Hitman: Absolution was developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is the fifth entry in the Hitman game series, and is available for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Twelve years ago, IO Interactive created something unique. Hitman: Codename 47 was released and the birth of a franchise was formed. There’s always been this vision in popular entertainment of the well-dressed, urbane contract killer. Agent 47 is just that. He embodies a well-dressed, sophisticated persona all while routinely acting as an assassin. Now, more than a decade later, IO Interactive has returned to the universe that launched the studio with Hitman: Absolution. The environment is much bigger and more extravagant now, but the rules remain the same. Assassinate your target and never get caught.
Hitman: Absolution dives deep into the series that is already well established. The game starts off with a rolling thunder approach of diving into the intensity of 47’s professional career. Agent 47’s former International Contract Agency (ICA) handler, Diana Burnwood, has gone rogue. Hired by the new director at the ICA, Agent 47 is sent to murder Diana due to her treason against the agency. This contract is one that 47 take no pleasure in. Ironically, the mission does not exactly go as planned and chaos ensues. Agent 47 suddenly becomes a target himself, while searching for the truth. The plot has numerous twists and turns, and that’s what makes Hitman: Absolution terrific. The game is exciting, with each level offering a mini-sandbox in which you have multiple selections to carry out the hit. The story revolves around a much grittier criminal element than previous Hitman’s have focused on. The criminals in Absolution are much colder and horrific, both in their appearances and crimes. IO Interactive created a criminal world similar to how director Christopher Nolan created a grittier Gotham City. As Agent 47 pursues leads and exacts vengeance on targets throughout Absolution’s world, it becomes transparently obvious that the story becomes crueller and darker, in a good way.
You quickly learn in the game’s intro that there’s more to Diana’s turning on her former employer than a crisis of conscience over what the ICA symbolizes. Diana was trying to protect a young girl named Victoria. It’s not clear why the girl is important to her or the USB drive she is holding. Eventually, you will discover that this secret holds significant answers to 47’s own past. The story is not without flaws and of course, could have been a tad tighter and more intricate. The execution of the plot was not the most polished storyline in the Hitman franchise but fares better than contracts. The entire plot revolving around the hunted girl was good but needed a stronger reasoning as to why she was so highly valuable to two different organizations. I feel the developers were trying to avoid making a drawn out, convoluted storyline and opted for a simple plot. Unfortunately, they went a bit too simple as opposed to Blood Money’s government conspiracy plot which I enjoyed back in 2006. I must state that unlike numerous games I have played this past year, every location and level you play in Hitman makes sense as to why you are there. When 47 is arriving at certain locations across America, the narrative is clear as to why I am supposed to be there. This is a testament to writing and storytelling. Most importantly of all, Absolution is a story about redemption. 47 has lived a life of sheer brutality, murdering hundreds at the behest of his masters. This time however, he made a promise to a woman who had saved his life in the past, and now he is returning that debt. He will not give up on trying to rescue and protect this girl from the evils of his agency.
For years, Agent 47 has been the man you call when you want a delicate situation taken care of. The situation will always be murder, and there will always be just one number to dial, 47. Over the years on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 platforms, and even GameCube once, he had established himself as a “killer’s killer”. With his custom dual Silverballer pistols at his side and a pocket full of garrote wire, the man was unstoppable. Sadly, the last time we saw him was shockingly six years ago. Thankfully, he’s back in action, and this time around, IO Interactive has pulled off an extraordinary feat with Hitman: Absolution. They could have simply kept the series exactly the same as it had been six years ago or they could have tweaked and enhanced certain aspects. I can safely say they have knocked the ball way out of the park with a plethora of innovative ideas and creations. If you are not familiar with the gameplay by now with Hitman, I will explain briefly. The premise in its simplest terms is cat and mouse, hunter and the hunted. Hitman is the ultimate predator, he is the great white shark of killers and sometimes, the people he is going after are every bit as vicious as him. Once back in the action, you’ll be working your way slowly and precisely through an area, identifying your targets, figuring out how you can go about assassinating them, and approaching any given situation with the skills that have made 47 who he is today. You might try, and you might fail, but you’ll always try again. Eventually, you will take out your targets and flee; you might even impress yourself on how well it went. The game will teach you how to disguise yourself, use your weaponry, and dispose of dead bodies quickly, silently, and of course, professionally.
