At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Square Enix IO Interactive 1
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Windows Vista/7/8, 2GHz Dual Core processor, 2GB RAM, 24GB Hard Disk Drive Space, NVIDIA GeForce GT 210 512 MB or AMD HD2600 XT 512 MB graphics card PS3, Xbox 360 Click here to buy Hitman Absolution.

Hitman Absolution review

Hitman: Blood Money was one of my favourite games of the past decade. It was an open world, a sandbox if you will, where you infiltrate a situation, inspecting it from all angles and then build your way up to the perfect murder. At the end of each scenario you get to see a newspaper clipping of how well you managed to take out your target without drawing attention. It's therefore such a shame to see that in Blood Money's sequel, Hitman Absolution, completely ignores this successful formula.

Story takes a centre stage in Absolution where the focus is to carry out the dying wishes of Diana, your handler from previous games. A girl that was in her charge now falls to you to watch out for her and find out exactly what the agency (your former employer) wants with her. There are a bunch of other nasty people after her too, but luckily she has a hitman to keep her safe. Hitman is not a game of twists and turns, as the story has the typical 'betrayals and revenge' beats, although the end came out of nowhere and didn’t make sense given some of the narrative in earlier parts of the game. The world of Absolution is very characteristic of a Hitman gam; most characters are over dramatic and stylised, from hulking wrestlers, vulgar rednecks to over sexulaised female characters (if you've seen one of the trailers you’ll already be familiar with this). This is also reflected in the exotic locations and environments you find yourself in from strip clubs and underground wrestling to a mad scientist's lab. The biggest problem with the story is that towards the end, you're dealing with mercenaries or agency assassins. This is not the typical contract involving a seemingly innocent member of the public or a single target in a large crowd. Most of your targets will be bad guys surrounded by generic bad guys, an assassin in amongst some mercenaries or a gang leader in amongst his cronies. There are times when you have to attempt a public assassination and these are the moments when the game harks back to Hitman games of the past. These sections are great but unfortunately they are few and far between. Curiously, the game's better levels in this regard are those that have been shown in official trailers and walkthroughs.

The hat suits Agent 47

The hat suits Agent 47

If I had to point a finger, it would be aimed solely at the game’s story, which forces Agent 47 to constantly be on the run. So instead of a game where you get contracts to take targets out, you are instead forced to evade the police and scurry around in the shadows. This leads onto my second issue with Hitman Absolution; the level design. One of the main chords of the story is that you are both the hunted and the hunter, being chased at the same time as taking down your target. Due to this hunted/hunter mechanic, many of the game's levels require you to get from A to B whilst avoiding wandering enemies, such as cops, henchmen or mercenaries, essentially turning it into a cover-based stealth game. Often these patrols form easily spotted patterns for you to identify and memorise or, more commonly, wait in a holding pattern of sorts for you to get close enough to trigger their conversation before getting out of the way for you to sneak past. The moments where the levels do open up lead to Absolution's more interesting environments such as the earlier Chinatown level and it's these areas where the game finely shines. The world opens up and you get a selection of targets to take down and more importantly, no wandering guards are looking for you, allowing you to scope out the area for potential silent assassin moments.

Speaking of the infamous Silent Assassin award, I should talk about the score system. Again, things have switched around for Absolution and since the story no longer allows for an assassination per level, there's no newspaper clippings anymore. Instead an ever-present scoring system is glued to the top level of the HUD. A large chunk of points are awarded for completing key objectives as well as taking out your targets but the manner in which you complete them is also scored. Scoring is slanted towards rewarding Hitman gameplay of old, such as taking out only your targets, making things look like accidents, proficient shooting and headshots. This means you could end up with a negative score if you take out too many civilians. This isn't enough to encourage you to play by the rules, though, and towards the latter half I found I was shooting my way through levels instead of aiming for a high score, particularly when the game is essentially indicating that everyone is just bad guys anyway (at which time, the points system describes them as non-target casualties). It seems like a peculiar way of encouraging the Silent Assassin, and it's almost like Agent 47 is mentally assessing himself through the mission rather than having an in-game world feedback mechanism like the newspapers were before. A raw number is too detached from the world.

