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Hitman: Absolution Review

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Hitman: Absolution tries a few things differently than the games that came before it. Some don't work, but the ones that do are terrific.

What kind of Hitman are you? Are you the slow, stealthy type? The kind that likes to spend a lot of time gathering intel and studying your environment before springing your ultimate Mouse Trap? Or do you prefer the quick, efficient method, looking for the cleanest kill you can pull before anyone suspects something might be up? The good news for those interested in Hitman: Absolution, the fifth game in Io Interactive's contract killer franchise, is that this latest sequel still caters to your interests, no matter what they might be. Be it elaborate or unassuming, stealthy or confrontational, your play style is represented in Absolution.

Agent 47 is back in action, though this time he's the one being hunted.

It's in the remaining details that Absolution differs from its predecessors. Io makes some attempts to invest you more in Absolution's plot and the greater Hitman mythology this time around, some of which are successful, some less so. That said, whatever missteps the story might take largely pale in comparison to the wealth of replay value contained within Absolution. If your favored thing is coming up with increasingly creative ways to kill just about anybody, then Absolution is absolutely your huckleberry. Also, maybe seek professional help.

In Absolution, the series inviolable bar-coded protagonist, Agent 47, is back for another round of contract murderin', though this time the target is more personal. The game opens with 47 assigned to extinguish his longtime Agency handler Diana. She's reportedly turned rogue, simultaneously exposing the Agency's misdeeds to the public and kidnapping a teenage girl who is extremely important to the Agency's new head, a bloated, loathsome man who looks a little bit like Nick Offerman after a few decades on the bottle.

47 dutifully does his task, but upon reaching Diana in her highly secured, out-of-the-way mansion (I guess she stole a bunch of money, too?), he suddenly has a change of heart. This is, of course, weird. 47 even having a heart is rather out of character, given his generally machine-like personality. He goes through with the assassination, but suddenly he's willing to toss aside his duties to the Agency when he learns that the girl Diana had absconded with is some kind of genetically engineered Indigo Child.

Suddenly, everyone's out for 47's head, and he's on the run. It's an interesting change of pace for the series, which has largely kept you focused on individual jobs as part of a larger plot, as opposed to one continuous flight without breaks in-between. Here, there are no mission load-outs, no preparations to speak of ahead of your next mission. You're going from place to place, sometimes absent any weapons (including your patented Silver Ballers, which get taken away in multiple scenes), just looking for whatever's useful to you in order to get to your target.

It's a neat approach only somewhat kneecapped by the general stupidity of the plot. In order to get 47 into some of those situations, he has to do some remarkably dumb things that seem wildly out of character for him. Granted, it's probably not easy trying to conceptualize ways to put a man so incredibly rooted in routine and precision out of his element, but Io mostly skips the hard parts of that process by just making him fall for brazenly obvious traps or attack guys he has absolutely no business attacking.

Dear Io Interactive: We get it. You like Robert Rodriguez movies. Can we not do this again?

Io plays with a lot of different concepts throughout the story, mixing sci-fi, action movie, and grindhouse tropes into a kind of over-flavored slurry. It introduces too many characters, many of which are largely incidental in the grander scheme of things, and sometimes are just plain distracting. You've undoubtedly seen or heard about the trailer featuring 47 smoking a bunch of sexy nuns with automatic weaponry. Those nuns are in the game, yet only for a couple of scenes and never do much of consequence, save but to act as more highly trained bad people for you to dispatch. Why Square Enix even bothered to pay Vivica A. Fox the money to voice the lead nun is bizarre, but then, this is the company that also paid Emma Stone to voice a barely-remembered girlfriend character in Sleeping Dogs, so who knows?

Fortunately, there are also multiple memorable villains to work against that don't require sexy nun costumes to be interesting. Travis, the slovenly, perpetually angry Agency head, is voiced with snarling, slurring aplomb by Powers Boothe. And then there's Blake Dexter, a rootin', tootin' South Dakota arms dealer who actor Keith Carradine plays a bit like a mix of Christoper Walken in The Rundown and the Texas oilman from The Simpsons. Dexter is an amazing combination of sociopathic disregard and narcissistic opulence. He's basically a hilarious Bond villain, complete with his own freakishly huge bodyguard, who appears to have been genetically engineered into a cross between Danny Trejo and Giant Gonzalez.

These villains largely take the place of your usual contract kills. The in-game targeting system still works largely as you'd expect, plopping you down in the middle of an environment, and tasking you with finding a way to dispatch your targets with as little collateral damage as possible. These levels are still the playgrounds of death you may remember from the earlier games, though in several instances they do feel a bit more confined. More interestingly, some aren't really even about assassination. In several instances, you'll find yourself simply trying to escape an area without being detected. In those cases, discretion is the better part of valor, though incidental kills can be made without failing the mission. Instead, your end-of-level score diminishes with each non-target kill.

