Posted on November 29, 2012 AT 03:37am
After six long years, Agent 47 has returned once again in Hitman: Absolution. In his hiatus, he’s learned a few new tricks, and there have been a few major changes in the Hitman formula. Before you cry foul, let me be clear: this game, like the rest of the series, is first and foremost a game about stealth assassination. The Hitman series has always been known for its stealth mechanics, though not so much for its plot. Yes, there has been a plot, but its never been front-and-center the way that it is in Absolution. Lengthy cutscenes, large amounts of dialogue… Agent 47 is definitely starting to head in a new direction.
The game opens with 47 taking a contract very personal to him: Diana Burnwood, his previous handler. Apparently, since the events of Blood Money, she has run afoul of the International Contract Agency, and must be dealt with. 47 defies his instructions at the last possible moment, learning that there is something very wrong happening within the ICA. This launches a string of events that leads him to Victoria, a mysterious young girl who the Agency is vying to have returned to them. She represents a turning point for Agent 47: The want to protect a life, instead of ending one.
Agent 47 uses his holy fire axe. Bless you, my child.
Chinatown, a mansion, a strip club, the desert, a gun shop, a tiny town called Hope, and many more places await you as 47 seeks both answers and absolution. As for the characters: The villains are outright bastards, and you won’t feel bad at all for going in for the kill. The various other NPCs, on the other hand, are often average people. Even as you prepare to pull a guard out of the window to become an inkstain on the pavement below because he’s obstructing your progress, he may be having a conversation with his doctor, who just told him that he’s cancer free. If you keep yourself in the mindset of ‘it’s just a game’, you may not be affected much by these things. Even so, many players will hesitate at moments like these. These people are just doing what they do to get their next paycheck; they’ve got families, loved ones, lives outside of their current mission. Much like the recent Spec Ops, it makes the player question if each kill is really necessary. At least in the case of Hitman, they make it pretty obvious who the real bad guys are.
Aside from moral dilemmas and a fairly decent plotline, there’s a number of new additions to the gameplay. The biggest addition, ‘Instinct Mode’, is likely the most derisive one. Its primary use is as an overlay that points to usable items [weapons, body containers, first aid kits, etc], denotes who is good/bad/neutral, and shows the path that potential threats are walking along. Basically, imagine that Agent 47 now has Batman’s ‘Detective Mode’. Being able to see the pathing of an enemy, though tremendously useful, lowers the difficulty of tracking them. I could easily see Hitman purists getting angry at that particular function. Another function of Instinct Mode are for ‘hiding in plain sight’ at the cost of your Instinct gauge. Finally, there’s Point Shooting–somewhat similar to Splinter Cell: Blacklist‘s Mark & Execute or Red Dead Redemption‘s Dead Eye–that allows you to tag multiple targets and shoot them all in rapid succession. What I found interesting about the concept of Point Shooting is that it’s a real thing. I didn’t find Point Shooting to be particularly useful, since most of the time, you need your Instinct gauge for disguising yourself. I could see Point Shooting being of use in Contracts mode, but more on that later. To keep your Instinct gauge topped off, you need to do skillful things, such as headshots, subduing enemies, hiding bodies, or completing objectives. Sometimes, you might find yourself bumping people off just to fill up your gauge a bit. You definitely don’t want to get caught in a disguise without at least a little Instinct to use.
They’re comin’ right for us! *bang*
A number of other new features have been added as well: Cover mechanics have been added, and even though they’ve become commonplace in third-person action games, they are very appropriate for the stealth nature of this game. Moving cover-to-cover is often the best–and sometimes only–way to navigate across the terrain. Weapon targeting has been improved drastically, which I personally think is long overdue. In many ways, a lot of the new mechanics are very similar to what you can do in the Splinter Cell games. I have very mixed emotions on being able to make that comparison. It’s not to say that the game is flawed, but it troubles me that a series that broke the mold when it came to stealth action is starting to borrow from the handbooks of those that came after it. But then again, sometimes the students must teach the masters.
The typical trappings for the Hitman series are also here; You can subdue or kill people, hide bodies, and swap clothing to disguise yourself. The ‘accidental death’ kills from Blood Money make a return as well, often showing up as challenges within each mission. If a straight shot to the head isn’t good enough for you, there are plenty of ‘oops’ options. There’s nothing quite like having a guy electrocute himself when he pees too close to a power line that you just happened to make live, or dropping a whale skeleton on an entire group. There are various other challenges in each mission, some require taking out target(s) in a particular way, others require you to pick up certain items [or not pick them up, in some cases]. There’s no lack of ways to play through the game, especially if you want to try every possible way to kill your targets.
Agent 47: Big Pimpin’
Agent 47 is looking at his best, graphically. Many of the other characters and locations look fantastic as well, except when they’re supposed to be repulsive mofos. Believe me, some of the baddies are ugly as sin. Others, like the Saints [aka the killer latex clad nuns from the infamous 'Attack of the Saints' trailer] are… well… kinda hot, in a ‘beautiful rendered lady’ kind of way. The strippers at the club are comically busty, though. Many will be reminded of Dead or Alive‘s giant jiggly orbs. It’s hard to be offended at something so blatantly ridiculous. [PS: They're not completely topless. Star-shaped pasties are abounds. Sorry!] The only other ugliness that I kept running into were obnoxiously bright light flares. There would be times that a light source behind a wall would causing shimmering flare effects through the wall, which made it very hard to see, especially if you’re in cover.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Contracts game mode, which I think is one of the greatest parts of Hitman: Absolution. In Contracts, you can create your own contracts and compete against other players to see who can pull off the hits best. When creating a contract, you actually have to perform the kill [or kills, since you can mark up to three targets per contract] yourself. Select your level, mark your target, then kill your target. The game remembers the conditions you followed to pull it off… What weapon did you use? Were you in a disguise? Did you hide the body? Was your escape done without anyone spotting you? Front gate, back gate, or did you steal a car to leave? The options are all there, allowing you to do your most creative assassinations and challenging the world to do it as well as–or better than–you. My only gripe is that it doesn’t remember the exact weapon in some cases. It only cares what type of weapon it was, not the model. I had gone out of my way to grab the pink-gripped Aries Charging Ram revolver in the gun shop level to kill the shop owner I had marked as my target, only to find that the game only cared that I had used ‘a revolver’. This is something that could probably be fixed in a later patch, and doing so can only make creating Contracts better in the long run. So, here’s hoping that IO Interactive sees this and agrees!
We only use the finest rat poison in our soups, sir. Enjoy!
SUMMARY: There’s no denying that Hitman: Absolution is a great game as stealth assassination action goes. I’m not wholly sure how I feel about the Splinter Cell-esque additions, but if it makes it more accessible and allows new players to enjoy the Hitman series yet still leave in the skill kills for the purist old school players, I’m all for it. If you’re new to the series, I highly recommend you pick it up. If you’re a fan of the older Hitman games, perhaps a rental is wiser at first, so you can decide for yourself if you like the slightly new direction that the series is taking.
- THE GOOD: Plenty of options for the creative killer. Controls have been improved since previous iterations of the series. Instinct Mode makes game more accessible to ‘not as hardcore’ players, but keeps things fresh for veterans. Making and taking contracts keeps the game’s replay value high.
- THE BAD: Some of the newly added game features at times feel too much like other games that are already out there. Contracts mode doesn’t track some things as well as it could.
- THE UGLY: Out of control light sources shining at you from behind cover; I thought there was a fire in your eyes, but it was just the building exploding behind you!
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