The original Assassin is back. That’s what you see in the trailers of Hitman Absolution. It’s an obvious stab to the recent attention-grabbing franchises in the form of Splinter Cell: Conviction and Assassin’s Creed sequels while our bald stone-cold killer has been in hiatus since 2006.
That bold statement makes his return very much anticipated. But are we getting the same Hitman game that makes him distinctive. While I’d give it a nod, there are a few elements of game design that makes Absolution deviate away from what I experienced in Blood Money, one of the titles that made owning an Xbox360, the only next-generation platform then, very convincing. Absolution extends its reach by making it also available for PC and PS3.
Having played a few Splinter Cell/Metal Gear games prior to Blood Money, I was attracted to adopt the approach as it was not a sneak-in-the-shadows game. Agent 47 was able to utilise disguises to advance closer to his target and choose from multiple ways to eliminate his target. He would receive his missions through a safehouse and then decide on the arsenal to employ.
In Absolution, the formula remains to a certain extent, with a couple of tweaks. Agent 47 now moves more naturally and is able to take advantage of an effective cover mechanic. This is much welcomed than having to strafe around to dodge bullets in Blood Money.
Agent 47 is also known to be able to employ various disguises and there’s a lot more to costumes and attires to discover in Absolution. Realistically, unlike in Blood Money, wearing costumes does not mean you’re totally safe. I like the added challenge in that other characters in the same profession can recognise you if you come too close, but it appears that some of them can spot you from far.
I remember a scene in Blood Money where Agent 47 disguises as a worker carrying a crate of drugs to get past a guard. The guard was more interested in checking out the goods that Agent 47 was holding than verifying his identity. Granted, that may be too easy in a game, but I had no problem with it.
In Absolution, there was a scene in a hotel in which Agent47 is wearing a worker costume in a dim basement. A guard was approaching him and shining his torchlight towards him but did not detect anything suspicious. But another worker who just walked into the room and is about ten metres away was giving out suspicious markers towards the Agent. Didn’t the game tutorial say this happens when you get too close? This is one of the game breakers. It keeps you on your toes about your surroundings.
Even so, Absolution’s A.I. is not very intelligent. In a subway mission, I was cornered in a room where a body of a police officer was found. The room was pretty empty except for some fixtures and a large cabinet. This is one of the many areas where I could have hidden the body but I didn’t have enough time. I managed to hide inside that cabinet and when the body was found, a dozen of officers from various teams stormed into the room looking for clues. But none was smart enough to check the cabinet. While peeking, I even spotted an officer looking in my direction, yet somehow he did not bother to check. And speaking of the cabinet, there is always enough room to hide two bodies with Agent 47 to squeeze in, but somehow it doesn’t allow me to hide three bodies. That’s an awkward game design.
If you want to aim for high ratings after each mission, you would have to be unspotted and performing clean kills. Achieving that would require plenty of trial and error, and multiple restarts. Even if you manage to score impressive ratings for a mission, there are other challenges to be unlocked. A challenge may require to wear all possible disguises while another challenges you to remain with your trademark suit and tie, or adopt a specific method of execution. This is aside from the hidden items and collectibles. Bottom line, there’s plenty of replayability for every mission.
In a Chinatown mission, I discovered that food poisoning is one of the options to employ in eliminating a target. But I chose to detonate his car while the target visits his vehicle. That’s one of the beauty of Hitman games. Firepower is not the only course of action.
The one notable addition in Absolution is Instinct. This is earned as you play through but can be expended to track nearby human movements, ala in Batman games. Instinct is also able to tell you their intended paths of those approaching you. Otherwise, Instinct is depleted when you need to blend past suspecting figures in order not to blow your cover.
Compared to Blood Money, Absolution has raised the bar in terms of graphics and immersing you into a real believable world. In Blood Money, the crowd comes in small groups, but many scenes in Absolution are able to render larger crowds without a hitch, thanks to an upgraded Glacier engine. I was blown away when I had to sift through the large crowd in a Chinatown mission and at a subway. The crowd actions are pretty varied unlike in a sports game that I was reviewing recently. The environments are all well-detailed. It appears that IO Interactive had combined the ideas from previous Square Enix releases such as Kane & Lynch and Sleeping Dogs.
Voice work is also great. It was great to hear Agent’s 47 trademark voice after watching a non-related Hitman movie which stars a younger Agent47 sometime back. There’s plenty of dark and humour in the dialogue of nearby non-playable characters as well as during the cutscenes.
However, while Absolution puts you directly into a plot from the beginning, I’m missing the interesting story lines from Blood Money. I still feel sorry for the plight of the manager of the theme park, especially when my actions and methods of execution indirectly influenced the newspaper report following each mission. Sadly, this is absent in Absolution.
Nevertheless, I’m enjoying every bit of hard work I had to do (observing movement patterns, looking for clues and alternative methods of execution, exploring the premises) to complete each mission and while my initial score is unimpressive, I hope to do better in my subsequent playthrough.
Absolution is also packed with Contracts mode which is involves comparing your scores against players online, but I have yet to experiment it. Stay tuned for my next write up.
Meanwhile, if you love being an assassin in videogames, you can’t go wrong with Hitman Absolution. Expect to spend many hours with it.