This is the crux of the Hitman: Absolution experience. You kill, you're scored for it, and you move on. In most cases, getting a high score isn't exceptionally difficult, as the AI has a tendency toward the dumber side of the spectrum, and will often let you get away with little foibles that would probably get you immediately arrested or murdered in real life. That never quite goes away, even on the higher difficulty levels, though it does improve.

47 is also aided by instinct, a new, drainable meter that takes effect at the press of a button. Enacting instinct lets 47 see the enemies around him, even through walls and on other floors. It also acts as a way to help blend into the crowd. Pressing the instinct button allows you to walk past those who might see through your disguise, while simultaneously draining the meter. Instinct also fuels your "point shooting" mechanic, which is essentially just the sort of "point, tag, shoot" mechanic that's been showing up with increasing frequency in modern shooters. It's handy, though, albeit sometimes a bit too effective.

For those who come to Hitman games simply looking for creatively elaborate ways to kill, Absolution offers myriad delights. Every mission has a collection of solutions to sift through, many of which won't seem terribly obvious on your first play-through. Fortunately, Absolution is a game that invites replays, even while you're in mission. Checkpoints are set up in such a way that I rarely found myself having to replay too many sections when I died, or was simply unsatisfied with the result of my actions. Yes, it's trial and error, but it's Hitman's brand of trial and error that's always been there. If anything, I found Absolution easier to get into than many of its predecessors.

Contracts mode lets you design your own missions for other players, with either an eye for the challenging or the absurd.

Playing through the campaign will likely take you between 10 and 20 hours, depending on play style and difficulty. Each mission is generally bite-sized enough to warrant multiple plays for higher scores and discovering more unlockable disguises and weapons. You'll want those too, since they can be used in the new Contracts mode.

Contracts is Absolution's multiplayer, and it is a minor gem. Asynchronously, players can compete against one another in missions effectively designed by the players. Sure, you're using the already included missions as templates, but you're picking the target. It can be anyone in a given mission, and the ways you can customize how players must proceed is quite cool. You can determine what disguise a player must wear, and even exactly how the target must be killed. Completing Contracts missions gives you more in-game money to spend, as well as leaderboard scores.

Though you don't need to get into Contracts to enjoy Hitman: Absolution, it helps. The campaign can be a lot of fun, but not every mission is a winner, and Io's hokey plotting does it no favors. Still, Absolution is a distinctive game, both visually and mechanically. It feels like its own thing, while still hewing toward many of the concepts people grew to like about this series over the years. And now those concepts have been put in a competitive arena that's as fun as anything the series has done in single-player since the series' inception. Longtime Hitman fans will undoubtedly be put off by some of the changes Io has made here, but if you're willing to dig a little deeper, you'll find a game that's as rewarding as any Hitman prior.

Alex Navarro on Google+
88 Comments
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Posted by PulledaBrad

ALEX HAS BEEN SWAYED BY MCV!

Posted by radioactivez0r

Reviews seem all over the place for this right now. Will check it out later, after I've tried Blood Money.

Posted by pompouspizza

I got the game a day early, huge Hitman fan and I'm loving it, although my OCD is driving me crazy so i feel like I'm always restarting checkpoints because I can't be seen by anyone.

Posted by beepmachine

Agent 47's eyebrows are OUT OF CONTROL.

Posted by Phatmac

Those stupid sexy nuns are realllllly making it difficult for me to buy this game.

Posted by jimmyfenix

oh hell yeah

Posted by UberExplodey

Yay!

Posted by Oni

Playing this in an hour or so when it unlocks over here, very curious now with all the mixed reviews. I'm in the "played Blood Money an insane amount of time" camp, as my S-Rank will attest. I love the free-form nature of it, and this sounds less so from what I've heard.

Posted by mracoon

The reviews for this game are so mixed. I'll probably get it when it's a lower price because I don't have time to play it anytime soon.

Moderator
Posted by TzarStefan

I fucking love this game <3

Posted by Nictel

Seems you either love the good parts so much that they overcome the bad parts. Or you hate the bad parts so much that nothing can fix it. Will know for myself in about a day.

Posted by Incapability

Ever since the first game, I've been a big fan of the series. I'm looking forward to trying this newest installment - my impression is, that either the most, or the most outspoken, of the fan base is allergic to both innovation and fun, though.

I think this was a well-written review, one of the better ones I've read. Regardless of what the game turns out to be when I get my hands on it, I'm convinced I'm going to have fun with it.

Posted by LKPOWER

It unlocks for me on steam in a few hours I can't wait!!!

Posted by DeF

@Phatmac said:

Those stupid sexy nuns are realllllly making it difficult for me to buy this game.

if you're buying this because of anything related to story you're buying it for the wrong reasons. the mission "puzzle" is what this series is all about.

