The very concept of the Hitman franchise is one that capitalizes on the perceived dark side that we all like to entertain from time to time. Professional assassins aren’t necessarily the most likeable of people, but somehow, IO Interactive has had players coming back for more of Agent 47 since he debuted in 2000’s Hitman: Codename 47. Earlier this generation, critics and fans alike lauded 47’s leap to the Xbox 360 through the multi-generational release, Hitman: Blood Money, but it would be six more years — an eternity by present-day AAA franchise standards — before players would be able to get their hands on a new Hitman title.
Hitman: Absolution — A shift in tone, but not in gameplay
Hitman: Absolution starts off just like any other title in the franchise, but soon enough, players will discover how different this story really is. Agent 47 is more off-the-rails than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that players will have a vastly different experience than was had with previous Hitman titles. In Absolution, the story sees 47 staving off potential predators more than any other game in the series. While this could have set the game in a different direction, the missions are still fairly formulaic in that 47 must identify his targets, find a stealthy way to take them out, then exit the level with minimal detection.
An astounding amount of care has gone into creating each map and scenario in the game. Not unlike an action puzzle game, the player must be extremely intentional with each move, as any small misstep has the potential to set off a chain reaction that will send the mission past the point of salvage. The puzzle-like approach that players must take in gameplay makes Hitman: Absolution more than just a violent kill ‘em all title, and puts it in the realm among all well-executed stealth games where the mind is as potent a weapon as the guns the protagonist is wielding.
A more well-equipped 47
The difference in how Hitman: Absolution handles is that this time around, 47 is more well-equipped to stand toe-to-toe with his adversaries than ever before. The shooting mechanics feel much more action-oriented, and with the new Instinct mode, Hitman‘s version of Arkham City‘s Detective mode, Agent 47 is even more unstoppable than in previous games. In Instinct mode, not only can 47 see through walls to identify enemies, targets and points of interest, but also the paths that enemy patrols are likely to take. In this mode, 47 can also activate Point Shooting, which will freeze time momentarily and allow him to select targets that will be executed in one swift sequence once time unfreezes. It could be argued that IO has put a “win” button in a game that has no place for such a mechanic, but Point Shooting uses 47’s Instinct allowance, which must be earned and can be scarce depending on the difficulty of the game is being played.
In a game that is so centered on stealth, enemy AI is a critical part in the overall system. In Hitman: Absolution, the enemies are fairly adept at recognizing when something isn’t quite right, but the methods by which they address the situations are sometimes questionable. Enemy reaction time and methods are also closely linked to the difficulty setting of the game, so the player is very much in control of how realistic they want the challenges to be. The biggest problem experienced with the AI was in a glitch that occurred a couple of times over the course of the campaign playthrough. With this glitch, 47 would successfully hide a body, but when an NPC character would walk by, they would look at the spot where the body was originally sprawled and gasp in horror at the empty sidewalk before raising suspicion to 47’s presence. It wasn’t a glitch that happened frequently by any means, but when it did, it was all but game-breaking.
The storylines of the Hitman series have never been too believable, but with Absolution, the writers went way over the top. From scantily-clad nun assassins (one of whom is voiced by Vivica A. Fox) to a convoluted tale of betrayal, there are enough tongue-in-cheek moments to take players out of what is otherwise a very dark and gritty game. Luckily, the writers included numerous larger-than-life personalities that work extremely well as antagonists for 47 to face-off against.
Contract killing on your own terms
While the campaign is a great way to introduce the player to the world of Hitman: Absolution, the truly devoted will find themselves plunging most of their time into the Contracts mode, which thrives off of user-generated content. The concept is simple: create your own Contract mission, publish it, challenge friends and watch as others try and complete the mission the way you specify. A mode such as this could bring with it the glaring issue of being flooded with impossible-to-complete missions, but IO went to great lengths to prevent this from happening. In order to publish a Contract mission, players have to actually complete the mission themselves.
In order to create a mission, players are dumped into a sandbox where they can mark up to three targets of their choosing. From there, the player will assassinate the target(s) any way they want. After all targets have been taken out and the creator exits the stage, the game will automatically render conditions for bonus points in the Contract based on what feats were accomplished by the creator when he/she initially completed the Contract. This not only ensures that the mission is doable, but also encourages the “anything you can do, I can do better” mentality of completing the same mission with the same goals and parameters.
Hitman: Absolution is a competent entry in the franchise that brings elements from the past and implements them into a more action-oriented experience. Because of the new shooting mechanics, for some, the game will be nothing more than a third-person shooting title with the option for stealth. Purists, however, will find challenges galore as they attempt to navigate the tricky scenarios that the story presents them with. Even after the campaign is over, the cleverly constructed Contracts mode has the potential to bring with it hours upon hours of added playability. Hitman: Absolution is a mixed bag that does enough to please fans of the series while being the most accessible entry to newcomers. When Hitman: Absolution is gets it right, its experience rivals any game released in 2012. Unfortunately, the game strays from those strengths far too often, and the overall experience suffers as a result.
- Release date: November 20, 2012
- Genre: Stealth Action
- Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: IO Interactive
- Publisher: Square Enix
- ESRB Rating: M
- MSRP: $59.99
Our Score: 3.5 / 5
Reviewer’s note: An Xbox 360 retail copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.