I don’t envy IO Interactive. Not only do they have to resurrect one of the most popular characters in video games, but they have to do so making sure they please the hardcore fans as well as newcomers who may or may not take to the series’ trial and error brand of gameplay. Thankfully, they don’t crumble under the pressure, delivering a slick, brutal and highly replayable Hitman game.
It’s been six years since we last met Agent 47, but he’s as sharp and skillful as ever, and in Hitman: Absolution, he embarks upon his darkest chapter yet. Diana, his handler, seems to have gone rogue and the Agency tasks him with bringing back her head. Being the diligent worker he is, Agent 47 pulls the trigger on his only friend in the world, but it turns out she wasn’t the bad guy after all. Surprise, surprise!
Agent 47 is angry at this betrayal, and rest assured, a lot of people are going to die for this. Unlike older games though, he does have a bit of excess baggage to handle in the form of a little girl who Diana died protecting. Who is this girl and why is she so important to the Agency? These are some of the questions that will be answered in your 20-odd hour journey to Absolution. The plot’s not quite genre-defining, but it is enjoyable nevertheless thanks to some solid voice acting.
I really enjoyed the whole Hitman on the run angle this game seems to approach, and it’s fun seeing Agent 47 improvising in certain situations since he doesn’t have the full support of the Agency. This allows IO to dump him into really tricky situations and it’s up to you to get the job done with whatever tools you can lay your hands on, be they semi-automatic weapons or something as crude as a sledgehammer.
Like always, the emphasis however lies on moving around a level silently and completing the hit without leaving a trace. You can also make a kill look like an accident, but if you really aren’t the patient type, you could go in guns blazing since the combat system has been tweaked to the point where you can actually play it like a cover-based shooter all the way. That’s not really how you play a Hitman game though.
Blending into the crowd is still the name of the game here, and Absolution still favours social stealth mechanics as opposed to Splinter Cell’s ‘stay hidden in the shadows’ brand, allowing players to explore any given level, provided they have the appropriate disguise. For example, if you have to infiltrate a police station, you can’t just waltz in dressed as a plumber or a chef and not expect to be stopped. You’ll have to don a cop’s uniform, and only then will you be allowed access to the level. Agent 47 is a highly skilled assassin, and this is conveyed in the game via Instinct. Using this, players can now see through walls a la Arkham Asylum for a certain distance and even figure out enemy patrol paths. At first, it may seem that Instinct may make things a bit too simple, but don’t worry, that’s not the case.
For one, you get spotted way too easily in Hitman: Absolution. Even if you’re as discreet as possible, you’ll still be spotted in the blink of eye by NPCs/enemies wearing the same attire as you. If my memory serves me correctly, you arose suspicious in the older games (Blood Money especially), only if you behaved suspiciously or got too close to a guard. Here, you have to maintain a crazy amount of distance to not get spotted. Once you do, however, you have to try and break their line of sight before your cover’s completely blown. So a guard has no problem with me if I suddenly crouch behind a low wall after I catch him eyeing me suspiciously, but he gets all riled up if I’m just walking around normally? That definitely seems a bit odd, and can lead to some frustrating moments.
To combat that, you can use the Instinct ability. Instinct, when triggered while stationary, allows you to see through objects, but while walking, you can ease past suspicious eyes simply by tilting your head away from their gaze. It just seems so weird that one minute, they’re about to question you, but boom, activate Instinct and you can slip by unnoticed. And let’s say I buy the argument that everyone on the police force may recognise one another, how can people see through my disguise when I have a freaking gas mask on? That makes no sense.
The checkpoint system has also been reworked in this game and sometimes it works, but sometimes it frustrates. Unlike older games, you can’t save anywhere you want. There are checkpoint markers scattered across the level and only once you approach them, can you save your progress. This definitely adds more tension to the game, because now, you know you have no save system to fall back on, but at the same time, you don’t know where they’re located in the map, and they appear very erratically. It also doesn’t help matters that every enemy (dead or alive) respawns as you reload your last save. Levels are thankfully broken up into smaller sections; otherwise this would have been a complete deal breaker for many.
Still, these issues can’t really dampen your time with the game as long as you’re the patient kind. I can’t tell you how satisfying and utterly badass it feels to execute a clean hit, and walk away from the scene of the crime dressed as one of the bad guys. The game allows you to dish out some serious punishment, so if you feel like, you can complete a level with guns blazing. As satisfying as that is though (and you should definitely try that out once), be prepared to be judged by the game’s rating system that will condone and penalise you for being so reckless.
There’s no multiplayer in Absolution, but you do have a mode called Contracts that can be played online. You create your own Contract based on in-game missions, but now you can spice things up by adding in your own conditions like the weapon with which you have to kill your mark, the amount of people that need to be killed, the disguise you need to be in while carrying out the hit, and so on. To keep things fair, you have to perform this hit yourself so other people know it can be done.
Even without Contracts, Absolution would still be the most replayable game I’ve played in recent times. Level design may have been scaled down from older Hitman games, but they’re still very non-linear and offer multiple (and not to mention satisfying) solutions every step of the way. I guarantee you’ll go back to the game as soon as you finish it just to try out that other path you didn’t take in your first playthrough. Plus, it’s always nice to rub your high score in the faces of all your friends.
It’s not easy reviving an older franchise in today’s highly competitive times, but IO Interactive has done so with much aplomb. The game does have a few issues with regards to erratic AI and an imbalanced disguise system, but thankfully, they don’t impair the experience. Gameplay has been refined and tweaked enough to appeal to veterans and newcomers, and if you still prefer a deeper challenge, you have five difficulty levels to test your skills with. The production values are off the charts like always, and with the right hardware, Absolution is the most gorgeous game on the PC right now. Newcomer or not, if you’re looking for a game that can tax your brain and deliver a highly satisfying pay off for your patience, Absolution is right up your alley.