In Hitman: Absolution, the world is grittier, darker, and just plain deadlier, and all of this reflects in the gameplay. For the first time ever, Agent 47 will need as much help as he can get and therefore, “Instinct” mode was born. Those familiar with Batman: Arkham Asylum/City’s “Detective” mode will understand instinct mode quickly. Using your Instinct, you are able to see outlines of enemies and innocent civilians alike in your immediate vicinity, even if they’re on the other side of a wall. The range won’t cover most of Absolution’s large maps, but it’s certainly large enough to work with when planning your stealthy advance. Instinct also highlights the movements of enemy patrols, allowing you to see who’s coming and where they’re headed. Additionally, Instinct mode sports a point-and-shoot option, which is exactly what “Splinter Cell: Conviction” had. Basically, while in instinct mode, you can mark several targets for death. After marking them, you simply press a specific button and watch the target(s) get taken out. I feel this was created to give a more cinematic flare, but not really something I’m comfortable using in a Hitman game. There are still a number of mainstays that IO has kept including the same tools that 47 always has: a garrote, two Silverballer pistols, and a variety of disguises.
Throughout the game, many levels will have multiple targets that you are required to take out in any order. How you accomplish the mission affects the small sandbox worlds they dwell in, creating multiple paths with each elimination. Do you use explosives to blow up a car and kill a dozen or more bystanders? Or, do you meticulously plan out every step to make sure one bullet is used between the eyes of your contract? You can also just murder everyone in sight. Regardless, Absolution will grade and reward you with points based on your method of assassination. Earning points will unlock upgrades for 47 and his abilities. Obviously, the better you perform, the more skills/upgrades you will receive. Once you have upgraded a good number of features, the improvements to the basic fabric of Hitman will pay off significantly. This will enhance the gameplay in almost every way. Being able to feign off brawlers, fake surrender, crawl through vents, and take cover behind nearly every object adds more tools to Hitman’s collection. Thankfully, there is a cover system, for the first time in Hitman history. Should you end up in a gun battle, you can hide behind objects and walls. You can also avoid many encounters by simply mixing into crowds to avoid exposure. This is put to the ultimate test in the final Chicago level where you are on a busy train station platform. Every cop in the city is looking for you, and you’re forced to hide out, in uniform, to avoid a SWAT team chasing after you. The scene is intense and shows off the fantastic gameplay mechanics that IO has created for Absolution.
Hitman: Absolution is a game that stresses you to replay its missions as much as humanly possible. Post-mission screens accurately portrayal your stats and serve as a ‘here’s what you could have done this’ list. This was a fantastic idea by the team. In the past, you always knew there were multiple ways to approach a hit. In Absolution, there are a plethora of ways. This list lays out those ways, positively encouraging you to replay for a higher score and obviously, more pleasure performing a new sexier kill. IO knows what they created by doing inputting devices such as this. In essence, they created a checklist that will make core gamers go back and replay a game dozens of times, again and again to achieve a new varied outcome. The difficulty settings are important to the game, and not just from an achievement/trophy perspective. Choosing to play in normal or easy mode means you have more on-screen help, instinct mode is more readily available and enemies are less aggressive. If you choose the harder difficulties, as I have, then multiple factors change. Firstly, you will lose mostly all your in-game prompts, maps, indicators and a variety of other crucial aids. Using instinct mode is near impossible because the gauge for it drains extremely fast. Enemy AI will become highly intelligent and move in a variety of patterns. Adding to that statement, I must say playing on Professional mode for my first playthrough, this is the most intelligent AI I have ever seen in any game…period. Playing on professional mode from start to finish, I can honestly say that you do become a much more effective killer as opposed to playing on easy the entire story.
