Hitman: Absolution PC Review
Agent 47 has been on a hiatus for the past six years. During his break, the developers of the stealth franchise have brought us a couple of third-person shooters with the Kane & Lynch titles, and also brought us the surprisingly fun Mini Ninjas. It’s fair to say that fans were ready for a new Hitman game, especially since the last title was in-between the crossover into this generation of consoles. Fans had yet to see what IO Interactive could do with the extra power, which is exciting to see after the open nature of Hitman: Blood Money’s mission structure. Has IO Interactive created a worthwhile successor? Or has the title gone back to the linear approach (which seems to plague a lot of big budget titles nowadays)?
Absolution begins with Agent 47 assigned to take out his longtime handler Diana Burnwood, the lady that would feed his mission briefings from The Agency in past games. Players are taken through a tutorial as they work their way up to where Diana is situated, and with a brief hesitation, Agent 47 shoots her in the stomach. As she lies down on the floor she utters her last words, telling the barcoded hero to look after a special, young girl called Victoria, who is being hunted by The Agency. Agent 47 obliges and spends the rest of the game on the run as he tries to protect this young girl from harm; but unknown to the silent assassin, this girl is also wanted by a crime lord, and ends up getting kidnapped. This is a personal tale for 47, a tale that does not do much more than invite the player to a dark world with nasty individuals, making you aware of how messed up and disgusting people can get. I guess in that sense it is successful in portraying such an era where Agent 47 sees pigs exploding on mines and assassins in kinky nun gear. A dark, yet humorous world.
Fans will be happy that for the most part of Absolution the game remains close to the open nature of Blood Money. Disappointingly, there is no pre-mission briefing, which means no customisation with weapon layouts and so forth, as you start each level with a silenced pistol. It seems IO interactive try their best to tell you this title is open like Blood Money, because the second level of the game places Agent 47 in a Chinese market, where you have to assassinate a target that happens to be slap bang in the middle of a stage surrounded by a crowd. My assassination of choice for that mission was finding a sniper rifle in a window of a tall building, then popping the target in the head with a shot and swiftly making my way out in a disguise and sneaking through the exit door. That’s only one option though, and if you look at the challenge list it will tell you all the possibilities, such as pretending to be a cook and slipping rat poison into the target’s meal, becoming a drug dealer and letting the target sample your drugs and die, or simply making the death look accidental by dropping a pallet of wood on top of him. There are multiple ways to take out a target – some levels having more than others – but overall, if the level has a target to assassinate, then you have a choice of death.
The game emphasises replaying missions because to gain a master rating you need to complete all the challenges for that level – no easy task, as this includes killing the target in all the different possible ways, finding all costumes, weapons, items and doing specific tasks. Also, a point system is in place and is always displayed on the top left of the screen. It feeds you live information as you add or reduce the score based around your actions. Killing civilians and causing unneeded causalities will deduct points off you (I lost 50,000 points by throwing a proximity mine out of the window and accidentally killing a group of civilians), while hiding bodies, killing targets and successfully completing tasks will net you a hefty point increase. The world average score and your country’s average score are displayed on-screen, so you can see how you are progressing with the rest of the world. Of course, if you don’t want a good score, you can play how you want and murder everyone in your sight.
If there is one thing Absolution does better than any Hitman game before it, it is the controls. No longer are you fighting against them to do what you want to do, be it using the keyboard or mouse, or – my preferred method for this game on PC – the Xbox 360 controller, where the controls map well and the interface changes to accommodate the buttons. Agent 47 abilities have also increased, making it a much more active and functional game. He can attach to the surroundings for cover, easily sneak behind someone and garrotte with a press of a button, drag bodies, dump them in hiding spots, hide in cupboards and dumpsters, use people as human shields and throw objects to create distractions. The only negative I have with the new abilities of the silent assassin is the melee combat – it is all QTE based, and doesn’t feel involving.
Along with his extra move set, Agent 47 has a new, important ability called Instinct. When using Instinct, the world slows down and important aspects are highlighted, such as enemies and their movement paths, objects that can be interacted with, and helpful information displayed when looking at key items. This can be used at any time, but another part of Instinct is the two abilities that drain the metre down when used: these are blending in and point shooting, with the latter allowing you to stop time and spend Instinct to aim for headshots on a group of bad guys. It’s very similar to the Mark and Execute mechanic from Splinter Cell: Conviction.
