Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS3, XBox 360, PC, OnLive
Release Date: November 20, 2012
What’s cooler than a high end business suit wearing bald headed contract killer with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head wielding dual silenced Silverballer pistols? Not a whole hell of a lot. That is of course, until he carves that identifier off the back of his scalp with a barber’s razor and goes rogue.
Agent 47 returns in the fifth installment of this series about stealth, infiltration and assassination.
It’s been a number of years since Hitman’s protagonist 47 has been seen. In that time the stoic protagonist and his tools of the trade have undergone a few significant changes, most of them positive.
Hitman Absolution utilizes a new gorgeous graphics engine powered by IO Interactive’s proprietary Glacier 2 technology which boasts the impressive ability to render over 1200 fully articulated characters onscreen simultaneously. Along with some significant streamlining to it’s gameplay and a narrative that hasn’t been this compelling since Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Hitman Absolution is more accessible and more fun than any previous entry in the series.
Feast for the Eyes
Hitman Absolution is a great looking game.
…able to render hundreds of NPCs…worked flawlessly with nary a hitch in framerate.
It’s graphical splendor is on par with the likes of Max Payne 3 for creating impressively gritty and realistic yet stunningly beautiful environments filled with multiple light sources, light shafts, particles galore and haunting real-time shadows.
Not to mentioned the impressive feat of being able to render hundreds of NPCs simultaneously which worked flawlessly with nary a hitch in framerate.
I was surprised at it’s “good looking” to “smooth gameplay” ratio. I struggled to keep Max Payne 3 at 30 FPS on medium settings yet Hitman Absolution performs flawlessly with all settings set to maximum.
I had some serious reservations about the inclusion of this new “Instinct” system. Similar systems have been featured in a number of stealth games over the past few years including Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Asylum/City series and most recently Arkane Studios’ Dishonored. It functions by giving the player the ability to see through walls and visualize predetermined NPCs paths allowing you to more easily choose proper hiding places and plan silent take-downs.
It also highlights contextual objects in the environment that can be used to your advantage, like a palette of cinder blocks hanging vicariously above suspended by a cable ready to snap with a precisely aimed shot or discovering that the security chief with the key card to the second floor has a penchant for coffee.
I was worried that giving 47 this superhuman ability to determine an enemy’s whereabouts absent of any sort of outside stimuli might make the game less realistic and remove all sense of challenge, but IO Interactive did an excellent job of making Instinct a limited resource that only refills when you make a stealth kill or successfully infiltrate an area unseen. (Note: On Easy difficulty Instinct refills automatically)
…having abilities that are beyond the scope of mortal man does give 47 an unfair advantage.
However, it does push most situations in your favor. Not quite to the Corvo, from Dishonored, heights of over-the-top domination but having abilities that are beyond the scope of mortal man does give 47 an unfair advantage.
Along with the ability to see through walls, 47 can also activate a “paint and kill” mode called Point Shooting where once activated time stands still and you can mark targets for immediate assassination similar to the system employed in Splinter Cell Conviction. Though in Conviction you could only take down two foes simultaneously. In Hitman Absolution there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the amount of mayhem you can cause in a single volley except for your precision, reserves of Instinct and your current weapon’s clip size.
What makes the Hitman series stand out among other stealth based games is 47′s ability to assume the identities of people he knocks out or kills by stealing their clothing. I was actually expecting a more sophisticated method of swapping outfits this time around but it remains largely unchanged. When you take out an opponent you can hold down a button/key for a few seconds and then magically appear in their clothes while they are reduced to their skivvies.
I was surprised that the game didn’t employ a more realistic method considering so much effort has been put into the game world’s believably. Even panning the camera away for a few seconds while 47 undresses the poor unconscious/dead man and puts the clothes on himself would have made the transformation more convincing. It’s a very minor critique that is a throwback to the earlier games in the series and doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment or flow of the experience. Rather than concentrate on improving the realism of shifting disguises, IO Interactive decided to concentrate on it’s impact on gameplay. Now carrying out your assumed persona is more enjoyable.
Now carrying out your assumed persona is more enjoyable.
In previous entries in the series, determining whether or not an NPC can see through your disguise was somewhat of a crap shoot. You had no way to exactingly determine how suspicious enemies were of your presence. This time around you can expend Instinct to remain incognito by draining your bar in their presence. It’s a good use of the resource as you actively feel the consequences of “burning through” your Instinct meter knowing it could probably be more efficiently used by finding a more stealthy approach thus saving precious Instinct for seeing through walls or making deadly mass executions.
Quest for Perfection
Hitman Absolution uses an interesting system to allow you to upgrade your skills and provide a sense of progression. Each mission has multiple objectives and routes in which to reach them. Generally, remaining undetected and taking the least lethal approach nets you more “experience points”. Once you’ve gained enough of these points you automatically unlock a new ability, be it more accurate aiming, faster weapon reloads or reduced Instinct consumption.
It is even possible to obtain a negative score…by treating 47′s world like a John Woo film.
After each level/mission you are provided with a detailed review of your actions and how they affected your overall score. You can choose to replay missions to hone your tactics and have a chance at more quickly unlocking your improved abilities.