Initially, there was a fear that Absolution was going to be created for the more novice players in mind, leaving out the hardcore Hitman fans. I can definitely say that IO has successfully served two masters and created a hardcore fun experience, as well as an easy-going, pleasurable experience, all with the flick of the difficulty setting. It’s a refined experience that, in 2012, is more than acceptable and welcome. The game still lets you make up the hit as you go, so you can plan and achieve a perfect plan of action. Of course, you will still be punished for making mistakes and you will feel the exhilaration that comes with not making a mistake. If you allow it to, depending on the difficulty setting, Absolution treats its players like adults. It treats them like gamers who actually know how to play core games, and aren’t demanding they have their hands held through the entire campaign.
If the mammoth campaign wasn’t enough (took me 12 hours on Professional), then you can feast your appetite with “Contracts Mode”, which is everything Hitman fanatics could hope for. Contracts may be the most creative idea I’ve seen in multiplayer gaming in quite some time. The game will be reusing the levels and core gameplay from the single-player to create flexible, player-designed leaderboard challenges that tap into the current trend for asynchronous competition with friends. You can create challenges just by playing the game, without opening a single menu, and is based purely on a thorough understanding of the levels from the story mode. In a nut shell, contracts mode is very much straightforward yet amazing. After you complete a mission in the single player campaign, you have the option of either moving on, or creating or playing a contract. To create a contract, you’ll be placed back into the mission you just finished; only this time, every single AI character is now a possible target. Simply select which of them you want to kill. Ironically, you are able to choose over 30 different people, if you’re in the mood to see a massacre that is. You simply place the kill symbol reticule on the NPC, and they’re added to the assassination list. The next step is to kill them of course. The tactics you will use, time spent on the hit, method of execution, variety of disguises, use of cover, and so on will be added as possible parameters. Your outcome depends on killing the target and escaping alive, however you can get extra points and in-game money by killing the target exactly as the creator of the contract did. Players will have full access to whatever assets are already contained in the single player level. Accessible hiding places, costumes, full range of NPCs and so on will be available for exploitation, ensuring that you won’t feel like you’re getting a bargain basement version of the main game. If you can do it in the main game, you can do it in Contracts Mode. And yes, this includes subduing NPCs and stealing their clothes for ad hoc disguises. One cool feature revealed in the demo that will carry into the single-player campaign is the idea that your disguises won’t work on everyone. Police would logically know the officers on the scene, so if you’re disguised as a cop, they’ll realize you’re a fake rather quickly. On the other hand, random passersby’s won’t think of individual cops as anything other than anonymous law enforcement. This means you’ll have to sneak past the police even when dressed as one of them; the same holds true for merchants and other profession-based NPCs as well.
I did have a serious gripe with two aspects of the gameplay. I must reiterate that I was playing on professional, so therefore the AI was extremely unforgiving. When I would subdue an enemy, then take their disguises and act accordingly, I was still getting spotted out. Basically the entire system of placing disguises on while playing professional seemed broken. I have been playing Hitman since 2002, and I have beaten every single game obtaining a silent assassin ranking. In Absolution. this seems impossible to achieve because the AI is non-sensical in their difficulty at spotting you out. My other disappointment with the gameplay was the choice of letting cinema scenes carry out major executions at certain climatic points of the game. Rather than letting the gamer choose how he wants to kill a major enemy in the game, the cinema scene shows 47 killing him in a pre-scripted format. This only happens a few times, but does detract from the true Hitman experience we have all been accustomed to.