Posted by Ghost_Cat

If I'm not mistaken, the whole world always had mix feelings of each Hitman title. It's just a really unique game that players love and wishing it did something differently. In the end, they all have a signature feel of cat-and-mouse gameplay that is fun, no matter what changes IO made, or how they go about plot and structure.

Posted by dropabombonit

Good review. My copy should show up tomorrow, got it for £31 off shopto

Posted by fox01313

Good review Alex, will definitely be checking this one out as was going to wait for reading a bunch of the reviews to see how it is. Wonder what Ryan will think of this & probably find out on the bombcast.

Posted by Bourbon_Warrior

Conan already sold me on this with the "IM A SCARECROW IN A FIELD MOTHERFUCKER!"

Posted by Phatmac

@DeF said:

@Phatmac said:

Those stupid sexy nuns are realllllly making it difficult for me to buy this game.

if you're buying this because of anything related to story you're buying it for the wrong reasons. the mission "puzzle" is what this series is all about.

I'm buying it for sure. Those stupid nuns are just making it difficult for me to be okay with my purchase.

Posted by Branthog

All the stuff I've read about Hitman has been contrary to the few statements I've read saying about how you get so much variety and choice and player-agency in this game.

In fact, the sentiment over the weekend from reviews I'd read were pretty much "holy shit, this game pretty much takes the choices away from you, puts the weapons it wants you to use in the locations it conveniently wants you to use them and playing any way other than stealthy is not condoned by the game and is countered by negative scoring".

Can someone explain the absolutely bi-polar reviews from the overall gaming community on this? I dont' mean "why do some love it and some dont", but "why do some say the game has exactly the features others say it is lacking"?

Posted by tourgen

great! Thanks for the review. I'm going to pick this up now. It sounds like fun

Posted by x0mb13

I like to see that there is a divide in reviews for this game. Most of the negative reviews I am reading are complaining about the story or how boring and frustrating the stealth action is. This actually excites me, I was worried this game would be focus tested into just another action shooter the way the last Splinter Cell was. If people are bitching about the stealth that probably means it is still challenging and that's what I come to this game for. After Splinter Cell completely killed itself I was worried we wouldn't get anymore of these types of stealth games.

Posted by Devildoll

As long as the silent assassin award is still proper, I'm in.

anyone know how that's handled in this game? i mean, can you kill a lot of innocents and still get it ? or is it like the prior games where you have to be a ninja?

Posted by Sylinder

Already got burned on Max Payne 3 and that made me want to never ever buy another " one of these" games again.

Posted by RVonE

@Bourbon_Warrior said:

Conan already sold me on this with the "IM A SCARECROW IN A FIELD MOTHERFUCKER!"

That was fantastic!

Posted by DystopiaX

@Branthog said:

All the stuff I've read about Hitman has been contrary to the few statements I've read saying about how you get so much variety and choice and player-agency in this game.

In fact, the sentiment over the weekend from reviews I'd read were pretty much "holy shit, this game pretty much takes the choices away from you, puts the weapons it wants you to use in the locations it conveniently wants you to use them and playing any way other than stealthy is not condoned by the game and is countered by negative scoring".

Can someone explain the absolutely bi-polar reviews from the overall gaming community on this? I dont' mean "why do some love it and some dont", but "why do some say the game has exactly the features others say it is lacking"?

Some dude at some website whose name I forget wrote this really long thing about how the guy who wrote the PC Gamer review didn't know what he was talking about and listed some specific things (doors leaving missions as goals was in Blood Money too, checkpointing is only on the easy difficulty etc.). Although really I think that you should probably just watch a mission or two play out and see for yourself.

Posted by Iceland

@Sylinder said:

Already got burned on Max Payne 3 and that made me want to never ever buy another " one of these" games again.

"One of these"? A third person shooter?

Posted by Rekt_Hed

You know what I'm actually just really happy that Alex finally got a decent game to review! Lord knows he deserves it after all the shit sandwiches hes had to eat this year.

Posted by kayeyeeff

@Bourbon_Warrior said:

Conan already sold me on this with the "IM A SCARECROW IN A FIELD MOTHERFUCKER!"

This is when I knew I wanted to buy this game. It looks fun as hell, even if it might not be ~*the perfect hitman experience*~

Posted by DickSocrates

Has there been a game with such mixed reviews in recent times? Amazing. RPS and PC Gamer HATE it while fondly remembeirng Blood Money. I loved BM, on PS2 of all places so I have a feeling this version is not for me.

Edited by Bourbon_Warrior

@Sylinder said:

Already got burned on Max Payne 3 and that made me want to never ever buy another " one of these" games again.

Thats like saying you got burned on a Train Simulator so you were never going to buy another Kart Racer again, Hitman and Max Payne are completely different games.

