Hitman is a game with what I believe is a great pedigree. The most recent game before Absolution, Blood Money, was praised and lauded by just about everyone so with that sort of background Absolution has both a lot to live up to and a lot of fans to please. Made by IO Interactive you play as the bald but awesome assassin Agent 47 (awesome because he is always SUITED UP!). The game plays out as a 3rd person shooter with a heavy focus on stealth, but it still manages to remain an intense and convincing shooter.
In this game Agent 47 at the start is sent after his own handler who has, I understand in the previous game, betrayed the agency that 47 works for and so 47 is sent to kill her. After the intro mission in which you do indeed kill Diana the game follows Agent 47 as he tries to protect a young girl who, for some reason explained later in the game, everyone wants their hands on. As the primary people who want Victoria are the very same agency 47 works for he has to go against his boss and his own company and goes rogue to protect the girl.
As I am already on the subject I think I will continue to talk about the plot. It’s straight-forward but while, for the most part, it does seem to make chronological sense and characters all seem to have reasonable goals and character traits but it’s also fairly ludicrous at times. Then again, as far as I am aware the series does have something of a reputation for being quite silly in the same way that Indiana Jones is silly so I guess it’s forgiveable. I often find myself at a bit of a loss for more to say on the story of a game, especially when I know it’s nothing all that special. I think it’s good essentially. A lot better than simple “not bad” but not really “great”. In fact the thing that struck me most about the game’s story was that opening. The way that 47 simply walks in and shoots Diana and then is suddenly overcome with remorse only a few seconds later strikes me as both a little fake and ridiculous. I bet she was looking down from above, her body not yet cold as he expresses his remorse for shooting her mercilessly in the face, and thinking “Well that would’ve been nice a few seconds earlier…”
The gameplay focuses mainly on stealth with 47 using a variety of different techniques to sneak past guards and civilians. Disguises work on everyone who doesn’t wear the same sort of clothing, so if you dress up as a chef you can expect the police to ignore you but other chefs will work out who you are, and for the most part this makes sense (it’s only when you are wearing a helmet that covers your face that it seems a little ridiculous that you can still be recognised). The rest of the time it involves hiding behind various bits and pieces of cover, timing your approach, avoiding guards and yes using the occasional air vent. The game also introduces Instinct in order to make you a more effective “best Assassin in the world”. With it you can see guards through walls, you can see the paths they intend to walk along and it also allows you to avoid detection when in a disguise. Essentially it’s a mechanic which is designed to make it seem that 47 is more omnipotent than a normal human would be.
I say that the gameplay focuses mainly on stealth but in some cases this might be a little erroneous. The game prides itself on the number of ways that you can complete each mission and so there are often numerous pathways and routes you can take. Now I think it’s a fair thing to say that for the most part the game encourages you to avoid enemies and combat and for you to take the stealthy, Dishonored “Clean Hands” style of gameplay where killing is a last resort. However, if things go FUBAR then 47 is no stranger to blasting his way free of whatever sticky situation he ends up in.
The combat is fairly fluid and solid. Melee combat takes place as a series of quick-time events where when you fight opponents who have more training in hand-to-hand combat the quick time events are faster and harder to hit. You can also use the standard of stealth gameplay of quickly taking out an enemy from behind. If it ends up as a full-on, no holds barred gunfight then often 47 can deal with that with the same ease he can when garotting an innocent mercenary. It does use the staple of this form of shooter where combat takes place using cover and popping out to shoot enemies but it often feels quite tricky and tense, providing a very entertaining and exciting form of shooter.
Overall there is a satisfying variation to the levels and while on a few occasions the solutions and paths forward may seem very obvious or limited, there is enough choice to what route you take and enough methods of killing the various targets in the game to provide an amusing and entertaining murderous experience. Killing is what 47 does best and I do think that the game shows that off rather well.
The graphics of the game are an interesting topic in my mind. I remember when I first started playing the game through on Xbox that I thought the graphics were actually only fairly standard and that characters at times actually looked sort of plastic-y and overly smooth, like walking talking marble (an effect compounded when they were wet). Whereas when speaking with Tim the very first thing he mentioned was just how bloody good the game looked. Looking back I am more than willing to agree that the graphics and looks of the game are absolutely outstanding and that, once again, the age of the consoles just holds it back. So if you do buy it on a console, expect it to look a bit worse than it really should.
