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Hitman: Absolution Review

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  • X360

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 FoxMulder

Sounds like it is a bit dissapointing, but there was no way I'd not play a Hitman game seeing it's been over six years!

Posted by Landon

Sometimes I forget Alex still exists.

Posted by SupberUber

Not sure if I wanna reward IO for messing with the core formula. Maybe steam sale. Then maybe not

Edited by bybeach

I like this review. All it really does is reinforce to me that it is a divisive franchise. I've only played Hitman 2, and love/hated it per mission. Overjoyed when I got to pull the assault rifles off the wall.....

So I may eventually get this game. And by other's standards, like it for the right or wrong reasons, Idk. But I'm pleased that it got a good review, particularly by this Reviewer. It must have some unique things going on....looks,style, this that (steam sale/couple bucks off..)

Online
Posted by Draxyle

All the commotion around this has only made me want to try Blood Money. Never touched the franchise before, but I'm always up for checking out new stuff.

Posted by ThunderSlash

More like 5HITMAN. M I RITE GAIZ?! Wait... no? Awww.

Posted by AgentofChaos

I remember picking up Blood Money on a whim; that was one of the better gaming choices I've ever made. Great to see IO didn't shit the bed with Absolution.

Posted by Andy_117

@Draxyle said:

All the commotion around this has only made me want to try Blood Money. Never touched the franchise before, but I'm always up for checking out new stuff.

Reminded me that I have to actually install and play Blood Money. Damn you, Steam sales!

Posted by granderojo

I was really pissed about this game when I heard about the PC Gamer review, but this...this changes things. IO went and Hitman an exploitation film?

Posted by Christoffer

Hmm. I was hesitant to buy Hitman before I've read a bunch of reviews, especially before reading GB's. Seems it didn't do me any good since I'm even more hesitant now. Which tells me I deep down don't really want a gritty stealth game right now, or maybe ever. Sorry Agent 47, we've grown apart.

Great review though, I don't doubt it's a fine product.

Posted by Tennmuerti

Played a few starting levels myself today. Digging it.

This reads like a good balanced review. Alex does an excellent job yet again.

Posted by kalmis

I've played all the previous Hitman games so will be playing this as well. One day that is.

Posted by dudeglove

@Branthog: You can write entire essays (and people already have) on it, but it boils down to the fact that Absolution is just another product of the current state of game development (i.e. appealing to the lowest common denominator contards). In other words:

By pursuing a checkpointed QTE-ridden "interactive experience" narrative instead of remaining faithful to the previous titles' puzzle-like nature, the team at IO is trying to have its cake and eat it. Read through the creative director's twitter feed and you'll see exactly what his appalling vision was. Didn't help that those who worked on Blood Money likely moved on a long time ago either.

One of the greatest challenges when "rebooting" a franchise is the danger that by attempting to appeal to a new audience you risk alienating the old. The diverse reviews you've read are an example of this phenomenon. Now go and play Blood Money.

@CommanderZx2 said:

@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.

The party members dressed up as angels weren't targets unlike the S&M nuns. You might argue that one of the targets in that mission is dressed in a similar manner, but it's given context because she's masquerading as a singer at a swanky sexy party populated by rich socialites. The nuns' attire clearly stems from the creative director's obsession with Rodigruez' and Tarantino's idiotic grindhouse (that was popular, what, five years ago?) and is haphazardly explained with a throwaway line to the tune of "they were abused so that's why they dress like that!". Absolution has a completely vile specter of sexual violence hanging over it that previous games were never about.

Which brings me to my next point: why the fuck didn't Klepek review this?

Posted by dudeglove

@thabigred said:

I was really pissed about this game when I heard about the PC Gamer review, but this...this changes things. IO went and Hitman an exploitation film?

You mean you hadn't watched all the previous dev diaries and trailers?

Posted by derhoeness

like

Posted by NicolasVH

Is the game too hard on hard?

Posted by mbr2

So what I've gathered from reviews is: If the reviewer hasn't played Blood Money he/she thinks it's great and vice versa. So if you really liked Blood Money; Absolution might not be a game you like.

Posted by Eyz

I'm a big fan of the series - I CANNOT WAIT to play this game! I've been reading so much good for this new episode.

At least we'll enjoy one more IO Interactive's Hitman game.

Next one's gonna be handled 100% by Square Enix and their new studio in Montreal, with IO only having alittle supervising role... sigh..

Posted by ervonymous

@dudeglove said:

Such an obvious comparison and I completely missed it. I couldn't stand Conviction.

Posted by KlUMZeE

Whoo Hoo!, I'm so glad this game turned out to be good, I was worried after I started hearing about some mixed reviews, but this gives me confidence that it's definitely worth playing. Should be picking it up very soon. Thanks Alex!

Posted by Nightfang

The Nuns were bearably in the game, get over it already.

Posted by Pseudonymous

I've played every Hitman Title to date and the only thing that bothers me is there is no 1st person mode in Absolution. Other than that the little hiccup the game is amazing. Buy the game!! You will not regret it. Massive replay value and hours upon hours of perfecting your kill and escapes, a challenging game. Strive for the Silent Assassin Rating. Purist mode is the only way to play.

Posted by Shortbreadtom

Year of the 4-star?

Posted by Incapability

@dudeglove: Nice try, but at least play the game before you pull things out of your ass, OK?

Edited by Baal_Sagoth

I'm glad to see this game seems to be more divise than a wholesale slap in the face of old fans. I'm certainly going to play it at some point so I do intensely hope for quite a few redeeming qualities. That RPS WIT did sound very reasonable and not too thrilling though. I'm going to check out the QL, some LP episodes and then finally decide if it's worth full price to me.

Posted by JerichoBlyth

Bloody awful game. Especially on PC so far.

I demand a re-review. No way does this deserve a 4 star verdict. IO interactive have taken a plunge in quality over the past 3 years, they really have.

Posted by chilipeppersman

@Bourbon_Warrior: yea that was pretty hilarious XD

Posted by granderojo

@dudeglove said:

@thabigred said:

I was really pissed about this game when I heard about the PC Gamer review, but this...this changes things. IO went and Hitman an exploitation film?

You mean you hadn't watched all the previous dev diaries and trailers?

Didn't know there were dev diaries. Watched the trailers though.

Posted by FoxMulder

Will probably pick this up sometime soon to play over winter break. Seems like it has just enough of the old Hitman gameplay to get me hooked. Still planning on hooking my Xbox to a CRT so I can play the old games again. Most of these games I just ended up playing for hours screwing around much like they did in the QL!

Posted by CraftySkills

woah alex actually gave a positive score to a non-indie game.

Posted by dubculture
Posted by Hunter5024

I like how Alex seemed to be under the impression that Vivica Fox is a get. She was in like one good movie.

Posted by Dovien

Haven't played Hitman in years, can't wait to try this one out c:

Posted by Pyrrhic

Good review, I just need to have a go at the game now.

Posted by Cleric22

@radioactivez0r: If you haven't picked it up yet, its 40$ on Amazon and at Gamestop now.