The AI can be a pain in Absolution, as even when you are at the other side of a room the AI can get suspicious with your disguise and want to see your face, which always ends up in your disguise being blown and the entire guards in that area switching to alert. You can move away from them slowly, but they begin to follow you, so you are forced to take them out without anyone seeing. If possible, you can use the environment surroundings to make yourself look more natural, say using a mop as a janitor or looking at a bomb when pretending to be part of the enemies’ task force. It seems that anyone wearing the same clothes as Agent 47 has a higher chance to see through your disguise, which in a real world makes total sense but is annoying to deal with in Absolution.
The Instinct metre needs to be used to get past these guards. The UI will display arrows in the general direction of where someone is looking at you. When this happens you can activate Instinct and Agent 47 will begin to scratch his head and lower it down, so that he can walk past them without getting noticed. Running out of Instinct is a cause for concern, as you are strapped of this ability, and to gain more Instinct back you need to subdue or kill people and hide their bodies, which then reduces your points. It’s dangerous to rely too much on using Instinct to blend in, and this is obvious on the higher difficulties, which veteran Hitman fans will most likely want to play on, as it reduces the amount of Instinct used and cannot be replenished. Normal difficulty can often resolve any detections by having a gunfight with the guys who spotted you – not something you associate with Hitman games – rather than using stealthy options and hiding away from them.
Making a return is the trial-and-error gameplay that has been in the series since the beginning. The problem with this is that quick saving is no longer an option, so if you’re struggling to get past a section for whatever reason, then eventually do make it through and get spotted in the next part, you are going to have to do the section again. Thankfully, the levels are split into small bits and sometimes these sections have checkpoints that you can use if you desire. Checkpoints do not remember your progression, so if you die, you will spawn at that checkpoint; but all the enemies will return, even the ones you killed before. Quick saving was used to stop repetitiveness when dying, but the lack of it in Absolution causes it to creep in. For example, there is one level where you have to wear a wrestling uniform to get into an underground fight. I had to play out that scene multiple times, as I kept getting spotted. This meant I had to keep waiting for people to finish talking and doing their guard routines to be able to successfully get through the start of that mission. It just brings frustration when you have to wait and do it all again if you fail between the start to the checkpoint, or from checkpoint to the next zone.
These gameplay mechanics end up making me play Absolution as a real stealth game, using cover and crouching to get past most of the obstacles placed in front of me. There are even levels that throw you straight into alerted mode, and you must sneak and shoot your way past the opposition to safely make it out. Not every level has assassination targets, instead tasked with simply making it safely from point A to point B. This makes sense for the story, but it’s a shame there aren’t more of these open areas that solely focus on planning to kill a target rather than following the footsteps of Sam Fisher and sneaking to the end-goal.
Completing the game does not mean the end when it comes to content. Included in the package is Contracts mode, a feature that allows people to create and share customised versions of the game’s levels. This covers what weapons the player can take into the stage, who the assassination target is and how they should be killed. The closer you are to completing the task as described, the more points you will gain from the contract. You have to take part in the contract yourself before you can submit it (since you assign targets while playing the level), making sure it is possible to beat before allowing the innocents of the Internet to take on your contract creation. It’s a fun inclusion that can spice up some of the less interesting mission designs in the campaign and should grow into some amusing content.
On the PC, Hitman Absolution is a gorgeous-looking game. I don’t know if it is Square Enix pushing for great PC versions of their games, but both this and their past title, Sleeping Dogs, take advantage of DirectX 11 support and high-resolution textures to make it look fabulous. After seeing the PS3 version, I can easily say that Absolution is one game to get on the PC if you have the system capable to run it.
I suppose with such a time difference between the last release and Hitman Absolution, this was a sort of rebirth for the series to try capture new fans as well as old ones, by blending multiple ways to tackle assassinations for those who cared and allowing newer fans to sneak around and treat this like a stealth game rather than a Hitman game. It’s not a bad game by any means, and it does fix some problems with the controls that plagued previous games, but having the story that essentially makes Agent 47 less of a hitman and more of an espionage hero, makes Absolution a decent stealth game but not a fantastic Hitman game.