Posted on November 18, 2012 AT 06:00am
Bald is beautiful
Hitman fans, you can breathe a sigh of relief. No matter what nonsense the developers may have spouted about gunplay, no matter how hesitant you may be about Agent 47’s newfound X-ray vision, Absolution isn’t some wholesale abandonment of the franchise’s ideals. On the contrary, those core concepts have been carefully and thoughtfully distilled into their most rewarding incarnation yet. This is unadulterated, 200-proof stealth.
That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s hard to overstate the number of refinements on display here. Name something you loved about the old Hitman games, and you can bet it’s been reworked for the better. Take the intricate levels, perhaps the series’ best known hallmark. Absolution’s are far grander in scope and complexity than anything the franchise has ever seen, each one a meticulously crafted clockwork of AI routines for the patient assassin to learn and abuse.
Perhaps more importantly, they’re far more open when it comes to your strategic approach. Whereas before you usually only had one unique environmental kill for each target, multiple choice is now the norm, and the game is far better for it. On the whole, it means there’s much less of a sense that you’re trying to suss out the handful of proper ways to complete a segment, as there’s a much stronger link between what you intuitively want to do and what the game requires of you.
Some diehard fans might be upset with the new challenge system, which teases each special kill with an image and a vague description, but it really doesn’t detract from the experience in the slightest. You’re still forced to discover the when, where, and how of each assassination, and that was always more fun than searching around the map to see what objects you could or couldn’t interact with.
Ultimately, it’s part of a larger push away from the obfuscated game mechanics that often held the prior Hitman games back. The rating system is now governed by points that are displayed onscreen in real time, so you know with certainty when you’ve messed up your shot at Silent Assassin. The suspicion system is far more immediate and intuitive, and that adds a lot of tension that was missing from earlier installments. The result of all these changes is that you can understand and discover every last aspect of Absolution without having to pour hours into trial-and-error experimentation or giving into the temptation of walkthroughs.
Sadly, no matter how much effusive praise I give Absolution’s stealth mechanics, I can’t deny the fact that the game falls just short of greatness. I could point a finger at a half-dozen minor flaws—the forgettable story, the fun-but-ultimately-shallow Contracts mode, the bothersome glitches I occasionally encountered—but the only truly notable culprit here is the absolutely atrocious save system.
For reasons known only to IO Interactive and the all-powerful gods of terrible game design, you can no longer save your progress whenever you want. Instead, you need to hunt down physical save points in the level and activate them. They’re horribly placed, incredibly rare, and, worst of all, they can only be used once before they’re deactivated.
What’s even more frustrating is the fact that the old system, where you could save a limited number of times per level, would’ve worked flawlessly here. It was a brilliant way of allowing you to experiment without turning saving into a crutch that unskilled players could use to coast through the game.
This new approach, on the other hand, actively deters you from trying out anything daring or creative unless you have the patience to replay a significant chunk of the level multiple times. With all the mundane conversations I had to hear over and over again on my Silent Assassin run, I started to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
It’s an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise stellar title, made all the more unfortunate by how integral the feature is to the overall experience. Believe me, though, when I say that you should soldier on past all the frustration, past all the hours of lost progress, past all the expletives shouted at your television. Absolution is just that good.
SUMMARY: Hitman: Absolution features plenty of smart new features and tweaks that modernize the franchise without abandoning the essence of what made it great—but the new save system is awful enough to undo a lot of that good.
- THE GOOD: Intricate, open-ended missions lend a lot of replay potential
- THE BAD: The worst save system in the history of videogames
- THE UGLY: The prospect of having your life ended by a man in a chipmunk suit
Hitman: Absolution is available on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for the PlayStation 3.
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