It’s been more than half a decade since gamers have had a chance to slip on a red tie and pocket the iconic silverballer pistols of Agent 47. Back in black and with some shiny new visuals to boot, Hitman: Absolution is a departure from the norm, something that will most likely have most veteran fans up in arms. And frankly, Absolution is far better off headed in that direction.
It’s this very mystery that forms the core of the story of Absolution, as 47 finds himself going to extraordinary lengths in order to protect her, taking on jobs and hits that don’t always gel well with his character.
Still, a smaller, more focused story filled with some of the most disgusting characters to ever act as antagonists works wonders. Blake Dexter is a sadistic businessman emodying every single Texan stereotype under the sun, while informant Birdie plays the role of stool pigeon to quite literal degrees in this game.
Less end of the world, more the end of someone else’s personal world, Absolution provides a decent tale with which to become invested, bolstered by some solid (albeit cheesy at times) voice acting from the likes of Powers Boothe, Vivica A Fox and of course, Agent 47 himself. Thanks to fan demand, David Bateson is indeed back, with his trademark grizzled voice and deadpan delivery.
As for the visuals, the Glacier engine here is a damn behemoth. Lighting looks fantastic, crowd sizes are incredibly massive and would kill an agoraphobe within seconds, while movement and textures are of a high quality. There’s still some work to be done in the motion capture department though, as faces feel a tad too uncanny valley, while 47 himself never breaks out of his trademark scowl. EVER.
With a somewhat decent story in place, Absolution moves into the meat of the game itself, contract killing. There’s quite a few marks over the various levels present here, all requiring players to make certain that by morning, they’ll be pushing up daisies.
This is where the game shines, as these levels work as massive playgrounds within which to do what 47 does best. There’s no one way to kill a target, but there are in fact, several. Ranging from obvious (I’MMA SHOOT YOO!), to devious, it’s impossible to find all the available kills in one playthrough, giving the single-player genre a much-needed shot in the arm.
For instance, one level has you looking to eliminate a flunky, who just so happens to be having himself a braai with some of his closest, well armed chums. While you could walk up to him disguised as a barber and drop some lead into his head, you could also observe his movements, and plan accordingly.
Which is exactly what I did, as in my first play-through, I fiddled with some wires that were situated against a wall were the flunky regularly took a tinkle, sending a massive jolt up his erm, shooter, while in another scenario, I replaced his bottle of hot sauce marinade with some petrol, which he then proceeded to throw onto his meat.
One flame-grilled minion, coming right up!
It’s all about experimentation in Absolution, and if there’s a thousand ways to die, then this game has them all covered. But of course, setting up a kill is just one aspect of the game, while sneaking and stealth forms the other core component.
The latest addition to the series that will have long-time fans up in arms, is Instinct. A finite meter that helps bolster the stealth capabilities of 47, Instinct can be activated to X-Ray the area for enemies, their paths and to maintain a low profile. In addition, the ability can also set up point shooting, which gives 47 the necessary Conviction to freeze time, assign targets and fire away instantly.
While it’s easy to see Instinct as a crutch, it’s anything but that. It’s a useful tool, something that will help newcomers transition to the more challenging gameplay of the later difficulty levels of the game.
And that’s something that Absolution has in abundance. In fact, if anyone decries this mechanic, check which difficulty setting they’re playing on, as switching things up from easy/normal to one of the more sadistic modes, will give them that challenge that they crave so desperately, while staring nostalgically at the screen and talking about Blood Money. Yes, Instinct can have an impact on the game that can be cheap and easy like your ex-girlfriend, but like all things in Absolution, it’s a tool that’s there to be used.
And it’s a valuable tool, because stealth in this game is no walk in the park. Be where you’re not meant to be, start a fistfight or use an un-silenced gun, and you’ll bring the wrath of a Black Friday mob down on you, making shootouts a costly and damaging affair. As a stealth and assassination game, Absolution is fantastic, but there are some rough corners in the John Woo section here that need to be improved upon. Movement in combat can be stilted at times, while melee combat is nothing more than a simple QTE segment, which while simple and effective, is also a disconnecting affair.
Disguise also play an important role here, even though it can be hit and miss at times. Disguising yourself as a police officer for instance, and you’ll attract a slight amount of attention from fellow law enforcers, as they try to remember where they’ve seen you before. Blow that cover, and you’ll soon find yourself cornered and outgunned. It’s an understandable gameplay idea, but one that makes no sense when you disguise yourself as someone less conspicuous, such as a fast food vendor. After all, why would they be alerting authorities just because they’ve never seen you at a market before?
Add to that the fact that several levels make it more useful to stay in your usual threads than it is to warrant unwanted attention in your newly acquired clothes, and it can be baffling. When it works, it works. But when it misses, it misses big.
And these are factors that all can be summed up in the mentally depressing scoring system of the game. Actions have consequences, ramifications which come through in the negative points that are awarded and stripped from your total when you break character and get trigger happy. On the surface, the idea is sound, but it’s also pretty damn saddening when you see all the careful work and execution that you’ve been awarded points for, take a tumble because you decided to snap a neck instead of oxygen AND STOP JUDGING ME YOU DAMN VIRTUAL SCOREBOARD!
But overall, it’s a really satisfying experience. There’s ample room for replay value here, and while the game has several rough spots, it also more than makes up for it with the core gameplay itself. Once the actual twenty mission campaign is done, dusted, replayed, explored and all the challenges met and exceeded, there’s Contracts mode.
Essentially a choose-your-own-contract-kill scenario, players get a chance to replay missions once again, but to do so with a target of their own choosing, from main antagonist to NPCs, while also using new disguises and weapons within which to carry out the hit.
Up to three targets can be chosen, and leaving the level allows the game to record that specific mission, upload all the relevant stats and allow the game community to interact and try to replicate those kills, while also attempting to beat your overall score and time.
It’s a clever way to create new content through exploration and experimentation using existing resources, eschewing the need for a convoluted level editor, while also building new rivalries between players and friends.