After a six year hiatus Agent 47 is back in action, and this time IO Interactive have pulled off an impressive fifth entry with Hitman: Absolution. Given the extensive break between installments, it comes at no surprise that this professional killer would need to learn a few new tricks in order to be relevant in today’s stealth/action genre.
The story begins with Agent 47 assigned by the mysterious organization known as The Agency to take out his long-time personal handler Diana Burnwood. Before Diana takes her final breath, she asks 47 to ensure the safety of a mysterious, young girl named Victoria. From this point on, the story follows 47 as he does everything in his power to keep Victoria safe from a wealthy industrialist named Blake Dexter and uncover the reason why the Agency is interested in her. It’s a more ambitious story than its predecessors, with cinematic quality and Agent 47 presenting a more humanized disposition oppose to his normal cold blooded demeanor. Visually, the graphics are gorgeous and the new Glacier2 engine impresses with its detailed environments, fluid animations, and ability to render large crowds of NPCs within select environments. All this is complimented by a dark, moody score and CGI cutscenes voiced by an all-star cast of actors.
Absolution is composed of twenty missions, all of them intricate in their own right, although some are shorter and simpler than others. Agent 47’s crusade for absolution takes him to a variety of locales susceptible to his lethal trade. From packed strip clubs where he can effortlessly blend in with the crowd, to confining precincts, courthouses, and apartment lobbies where one wrong move could raise suspicion. The game truly shines in the wide-open levels where you have a variety of choices as to how you’ll take out your targets. These usually involve sneaking around and casing the environments in order to identify opportunities to perform specific “accidents” on your unsuspecting victims. Apart from downplaying the facets of exploration and improvisation that set up Absolution’s strongest moments, liner levels often put you in direct path with the game’s inconsistent AI.
Like its predecessors, Hitman: Absolution gives you a myriad of choices and ways to kill your targets. Sneaking up behind an unsuspecting target is effective but adding rat poison to their coffee while they are not looking is a more gratifying kill. The Hitman series has always been about patience and waiting for the perfect time will reward you with more points for the in-game scoring system. These points will reward 47 with new attributes and upgrades like better accuracy and health regeneration. The checkpoint system helps you with the trial and error gameplay but locating these pre-determined spots can be a nuisance, especially in the larger levels. Plenty of times I was forced to reset because I saved my game at the wrong time.
You can choose to keep him in his iconic suit but it’s much more fun to freely roam around the environment wearing one of numerous disguises. Wander near someone who is wearing the same uniform and their suspicion will rise, eventually leading to a confrontation. Blow your cover and 47 will need to utilize cabinets or cargo containers as temporary hiding spots or take down his pursuers using the quick-time event combat system. Luckily he is a pretty capable fighter as well as a marksman. The problem is that engaging in combat invariably announces the player’s presence to other enemies in the vicinity – even if they are in an adjoining room.
Besides an impressive selection of weapons and melee objects, 47 has access to his trusty fiber-wire, which kills targets swiftly and allows for quick body disposal. A cover system has been implemented that is easy to use and very effective. Players can utilize a mechanic called Instinct – a metered ability that replenishes through a variety of actions. Activated with a click of a button, Instinct slows down gameplay and highlights interactive objects, displays the locations of enemies (and their predicted travel path), and temporarily deflects attention from 47 when wearing a disguise. Instincts also engages a combat technique called Point-Shooting which allows the player to freeze time and aim multiple shots to take down groups of enemies quickly. Instincts is a welcome addition that caters towards newcomers but longtime fans of series may want to play on the harder difficulty settings if they want a challenge level more in line with prior entries.
A welcomed addition to the series is the online Contracts mode, which allows players to tackle custom hits created by other players from around the world, or create their own contracts. Each assignment will task players with specific mission parameters to fulfill, earning points for completing objectives like killing a specific target with a particular weapon or use a certain route to escape. Each conditional bonuses that are put in place by the contract maker need to be successfully completed in order for it to be created, so players won’t have to worry about completing contracts that are impossible. Successfully executing a contract will earn you cash that can be used to purchase unlockables and adds toward a global leaderboard to determine which country has the best hitmen. Hopefully this mode gains a strong following because the contracts I’ve experienced so far have been both challenging and disturbing (assassinating targets dressed as an animal mascot).
It’s clear IO Interactive was looking to tread new ground, in hopes of creating an experience more accessible to newcomers than previous entries. While fans of the series may be disappointed that their favorite bald assassin now has a heart and sneaks around like Sam Fisher, Hitman: Absolution is still a satisfying experience that will have you replaying levels in order to discover new ways to complete your mission. *Note: Keep your eyes and ears open for some cameos and verbal stabs at other established franchises.
Editor’s Note: Hitman: Absolution was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.
Release Date: November 20, 2012 • Publisher: Square Enix • Developer: IO Interactive • Genre: Action • Multiplayer: None • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: $59.99 • Replay Value: High