@Phatmac said:

@DeF said:

@Phatmac said:

Those stupid sexy nuns are realllllly making it difficult for me to buy this game.

if you're buying this because of anything related to story you're buying it for the wrong reasons. the mission "puzzle" is what this series is all about.

I'm buying it for sure. Those stupid nuns are just making it difficult for me to be okay with my purchase.

Are you Catholic or something?

Posted by GaspoweR
Alex's Review:
"...also paid Emma Stone to voice a barely-remembered girlfriend character in Sleeping Dogs..."

Meanwhile, after reading this in a dwelling somewhere... Rorie quietly weeps in front of his monitor.

Posted by ProfessorEss

@RVonE said:

@Bourbon_Warrior said:

Conan already sold me on this with the "IM A SCARECROW IN A FIELD MOTHERFUCKER!"

That was fantastic!

Fantastic indeed.

Posted by Mr_Skeleton

What is this? The staff give Alex a good game to review, what is the world coming to?!

Edited by Bourbon_Warrior

@kayeyeeff said:

@Bourbon_Warrior said:

Conan already sold me on this with the "IM A SCARECROW IN A FIELD MOTHERFUCKER!"

This is when I knew I wanted to buy this game. It looks fun as hell, even if it might not be ~*the perfect hitman experience*~

That's why I buy games, to have fun. Like running down a road in AC3 seeing 2 guards in a corner having a chat run up to them double wrist blades to throats, smoke bomb and run away.

Edited by deerokus

The strange thing here is I've noticed a solid divide between US and UK reviewers here. Odd.

@Devildoll said:

As long as the silent assassin award is still proper, I'm in.

anyone know how that's handled in this game? i mean, can you kill a lot of innocents and still get it ? or is it like the prior games where you have to be a ninja?

There's one mission which you can see on Youtube where you get Silent Assassin for an extremely non-silent kill.

Posted by DaSmart1

Finally a review that seems to understand how the game is supposed to be played unlike GT and Gamespot complaining about how hard it is to go through guns blazing the whole time.

Posted by OneKillWonder_

Great review, Alex. I've never been too invested in this series, but I have enjoyed them in the past, and I loved the hell out of Hitman 2 when I played it years ago. The negative things I've heard about Absolution don't bother me all that much and I'm looking forward to getting this tomorrow.

Posted by Sammo21

Game seems to be divisive based on all the reviews I'm seeing. I know Alex's taste and we don't seem to be far off. Maybe I'll try and pick this up as a 1 day rental before I decide to buy. Hitman games, for me, seem to last a while as I trend to replay each mission dozens of times to see what I could do differently.

Posted by august

I've barely played the Hitman games, but doesn't he have a conscience in Hitman 2 at least? He spends that whole game trying to save his priest buddy.

Posted by Strife777

You would probably have mentionned it if you had, but have you tried the PC version? If so, how does it compare?

I already pre-ordered it on steam but I'm curious.

Posted by AuthenticM

Please tell me the plot points discussed in the review happen in the opening of the game and are thus not spoilers.

Edited by Bistromath

Square-Enix+Nixxes has been on a tear with well realized PC versions of their games. I like supporting that so it can continue.

Plus, their games are good.

Posted by Jrinswand

Well, I may have been skeptical about whether or not I'd like Hitman: Absolution, but Alex's review was just what I needed to decide whether or not I'd purchase the game and play it for myself. Thanks, .

Posted by Scratch

Seems like a decent game. I don't believe this will as satisfying as Blood Money was back when I played it. That however is not going to stop me for playing it. Looking forward to getting into it this weekend.

Edited by Nettacki
@x0mb13: I think some of the people are bitchy about the stealth because it's a different kind of stealth than what they're used to. Instead of "hiding in plain sight" like in previous Hitmans, you are instead doing the standard "hiding behind a wall until the guard turns his back" stuff.
 
Case in point:
 
  
Posted by msavo

The hunter has become the hunted...

Posted by CommanderZx2

@Phatmac said:

@DeF said:

@Phatmac said:

Those stupid sexy nuns are realllllly making it difficult for me to buy this game.

if you're buying this because of anything related to story you're buying it for the wrong reasons. the mission "puzzle" is what this series is all about.

I'm buying it for sure. Those stupid nuns are just making it difficult for me to be okay with my purchase.

Stuff like that has always been in Hitman games. For example check the Heaven and Hell level from Blood Money:

Be sure to check out the Angels wearing practically nothing.

Posted by Manhattan_Project

@AuthenticM said:

Please tell me the plot points discussed in the review happen in the opening of the game and are thus not spoilers.

Yep.

Posted by SpiderJerusalem

My review boils down to this:

If you go in expecting a great game, you'll definitely get it. If you go in expecting a great Hitman game, you MIGHT be disappointed.

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