Agent 47’s return has been a long time coming. Hitman: Absolution brings the professional assassin back to his craft, six years after Hitman: Blood Money helped defined the series; achieving widespread critical acclaim. The Hitman franchise took a few titles to find its stride before disappearing from the radar like the ICA agent himself, only to re-emerge with IO Interactive back at the helm for what has been touted as the ultimate Hitman experience to date. Does Absolution hit its mark with pinpoint precision?
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Players: Single-Player, Asynchronous Multi-Player
Genre: Stealth, Third-Person Shooter
Release: (INT) November 20th, 2012
Hitman: Absolution begins with Agent 47 caught in a moral dilemma, assigned the task of taking out former International Contract Agency handler and once friend Diana Burnwood, who for unknown reasons has decided to turn rogue against the agency. From here Absolution trickles details, taking players through a series of sinister conspiracies and mission-based assassinations all in the name of good old fashion bloodshed as the story unfolds.
Much like previous Hitman titles, Absolution retains a strong emphasis on stealth and ‘clean’ execution. Points, rewards and unlocks are awarded based on how efficient Agent 47 dispatches his targets as he carries out his assigned hits, penalising players on factors such as unnecessary casualties and less than stealthy conduct. Missions can be completed in numerous methods with no one; clean-cut way of going about business.
Agent 47 is well-known for his trademark branded silverballers and fibrewire, both making a return in Absolution along with sniper rifles, assorted pistols, knives and various unlockable instruments of death to make killing even more appealing. Environments are littered with objects which can be weaponised to subdue or kill, depending on the mood you’re in. This is one of the glowing components of Absolution where a world of possibilities is open to you. Go for the more unorthodox approach and bludgeon an unaware goon with a good novel, or be conventional and equip the silverballers for a quick headshot or two.
As fun as violence against faceless henchmen is, the real appeal of Absolution lays in what you don’t do. Less is more in this game as IO Interactive places strong prominence on stealth, directing players to kill without being seen; in as minimal steps possible, before vanishing through a well-placed exit as if Agent 47 was never there at all. Comparable to an intense game of chess, missions can boil down to a series of well-timed moves. Create a distraction and in that instance, take full advantage of the window of opportunity afforded to you. Disable a wandering guard and disguise yourself in their clothes to snoop around with reduced risk. Such scenarios can offer significant replay value as completionists will find plenty to mull over; particularly on how best to maximise their score and effectiveness.
If creeping about in the shadows isn’t for you, Absolution introduces the Instinct ability. Agent 47 years of finely-honed skills translates into almost supernatural abilities, able to perceive walking paths, spot guards through walls, as well as execute multiple headshots in a blink of an eye with his Point-Shooting technique, as if something out of The Matrix. Purists to the series may find Instinct an unwelcome addition however it does turn gunplay into an adrenaline charged experience most players will delight in performing again and again. Watching targets take a headshot and rag-dolling is surprisingly entertaining, even if in a demented kind of way.
Controls are responsive and easy enough to get into once the introduction tutorial is done and dusted, but ill-mapped keys can transform a simple task into something of a hair-pulling experience. For reasons unbeknownst, the dump body and pick up weapon option is mapped to the same button! This doesn’t sound like much of an issue in theory, yet in practice can creates frustration in some very tense moments. In a situation where a weapon is still equipped to an incapacitated body, Agent 47 at times doesn’t understand whether a player wants to switch weapons or pick up and dump a body. Frantically button pressing between the two options with an oncoming guard can’t be healthy for the old ticker.
Unfortunately Absolution does lose points for lacking a dedicated multiplayer experience. The mouth-watering prospect of having ICA assassins taking on other assassins could have added an extra dimension to the franchise and make Absolution a killer game (pun intended). Apart from the ‘Professional’ campaign mode, Absolution also packs a Contract mode for players to create their own missions with specified criteria, challenging friends and other players to complete. The builder tool is easy enough to grasp and creates a fun distraction but Contract mode can only go so far, even if it is an exceptional display of initiative on IO Interactive’s part to include the DIY builder to begin with.
IO Interactive have upped the ante in the visual department, employing the propriety powerhouse Glacier 2 engine to handle the visual demands; and realise their creative vision like never before. Built from the ground up, IO Interactive has claimed Glacier 2 is capable of handling up to 1,200 characters on current generation consoles. From my play experience, this is most evident in the Chinatown stage where we find Agent 47 pushing through a bustling street crowd.
It’s an awe-inspiring feat of technical wizardry as the crowd responds to Agent 47 brushing up against strangers in a less than pleasant manner. Despite the processing demand, there was no noticeable screen tearing or slow-downs for me to nitpick at, only a sense of agoraphobia from the sheer amount of people moving on screen, all at the same time.
Hitman: Absolution builds on the solid ground work of Blood Money, bar a few flaws in Agent 47’s finely pressed suit and a six year hiatus. Fun factor, freedom to play at your own pace; and in your own style is refreshing, keeping to the concept of the franchise. New features may deviate the Hitman series away from the original design and the overall replay longevity of Absolution is questionable, but if you’re after a truly stealth-based gaming experience, it’s hard to look past the well-dressed, barcode branded baldie as one of this generation’s finest example of how to assassinate in style.
8.0 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.