Visually, Hitman: Absolution looks remarkable. All the environmental effects you would expect from a modern console or PC are present. Astonishing lighting, superb rendering of crowds and easily the best physics I’ve seen to date. Your suit gets wet and soggy in the rain, which looks fantastic by the way. Fires produce blinding smoke and crumbling structures. Shadows replicate realistically against walls or stretch out way down an alley in the right conditions, providing early warnings that someone is coming. The city skyscrapers and neon lights sparkle, while fireworks light up the night sky. NPCs interact with each other in a realistic fashion, conducting full conversations that progress well after you have walked past them.
If you thought the “Marti Gras” level from Blood Money was impressive, then you really haven’t seen anything yet. That scene pales severely in comparison to more than half of the set pieces and environments in Absolution. If there is one con, I must say that the cinema scene graphics are great but not of the same caliber as the gameplay graphics. The physics delivered by the Glacier 2 engine elevate this game to a next-generation status. Remarkably, this engine allows up to 500 characters to be on the screen at the same time, each interacting and reacting like individuals in a given situation, whether they are trying to catch a train home or enjoying a concert. Every one of the game’s 50+ distinct environments are bursting with life and personality.
The stellar voice cast in Hitman is what makes this game so fresh and exciting to play. Thankfully, David Bateson has returned as Agent 47 (despite some controversy and confusion earlier this year), Marsha Thomason as Diana, and everyone from Powers Boothe to Vivica A. Fox, Traci Lords and Isabelle Fuhrman take on roles. Enter any of these actors into Google and you will see their body of work is equally as impressive as the audio in this game. Furthermore, what is even more extraordinary is that all of the NPCs seem astonishingly just as important as the main characters. Their dialogue isn’t forced and meaningless but rather, a slice of life. You have an overworked IT guy trying to explain how to wipe out a hard drive over the phone to a client. A man receiving his cancer diagnosis immediately rejoices when he hears he is healthy and cancer free. A hotel manager is fighting with a vendor over the phone and the call/dialogue lasted over 5 minutes, which in the middle of gameplay is lengthy. A man is talking on the phone with his wife about their divorce. A frightened girl is trying to find her little sister in a huge crowd of a city square. All of these dynamic and realistic situations are from everyday life, and are used simply as a backdrop for the game while 47 is hunting and stalking his prey. He might be some bystander in the crowd at the end of a level, but you can choose to ignore them or listen in to their world. Either way, they make the game seem like real life. Despite Jesper Kyd’s absence from this entry, composer Thomas Bärtschi provides a phenomenal and enticing score that rivals Kyd’s previous compositions in the series. Couple that with cool atmospheric effects and you have quite an audio experience.
Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10
I can honestly say that in not seeing Agent 47 in six years, I thoroughly missed him. I missed the universe for which he lived in and had the privilege to play in. Hitman: Absolution is greater in many ways and more fluid than anything that came before it in the series. It has a few issues that hold it from sheer perfection but for the most part, it comes damn close. The excitement and thrill you get from executing an entire mission perfectly cannot be described in words. Couple that with the new numerical rewards, as well as upgrades, and you have a sure recipe for success. Absolution is like previous Hitman games in the fact that there are good and bad aspects. However, they’re more easily seen due to the high quality of this title. Personally, Hitman: Absolution will be going down as one of my favorite games this generation. Lastly, in terms of it being a solid game or worthy purchase for newcomers to the series, I would say this: It gives you freedom and creativity in a very mature sense like no other franchise does while rewarding you with endless replay and fun. More importantly, it sets the bar visually, acoustically, and narrative-wise like no other. Hitman: Absolution scores above and beyond for this generation, and is a praise to the efforts put into it by the development team.
+ Elaborate environments overflow with murderous possibilities
+ Huge amount of content
+ One of the best-looking games of this generation
+ “Contracts” forces you to approach the same locales from different perspectives
+ Agent 47 is the coolest, smoothest killer around
+ Multiple ways to complete a mission
– Disguises in Professional mode are almost useless compared to previous Hitman titles
– Cinema scene graphics do not match the quality of the gameplay’s visuals
– Story could have been woven better