Sunday, November 18, 2012

REVIEW - Hitman: Absolution (360/PS3)

It's been a big year for assassins and hired killers. While the Corvos and Conners of the world flaunt their flashy newness to everybody who will pay attention, Hitman does what Hitman does best. It waits in the shadows for just the right time. Does Absolution sneak right on by never leaving a trace, or does it garrote its place into our hearts?

Absolution sees you returning to the very well worn shoes of Agent 47, the titular hitman. A close acquaintance of his goes rogue, and for some reason the agency decided to send the one guy whose emotions might interfere with the job to kill her. The mission gets predictably fubar'd. His target was protecting a mysterious young woman, and everyone and their grandma seems to want to get a hold of her. Agent 47 promises to protect her from harm, even from those he works for.

The narrative in this game can best be described as a vehicle. Not a flashy vehicle either. More like that 1993 Geo Metro you had back in the day. It serves its purpose of getting you from assassination to assassination. The "Tough killer puts it all on the line to protect a human MacGuffin" storyline has been done numerous times. The story is carried somewhat by a cast of eccentric friends and foes. While Agent 47 himself is mostly subdued and calm in his demeanor, characters like main antagonist Blake Dexter are so over the top you can't help but be entertained.

Yes, he does always have them 'rapin' eyes'.

The same can be said of the voice acting. After a foolish attempt to replace him, Absolution sees David Bateson return as our plucky hero. He's not a good actor, but he is Agent 47. The rest of the cast is similarly not "good" in the strictest sense, but given the silly lines they are given to read they make the performances fun.

Visually, the game is entirely average. The textures are a bit flat and the character models are not too impressive, but the game is sharp and the framerate is pretty consistent. There are scenes with large crowds where it might dip a bit but overall it's steady. This game uses lighting to help make the flat textures pop a bit more and it's mostly visually appealing, but sometimes it waaaay overcompensates. Lighting will shine and reflect off of cloth and skin like it's fucking Archimedes' burning mirrors. Agent 47's bald head can boil your eyeballs.

A handy visual analogy.

The main draw of the Hitman series is its less linear approach to stealth gameplay. In Absolution, each level is a mini sandbox. Your objectives are made clear, but how you achieve them is left up to you. You can kill everyone in sight, disguise yourself to walk right by the enemy, or simply avoid being seen entirely. Even among these choices there are plenty of alternatives. Do you hop out the window and climb the fire escape, or do you crawl through the vents? Each stage is a puzzle. You're scored based on your performance, and with better performance comes unlocks and upgrades. So perhaps shooting your way through a stage isn't such a great option.

For each mission, there are a list of challenges specific to that mission. There are things like finding all the weapons and disguises in the stage, but there is also a list of the ways you can accomplish your goals. For example, if you can kill one of your targets by poisoning his coffee or electrocuting him while he takes a piss, it'll be there for you to see. This encourages experimentation rather than just choking your way through a level and really gives each level replay value. It also has the drawback of making you feel less like you're thinking like a hitman and more like you're simply meeting Condition A to execute Action B. It sacrifices a more organic approach to make replaying stages more immediately rewarding. I can dig that, for the most part.

 Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers directed by Christopher Nolan.

Agent 47 has also borrowed some gameplay elements from some other well known stealth games. Absolution's Instinct feature is similar to Batman: Arkham City's Detective Mode. Enabling it highlights your enemies, even through walls, and can show the paths they will walk and will highlight environmental points of interest. Point Shooting works very much like Splinter Cell Conviction's Mark and Execute system. If you have your Instinct bar filled up enough, you can tag a certain amount of enemies and watch as Agent 47 stylishly places a cap firmly in their asses.

If those features sound like cheat mode to you, you will be happy to know that Hitman: Absolution does a great job of making sure you can scale the difficulty to the kind of stealth experience you want. On the normal difficulty you can sort of fail your way through objectives. If you're a hardcore stealth fan you can bump the difficulty up, which not only makes enemies more numerous and the consequences of being spotted more severe, it can also remove HUD elements and restrict those too-helpful gameplay features.

Tell me this lighting is not fucking bananas.

Some parts of the game do feel a little wonky. Most of the interaction in the game requires holding a button instead of pressing it which I never really got used to. The cover system also had the habit of making me stick to walls when I didn't want to and popping me out of cover when I wanted to stay in. The AI also never goes above "pretty dumb". Turning the difficulty up makes them more aggressive, but they'll still forget you ever existed 30 seconds after you kill half of their crew.

Hitman Absolution is a really good game. It's not an amazing one, but true stealth games are so hard to come by these days I feel like I have to cut it some slack.


  1. Nice review!!!

    I am so pumped for this game - I like the open feel of Hitman games. One of the few game series that manages to successfully utilise player choice as a gameplay mechanism.

    Oh boy do I wish I had enough money to buy this NAO!!!

  2. Gorilla Inside of Exercise BallNovember 18, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    >>Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers directed by Christopher Nolan.<<