It is even possible to obtain a negative score which will push you further away from your next goal by treating 47′s world like a John Woo film.
Smaller; Tighter Spaces
The previous games in the series featured sometimes sprawling environments. This had both advantages and disadvantages. I remember playing a particularly challenging mission in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin that was composed of an entire valley in a snowy mountainous region. I spent literally hours on that level trying to stealthily bypass it, eventually I became so frustrated that I just dropped stealth all together in favor of just killing everything that moved in order to progress.
I was almost immediately turned around by that killer of immersion: the invisible wall.
Hitman Absolution features mostly small levels. The second level in particular comes to mind. It takes place in a crowded market in Chinatown. Within 10 seconds of starting the level you can see your assassination target. One of the experience awarding in-game achievements was “Kapow!” which tasked you with simply walking up and shooting him. I instead dropped the aforementioned palette of cinder blocks on his head and walked out the exit door located less than twenty feet away. It took all of three minutes to complete. I only needed to wait for my target to “pat” or walk his predefined path to that position and make an Instinct assisted shot.
While spending hours in a single environment could become a drag it also lent a sense of size to the game world. In the third mission of Hitman Absolution your tasked with infiltrating a hotel. I decided to walk as far as I could down the street to see if I could uncover some sort of hidden sewer or rooftop access but I was almost immediately turned around by that killer of immersion: the invisible wall.
Not all the levels are short but more often than not a mission consists of usually “stealthing” through a single floor of a building followed by a checkpoint that allows you to restart at it if (read: when) you are detected.
Hitman Absolution features a nice diversion in the form of user created “Contracts”. Players can create assassination scenarios with a specific set of rules. They can then share these Contracts with the community. The conditions can include such requirements as not killing anyone except the target or requiring you to hide all the bodies. Completing these user made challenges award you experience points that you can then use to upgrade your equipment for use in the story campaign.
It’s a nice addition that can add some additional longevity to your playthrough.
Hitman Absolution, like many titles these days, has had a bug-ridden launch with multiple users encountering a variety of game breaking issues. It took me several hours of searching internet forums to find a solution that worked for my particular situation.
It is frustrating when you are punished for being an early adopter by being forced to act as the developer’s beta testing division.
When I attempted to launch the game I was met with an error message reading: “Failed to initialize DirectX 11″. In my case it came down to obtaining a specific DirectX 11 related Windows Hotfix that seemed to be missing from my rig. I wasn’t surprised to find that to be the culprit considering I don’t keep up with Windows Updates because in my experience downloading patches from Microsoft hasn’t typically made my computer work better/faster/stronger…and sometimes made it not work at all.
Other users are reporting mission specific crashes, strange graphical hiccups, framerate issues and the inability to perform the game’s user made content mode known as “Contracts”. It is frustrating when you are punished for being an early adopter by being forced to act as the developer’s beta testing division.
Not every change to the Hitman formula was a positive one. There have been a number of changes that I don’t think added to the experience.
First and foremost in my mind is the exclusion of the “Safehouse”. They do have a menu option called Safehouse but it’s really just a trophy room for you to view which weapons you have had equipped during your playthrough. In the previous games, 47 always had a place where he would collect and display every weapon he left a mission with and equip for later missions. This simple addition acted as Hitman’s end game in that after you’ve completed all the missions you could go back through them again and try to collect all the different weapons. With a limited inventory you might have to make several return trips to the same locale in order to retrieve, for instance, the golf club, chainsaw and the tennis racket.
Without the Safehouse you no longer have the option of equipping yourself before a mission, this leads to a more linear playthrough because you always start each level with the same scripted equipment. One of the better parts of the Hitman games was trying to complete a level with just a katana.
Also, because 47 has broken away from the agency you no longer have access to special “Weapon Cache” briefcases which could be discovered in hidden locations and usually allowed you to tackle an objective in a unique manner. For example, finding a sniper rifle in a back alley allowed you to kill your target through a window without ever even having to enter the building at all.
Hitman Absolution doesn’t have a map either. It rarely affects the gameplay as your onscreen radar does an adequate job of showing you the NPCs in your vicinity, but part of the fun of the other games was examining the layout of an area before hand and strategize your plan of attack. Now you must rely entirely upon you ability to tactically react to a situation or multiple playthroughs to familiarize yourself with a location’s layout.
Hitman Absolution is a great installment in the series. It borrows liberally from other games in the genre by adopting mechanics that have been made popular over the the last few years, but successfully manages to organically port them over as worthy additions to 47′s repertoire. The missions may be generally smaller and more succinct but that also makes progression faster allowing you to tackle several missions in a single sitting. If your a fan of stealth based games Hitman Absolution is a sure winner. If your a fan of the Hitman series in general you’ve probably already bought it and are thoroughly enjoying it.
|Bag of Games’||8.7|
|Hitman Absolution Review Score|
Why so high? Gorgeous graphics, slick gameplay, bad ass protagonist, fiberwire kills.
Why so low? Simplified challenge, more linear and smaller levels lead to less variety in ways to tackle objectives.