Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Genre: Stealth, Action
Agent 47 is back. 6 years after his last adventure in Hitman: Blood Money, our favourite assassin makes his triumphant return in Hitman: Absolution. Absolution is the first Hitman game from IO Interactive since being acquired by Square Enix, and the first game running on the brand new Glacier 2 game engine, so it’s safe to say that there’s been a fair amount of anticipation and excitement surrounding this one. The dedicated fanbase of the series has been calling for this game for years, but now that it’s finally here, does it live up the expectation of the most ambitious and advanced Hitman title yet?
Hitman: Absolution tells a far more rounded storyline than previous instalments in the franchise. Instead of basing itself around a series of legitimate assassination contracts, Absolution see’s Agent 47 launch a person mission on underworld figures and the Agency itself when he is tasked with a contract to assassinate Diana, who fans will know as the woman-behind-the-man for all these years. The Diana contract leaves 47 to care for a young teenage girl, who we learn that the Agency will go to great lengths to have – but they aren’t the only ones.
The main campaign of the game is a narrative heavy experience very unlike what we have come to expect from the Hitman games. IO Interactive have done a great job at turning the story aspects into mimicking the style of our usual Hitman ‘contracts’, which means at its core, the game still feels like the Hitman we know and love. But as a whole, it’s paced with an entirely new structure, given the story focus. 47 is on a journey here, and we follow him every step of the way. No missions are present without a purpose for progressing the story, and this means some of them are really streamlined down to something new.
I will admit, at first I wasn’t pleased with this new direction. But once the storyline kicks into full swing, the new campaign style works a treat to pace both the story and the gameplay well. However, individual mission structure did leave something to be desired. Because of the new scale of things, the levels are split up into various ‘Checkpoints‘, which I found limits the overall freedom you’re given to accomplish your tasks or eliminate your target. It was this freedom and expansive range of choice that gave the Hitman series its own identity from the beginning, and Absolution has taken a lot of that away. There are still particular playing areas with many ways to go about your business – and these, along with the more linear missions do still offer the same great array of weaponry, choice and context sensitive possibilities as Hitman should – but as the mission checkpoints split so much of the level up, these are significantly smaller than those in Hitman’s past.
Stealth is still intact, and through uses of disguises, huge crowds and some new mechanics to really let you ‘hide in plain sight’, is easily one of the strongest points of the game. And with IO’s experience from their more action oriented Kane & Lynch series, we see a bit more fluidity brought into the action side of things. Absolution has a cover and gunplay system that would rival most traditional third-person shooters, and if you so please, you can simply go through most of the game like this, but your score will noticeably suffer from it.
Present is Agent 47’s ‘Instinct mode,’ which is similar to the Arkham series’ Detective Mode, or Assassins Creed’s Eagle Vision. It allows you to see people through walls and objects, and even their walking path. It can also save your skin from sure fire detection even as you rub shoulders with enemies in a disguise, luckily though this perk takes a toll on a special meter of sorts to avoid abuse. But as a long-time fan of the series, I am disappointed that this feature found its way into the game, lessening the admittedly ‘hardcore’ nature the Hitman titles have always had and been respected for. It makes the missions far too simple and easy unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulties.
Hitman: Absolution doesn’t just deliver a story mode though, also giving us Contracts Mode. Contracts is a unique feature which allows players to create missions, or ‘Contracts’ for others to play through. To make them, you simply play through a section of the game of your choosing, and can select the targets to take out, and with what weapons and outfits needed to be successful. You can name and describe your contract, and challenge friends and the world to take it on and see what scores they can achieve.
This is the games answer to a multiplayer mode, and from my initial impressions, will be a great addition to the package if you have a few friends to challenge and create missions for. There are an infinite number of ways you can craft a contract, and with some creative flare, will be making brilliant and thought provoking missions. My fellow games journalist from Somewhat Awesome Films actually challenged me to a few of his custom contracts, and it was from this display of creative challenge that I was shown just how much possibility I think this mode has, and time will show just how far the community wants to take it. I was having to do things I wouldn’t normally have even thought of throughout the entire main campaign. You earn money from the contracts, which can be used to buy new disguises, weapons and upgrades.
I would have liked a more advanced editor for these contracts though, perhaps something that allows us to make missions with objectives other than target assassinations. But for something so simple, there is a lot of longevity here if you enjoy the games mechanics.
Hitman games have never been particularly pretty, and are often referenced when talking about how gameplay can trump graphical fidelity. But Glacier 2 changes that, delivering the best looking Hitman game yet – not just due to obvious advances in technology over the years, but Absolution is a very good looking game, even when compared to today’s big hitters in some regards.
The attention to detail in this game is phenomenal with textures and environments, each level painstakingly crafted to fit with the games dark and mature nature, creating a rather atmospheric game world which im sure fans of the franchise will appreciate and respect, as it’s always something the games have had going for them, just never brought to life in this quality.
Absolution does still suffer from a common flaw in the Hitman backlog though; poor animation. Characters movements are stiff and awkward, and the lip-syncing just looks way off key. Character models actually look really good ingame, but up-close during the cutscenes, we are blatantly shown their lack of polish. It’s a visually mixed bag, but Absolution absolutely delivers on the aspects that matter here; textures, effects, detail and atmosphere.|
To put it simply, I loved the musical score in Absolution. The main signature tune of a ceremoniously angelic choir makes a return, but not as the main theme this time. The music is darker and suited to the more personal tale of Agent 47, featuring a harmonious orchestral piece which breeds a sense of death in the atmosphere. It’s worked into the gameplay, in a way that has certain tunes and sounds play as 47 executes different actions or kills people. It’s difficult to put into words just how it can change your feeling as you play, but IO Interactive have stepped up their game and not just given us a good soundtrack, but implemented it very well into the game.
Voice work is great, with David Bateson reprising his role as 47 once again, and Keith Carradine (Frank Lundy from TVs Dexter) voicing the primary antagonist, making a real love-to-hate character out of a greedy Southern arms dealer. The cast acts their parts well, and adds a little caricature to their roles, as is common in the franchise.
- Well designed stealth
- Epic musical score
- Contracts mode
- Great replayability
- Mission structure limits freedom
- Contracts modes’ simplicity
- Instinct Mode
While some things may have changed, the core game is very much Hitman. It’s a stealth-heavy, intelligent action game with more replay value than you can shake a stick at. The Hitman series has always been a unique flawed gem, and Absolution is no different – from a technical side it’s the most impressive and polished game in the franchise, and still manages to deliver a gaming experience like nothing else. Hitman: Absolution is a necessary progression for the series. But rest assured that Agent 47 is well and truly back.
Written by Lax