idea of why I had to kill them, which rarely amounted to anything more than “because they are the ones in charge of this area” or “to screw with the main guy”.
Due to the nature of the plot, the levels are no longer contracts given by the Agency, but rather more personal, as 47 sets out to eliminate those who are after Victoria. As such, you cannot choose and customize your weapons before each mission; customization is done from the main menu. Instead you start off each level with 47’s trademarked fiber wire, and either his dual silverballer pistols or one random pistol, depending on what was going on in the plot. Additional weapons, such as sniper rifles, submachine guns and shotguns can be had by taking them from enemy corpses or stealing them, like in previous Hitman games. You can also pick up any object in the level, from something as inconspicuous as a bottle or a broken power cord, to a filet knife or even a katana, and use it as a melee weapon.
The levels are smaller and much more linear, and are split up into two or three parts with checkpoints in between. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because while previous games’ sandbox-like environments certainly encouraged more exploration and gave a sense of freedom (which Absolution in no way lacks, I hasten to add), a small mistake would mean the difference between success and failure, forcing you to restart the entire level and carry out your elaborately laid plan all over again. If you fail a mission in Absolution, you can choose to restart from your last checkpoint.
However, the checkpoint system is very badly implemented. On easy and normal difficulty, there are one or two additional checkpoints scattered throughout the level. If you restart at those checkpoints, all the NPCs you killed in that area, with the exception of targets, will respawn even if you hid their corpses. This is frustrating, and discourages exploration and creativity, thus recreating the problem in previous Hitman games.
The iconic feature of the Hitman games is the variety of ways to kill a target, and in this regard Absolution does not disappoint. Do you take the stealthy approach and eliminate him when he is alone, disposing of the corpse afterwards? Or do you rush in, guns blazing, Gears of War style and slaughter everyone in your path? Or, do you lie in wait, studying your target’s habits, and use them to make it look like a tragic accident? This is made slightly easier with the new Instinct mechanic. Instinct gives you access to an ability similar to Eagle Vision and Detective Vision of Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham City fame. With it, you can determine enemy positions, and even which paths they will take, so you can adjust your approach accordingly. Using the Instinct vision on lower difficulties does not deplete the Instinct bar, but on hard mode and above it must be used wisely.
In the world of Hitman, people with the same occupation all seem to know each other on sight, so if you are disguised as a guard and are spotted by other guards, they will grow suspicious of you. Using the Instinct bar, you are able to conceal your face and walk by unnoticed. This depletes the bar on all difficulties. The final Instinct ability at 47’s disposal is Point Shooting. Using this ability slows time to a crawl, allowing you to tag multiple enemies and take them out within seconds, though this rapidly drains Instinct.
Aside from the single player campaign, there is a new multiplayer mode called Contracts. In this mode, players are able to create their own missions for others to play online. However unlike other games, the author of the level has to successfully complete the level themselves in order to make it, so players who find it difficult cannot whinge and claim it is impossible. As you play, you can mark up to three targets from any NPC on the map and set certain conditions for players, such as what weapon is used to kill the target and how the player was disguised, whether you hid all the bodies and whether or not you were spotted. Of course, there are national and global leaderboards for players to see where they rank. Players can also set up competitions with their friends in contracts mode, which can last up to three days, to see who is the deadliest assassin. It provides additional hours of gameplay to the single player’s already lengthy campaign.
As amazingly fun and immersive as the game is, it is not without its faults. They should probably have borrowed Arkham City’s combat mechanics along with its Detective Vision. While the shooting and stealth mechanics work perfectly fine, the hand-to-hand combat is a joke. Once you engage an enemy, you have to go through a short series of quick time events. It is a lazy, rushed attempt at a combat mechanic, and is a major disappointment when compared to titles such as Assassin’s Creed 3 and Square Enix’s own Sleeping Dogs. A few glitches made their way into Absolution, as well; I noticed that in both the single player campaign and multiplayer Contracts mode, upon completing a mission the game would say I received X amount of money, but when I went to buy upgrades for my weapons, my offshore account would be at zero. As far as I know, this glitch has only appeared on the PlayStation 3 version, but it appears to have been patched at the time of this writing. The game has also occasionally frozen on me, and once a cutscene even triggered with no audio or subtitles.
Despite these flaws, Hitman: Absolution is a superb game, and a solid buy. Its open-world missions are a refreshing change from shooters that constantly hold your hand and force you to stay in line at all times. The graphics are amazingly detailed, and the music and sound effects immerse you deeply into the game. Step into the slick shoes of the original assassin, and take care of business.