The dead body probably gave away his position

The dead body probably gave away his presence

Now that my two biggest gripes with Absolution are clear, I can begin to describe what makes it great. Much like JJ Abrams' new "Star Trek" reboot, Hitman Absolution isn't afraid of lense flare. That's one of the things the new Glacier 2 engine does well, as all of the levels have great lightning in all environments, including daytime canyon assaults, a hotel inferno and a busy chinatown market. There's a little overuse of that lense flare and bloom, but this seems to be a stylistic choice and isn't too off putting. The other thing that Glazier 2 does well is crowds. If you thought Blood Money's Mardi Gras level was good, you'll be blown away by the amount of people that IO has managed to cram into some of the scenes. It really helps sell the fact that you're in a living, breathing world. In fact, Glacier 2 does very well on all aspects throughout the game and I had zero problems with the performance even in some of Absolution's larger levels. Whilst they don’t manage the multi-floored levels of previous games, Absolution certainly packed more into each area, whether that's large crowds, impressive effects or pretty skyboxes. The only sign of struggling are the long loading times when starting a play session, but most of the time this is hidden by story cutscenes. Throwing some frustration into the mix, however, is the checkpoint system. It seems ridiculous that in 2012 you still have games that prevent you from saving whenever you like, yet in Hitman that's exactly what occurs. There are two ways in which the game checkpoints your progress. In addition to the typical between-level progress saves you also get in-game checkpoints which you can choose to activate. These are at fixed places in each level and going up to these glowing marks gives you the option to activate it. The behaviour of this is a little confusing, though, so allow me to explain. The game saves the disguise you're wearing and the items you’re carrying, plus whatever core objectives that have been completed. Everything else is reset including enemy patrols, guards killed, etc. So you can massacre your way across a building, take on a disguise, activate a checkpoint and then when you die, everything gets reset but you're in a different place with a disguise; it's a very strange alternative to a full save system.

As this is an assassination game, does Absolution's combat satisfy? I have to say, this is one of the stronger points of the game. IO Interactive have built a great environment and weapon mechanics for the business of murder. Bar a pistol of some description, Agent 47 starts off with no weapons and you can't bring your own gear along this time. This leaves you to scavenge the environment for whatever weapons and distractions you'll need. There are plenty of each, from the weapons carried by bad guys to improvised weapons such as knives and screwdrivers. In addition to the more deadly environmental pickups you'll also find things like books, statue heads, bricks, etc, all of which can be thrown around to distract guards. Absolution also adds some new concepts to the franchise, most notably, the instinct system. It appears on the HUD as a meter and grants Agent 47 a number of abilities. Mostly notably, the whole view onto the world changes, augmenting the colours and highlighting enemies; think eagle vision from Assassin's Creed. This helps you identify targets as well as picking out guards and cops from civilians in a crowd. It also highlights enemy routes by creating fiery trails that burn into the ground ahead of them. You also get a bullet-time mode. At the press of a button you can freeze the game and mark targets in the environment, and once you are done or you meter runs out, you then carry those orders out. It's an effective and efficient system. The disguise system from older Hitman games is also back but with a twist; people wearing the same uniform as you will be able to spot you. This makes sense when you think about it; a cop is likely to know that you're not part of the squad, but is a lot less likely to notice whether that gardener over there is part of the regular crew. When you do need to go past people wearing the same disguise as you, you can use your instinct to blend in, causing Agent 47 to mask his face or turn away. Whilst it doesn't last for long it can make all the difference when darting around the corner. All in all these abilities and toolsets truly make you feel like you’re controlling an efficient cold-blooded assassin.

Wouldn't it be terrible if someone were to slip over? Actually, that would make things easier.

Wouldn't it be terrible if someone were to slip over? Actually, that would make things easier.

If you feel like the core Absolution game doesn't cater for your Hitman cravings then you'll be pleased to know that there's another mode that may help. Dubbed as Contracts mode, it empowers players with the ability to create their own custom contracts. Taking place across the game's existing levels, you get to perform a hit on any of the characters, whether they were originally targets or not. Once taken out you then get to set criteria on that hit, such as whether players will need to don a disguise or whether it has to look like an accident. The great thing about this system is that it requires a player to have completed the hit themselves before they can challenge others, ensuring no impossible contracts. These hits are rated using the main game's scoring system, which means that even if you complete a hit exactly as the author intended, you may find yourself coming just short of beating them if you don't get out of the area in time. It's a good addition that may provide enough of the core hitman experience to appease some fans.

The toughest part of this review is how to judge the game. As you may have surmised thus far, I have very fond memories of the previous entry in the series, Blood Money, and it's possible you do too. At its core, Hitman Absolution isn't by itself a bad game, it has just evolved to cater for a wider range of gamers than its core audience, and as such, some of those changes may appear a little upsetting. Despite its impact on that Hitman experience, Absolution has an enjoyable story to tell and has a several interesting scenarios, but in its quest to become a more accessible game, it has removed what often made it unique.

Ratings

Overall Hitman Absolution is an enjoyable action/stealth game. It has a quirky tale to tell with some interesting environments to explore; it's just a shame that this direction has impacted the core Hitman values so much. 7/10

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