Now from an objective point of view I can definitely see why this game got outstandingly good ratings across the board. It’s won some awards and it has a really high mark on Metacritic. More than that it has all the elements of a game I would love. I love stealth based games, I love the aggressive combat and it’s a brilliant looking game with every mission having enough variety to entertain and enthral. With all this in mind I did find it quite hard to pinpoint exactly why I didn’t enjoy the game as much I thought I should. Don’t get me wrong I very much enjoyed every minute of it, it’s just that I felt that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as all this suggested I would.
I think a very large part of why I wasn’t enjoying it too much comes down to something they did to try and provide replay value for the game. In a game with only one ending, even with all the variation that you can employ in the levels themselves, providing replay value is often quite difficult. The way IO Interactive attempted to provide some was by introducing a score counter. Points are earned for completing objectives and completing certain challenges in the mission (for example kill 5 guards by blowing them up was in one mission) gives score multiplier bonuses. Points were lost for doing things which make you less of the “Perfect Assassin” including getting spotted and killing civilians. What bothers me about it though was that this score-counter was present from the very start in every mission, not in missions you were replaying, and it couldn’t be turned off. This meant that for every single moment of the game you have a constant reminder of how much worse you are than everyone else who plays the game and how much worse you are than 47 should be. It doesn’t stop there either, killing guards (even the evil, henchmen style goons who enjoy torturing kittens) actually gives a small negative score which can only be nullified by doing it silently and then hiding the body. Essentially it removed a massive amount from the immersion of the game because you were constantly aware of just how much you were NOT Agent 47. It also actively discourages the murder of anyone you please, which just ruins a part of the game for me especially because actually getting the “good” points and not killing people and hiding bodies doesn’t change the ending in any way. It’s just there.
It is the sort of game which is absolutely crying out for some form of save function. There are only certain points in each mission you can activate ONCE in order to save your progress. And when you are trying to complete each mission without losing tonnes of points through being seen and having to leave bodies lying around you find yourself replaying each section again and again and again. So I have worked out that the reason I didn’t enjoy the game so much was very much down to my play style. It would have made a lot more sense to try and complete every mission in one go, when you make mistakes you should try and deal with the consequences and continue onwards, no matter how badly you fucked up. Instead I would simply restart from the previous checkpoint which could have been at the very start of the mission, and that probably partially ruined the game for me as I would just get bored of the same segments.
The checkpoint system is actually really bloody frustrating as well. I will use an example here to explain. In one mission part you start on one side of a bridge and have to get across, the bridge also has three guards who patrol back and forth across it. It was a fun section because you were provided with a sniper rifle and could quite easily just headshot all three from a distance and watch their bodies plummet off the edge. Then there was a checkpoint on the other side, which I naturally activated. Unfortunately I was spotted almost 5 seconds later so I reloaded the last save point, safe in the knowledge I hadn’t made any progress from the checkpoint. Apparently though, the checkpoints only save your location and NOT your progress because reloading that particular checkpoint also made all three guards on the bridge respawn. Also every single other mook had respawned back to their starting positions, which included two guards who walk right past the checkpoint a few seconds after their routine starts. It was ridiculously frustrating and to progress I actually had to backtrack and kill the guards on the bridge again to prevent them from seeing me. It doesn’t make ANY sense to me, I can’t understand in any way, shape or form why the checkpoints don’t actually save your progress and not just how far you got. Seriously, it may be the worst save system I’ve encountered in recent games.
The game does have a form of multiplayer in which you create a mission by using a map and killing a target in a spectacular way and seeing if other people can match your score. It is something I haven’t actually tried out yet but I have heard that while it’s a nice addition it’s also quite limited. But beyond that I can’t really comment on it.
So there you have it, overall an excellent game but one which requires a certain type of mind and play-style to truly enjoy to it’s fullest potential lest it become boring and frustrating.