The Original Assassin is back
Back around 2002-2003 I was introduced to the Hitman series with Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. It was a fascinating game to me and one that turned the stealth genre on its ear. Instead of skulking in shadows you hid in plain sight. Each level was a sandbox of potential grisly deaths and solutions in how you navigated levels and took out targets. So here we are in 2012 with Hitman Absolution. 47 has been on quite the hiatus last appearing in 2006’s Hitman:Blood Money.
So the question is... does Absolution live up to the grand tradition of the past Hitman games? I would say it mostly does. Now don’t let the word “mostly” give you pause I think this is a fantastic game but it IS a slightly different game than the past ones. If you played Blood Money you know that most of the game was spent with 47 trying to uncover a plot against the Agency which all ended with a massacre at what was supposed to be 47’s funeral. The stage is set from there the Agency has reassembled and Diana has gone rogue. 47 is tasked with taking out his former handler and this sets the tone for Absolution. Its personal. 47 while always being a bit of a bad-ass and a fairly iconic character has never really shown much if any humanity or empathy. Frankly, it was very refreshing to see a change and an evolution in 47’s character. Its not something I needed from the Hitman series but now that they gave it to me I really applaud their decision to do so. A few caveats however, before you get expectations that this is some grandiose masterpiece that will push storytelling forward in the medium; pump the brakes.
The overall plot is essentially in the same wheelhouse of a Robert Rodriguez or Tarintino film. There are plenty of cheese to be had but thats not to say that the story doesn’t have its poignant moments that actually make you see 47 in a different light because there is also that too. With all these changes to the story comes a change in the game play too. While there is the share of classic hitman missions many missions will task you with straight up sneaking from point A to B as you outrun the Police, The Agency or whatever or whoever is currently pursuing 47. I found myself not hating these sections as there is still plenty of opportunity for improvisation with different routes. However, Hitman is more fun when you are the hunter instead of the prey. Many adjustments have also been made to existing features. The Disguise system has been overhauled. No longer can you just waltz about in a costume. Each costume will will fool everyone else except the people wearing the same costume. For instance, if you wear a police outfit you will have tons of access in most maps but also all the cops will recognize you. While many longtime fans have expressed their dislike of this system it also is more realistic and makes you rely a lot more on actual stealth. In my mind this is a good thing. Hitman is still ostensibly a stealth game and at least personally I felt the costumes in past games in some missions could straight up be a win button in some cases. As an addition to the disguise system the “intuition” system has also been added. This gives 47 the ability to see enemies pathing when they are searching for him as well as showing points of interest in the level. Its an interesting addition that will make it easy for beginning players to adapt to the game. This in can be a bit of an overpowered tool in itself however the ability quickly scales with the difficulty level letting players adjust their experience.
Speaking of difficulty make no mistake this game can be very difficult if you want it to be. The hardest mode “Purist” strips the HUD and the intuition system and checkpoints out leaving you with nothing but a reticule and your stealth skills. After the credit roll there are plenty of reasons to keep Absolution in your disc tray. Each level is scored and has many challenges that confers a permanent bonus to your score. If you have a few friends who are also hitman enthusiasts score chasing and posting your best scores is an enjoyable time. Many times the challenges will surface hints of ways to kill targets that you may never have thought of. If you're a longtime fan like myself who is obsessed with getting Silent Assassin ranks in every level you will be coming back for more. Wait! There is more! For only the price of... nothing Contracts mode is also included! Contracts mode is developer IO response to the Hitman community creating self-made challenges. In past games forum communities on the web would try to create basically “house rules” for hitman games making up pseudo stories and challenging each other to assassinate various other targets not part of the main story progression.
This became so popular that IO noticed this and turned it into its own proper mode. In contracts you get to choose what level you want to create your contract and then mark your targets and kill them. In order to make sure every contract is “possible” to be beaten you are required to play through it yourself once. Many modifiers can be thrown into the mix as well. You want people to do “Suit Only” or how about only subdue or kill the marked targets? Done. Want your friends have to complete your contract in a giant chipmunk outfit with an axe? Also done. There is potential for some real creativity in how people make contracts and beyond the single player stuff this gives Hitman yet another layer of re-play ability. In the end Absolution is an evolution of the franchise without completely abandoning what made it fun in the first place. If you are a Hitman fan you will most likely like it as long as you keep an open mind about some of the changes made. If you are new player there has never been a better time to jump in! As previously noted the game scales incredibly well allowing new players to get used to the game and gradually increase the challenge as desired. If you have the chance give Hitman Absolution a chance its a great experience all the way through. With a pulpy story , sandbox game play and the contracts mode that will keep pulling you back in IO really learned a lot in their time away from the series and it shows.