Originally published on GameInformer.com January 9, 2013, at 8:00 AM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 1/17/13.
4,919 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
I'm likely the last person you'd expect to write about Hitman: Absolution as I'm an abysmal assassin. My idea of stealth is to restrain my instinct to blast anything that moves. But for that reason I've always been a fan of this series, which is renowned for its open gameplay structure that allows multiple approaches to mission objectives.
It's a testament to the quality design that an assassin as woefully inept as myself can still feel like a notorious contract killer. Sure, the emphasis is on creeping around and avoiding detection, but when your footsteps are as heavy as a pachyderm's and your strategy as evolved as a possum, having myriad options is a blessing.
In that regard, IO Interactive's latest entry in the series plays a lot like predecessors Silent Assassin 2, Contracts and Blood Money. The improved presentation adds to its value, though shortcomings in design do detract from the overall experience. Still, if the first few missions are any indication, Absolution maintains the series' renowned reputation.
The opening CG establishes a compelling if somewhat formulaic premise, though I'll try to not divulge any plot spoilers in favor of spoiling the gameplay! How's that? Honestly, however, I'll probably do you a service as is typical of the impressions I provide given how well I can muck things up.
At least I didn't die in the above sequence while admiring the game's impressive production values, which is not unheard of, like when I was shot through the head by a sniper in Rage while staring at ground textures. Brilliant.
Gratefully, the beginning of Absolution serves as a gameplay tutorial. I should point out that there is a generous serving of five difficulties; I chose the default Normal second setting despite suspicions that Easy would much better suit my crude and clumsy tendencies.
Nevertheless, I did excel at following helpful hints and screen prompts. Most of the time. There's nothing quite so nerve-wracking as sneaking up on a guard and preparing to strangle them with your garrote (fiber wire), only to fumble with the controls until the guard realizes there's a dimwit behind them!
Apparently assassins are so good at what they do that they can fit into anyone's clothes, even a contract killer as physically intimidating as the tall, muscular Agent 47. Of course it's one of the amusements of this series that it takes foes so long to recognize the towering bald man behind the disguise.
Hiding out on a ledge is not a bad idea for someone like me, but Agent 47 does not exactly blend in no matter the background. At least it's a means to an end as traversing them is a common gameplay element either to get around obstacles or obtain important info or items.
The mechanic for doing so controls well and is context sensitive, i.e. allowing for moving past windows or around obstacles. And like in other stealth series such as Splinter Cell, if I remember, you can help foes in windows better appreciate the view by giving them a friendly heave ho (bottom picture).
If Agent 47 ever met Miss Manners it would play out more like a match made online than in Heaven. After all, he doesn't believe in personal boundaries, privacy or knocking, and he always has to get the last word. Think less Fred MacMurray than Freddy Krueger. At least sociopaths are more entertaining. (And so what if I'm dating myself? LOL)
The cinematics, like the game's production values in general, are well polished and a prime example of this console generation's capabilities. Detailed textures, fluid animations and dramatic camera angles combine with a somber, suitably dark storyline for an interesting, if somewhat familiar, narrative.
Stealth is given its proper due in the tutorial segments, whereas gunslinging is practically reduced to using "Instinct" to instinctively deliver a headshot to all the goons in a room (i.e. Point Shooting). Funny, because my instinct when confronted with superior numbers would be to spray and pray. At least the former helps conserve ammo, and my life.
The Hitman franchise is controversial enough without notorious imagery like the nuns trailer for Absolution. And this game's cinematics are no less provocative. But any shock value is a means to an end. The dark narrative is promising, the score is sweeping and ominous, and the dialog and voice acting dramatic.
Indeed, the first few missions are promising in that regard and remind me of Man on Fire. Video games can do worse than that comparison. Regardless, there is no denying the cinematic feel of the CG cutscenes, which do bridge gameplay segments well.
Absolution has a deep stat tracking feature that scores and tallies your moves post-mission. You also can unlock skills as well as disguises, weapons, items, etc. The scoring provides incentive to improve and perhaps even bragging rights, though I'm less sure how unlockables apply, unless as options for the Contracts mission creation mode.
Early missions, at least, are pretty standard but do show off the series' open gameplay structure. Told who your target is, where they are and the general context, how you fulfill your assignment is up to you. As far as this mission (above photo), I did what I always do, turn failure into good fortune.
I began by exploring the busy market (SPOILER ALERT). There are lots of cops near the center, if I remember, so I spent time trying to find someone I could subdue for their wardrobe. Along the way, I found my target's meal, but couldn't do anything with it (I assume I needed to obtain poison first).
Continued wandering eventually led me to his car. It was guarded by a lone officer, who I subdued and obtained a disguise from. I don't recall the exact timeline after, but inspected the car and was prompted with its car alarm. I assumed this prompt was to turn it off. It wasn't.
As the alarm blared, I desperately button mashed to turn it off. No such luck. I tried walking away -- if I could nonchalantly whistle, I would have -- but felt too conspicuous so just lurked in shadows. Fortuitously, the owner appeared, so I killed him. I think it was only later that I found a detonator nearby the car! (END SPOILER.)
Chinatown exemplifies the quality production values that IO has generously applied to this game. The degree of detail is impressive, not only in the depth of textures but in level design. Colors are vibrant and the spectrum is broad. Ambient sounds are complex, especially in the market. Animations are fluid, NPCs are varied and AI appears intuitive.
As indicated, CG cutscenes bridge gameplay well and likewise demonstrate the quality design of Absolution. If nothing else, Agent 47 is a well-realized, threatening presence, whether his imposing figure, stern countenance, concise dialog or deep, forceful voice. It's ironic that in my hands he plays more like an inept court jester.
Thank goodness there's a reward for hiding in plain sight, since that's something I do by default. Note how I was spotted once. In fact it's rare that I can emerge from a Hitman level unscathed, as the next mission will demonstrate.
Although you play as a contract killer, the game's atmosphere is reminiscent of a hard-boiled detective novel. More precisely, it has the audio/visual elements common to film noir: A dark, brooding city; colorful characters of ill repute; overall violent milieu; and ominous score. Indeed the setting is an impressive character in and of itself.
Instinct, characterized by the circular yellow bar visible in the bottom right of some screenshots, is a key new element that figures prominently in gameplay. It's primary function is to view all nearby characters (including paths) or important items, though it also can be used to help avoid detection of similarly dressed NPCs or to slow time for targeting foes.
This feature controls well, which is important considering how much you might rely on it. However, it's no simple crutch as it depletes with use and is only replenished upon completion of missions (as I understand it). This adds a welcome element of strategy as I found myself using it for seconds at a time, though longer for avoiding or Point Shooting.
A word about this mission (above image). Your target is on an upper floor and you have to find your way there (SPOILER ALERT). It's an expansive area inside and out and I explored rooms, ledges and hallways in general. Eventually I used an elevator but drew a lot of attention.
This is where, once again, it got messy. I made a bee line to the elevator but was spoken to by a few people along the way, some who wondered aloud about my identity. At the elevator and surrounded by two or three people, I desperately mashed buttons trying to call it, only to suspiciously alternate between picking up and dropping weapons LOL.
Thankfully I escaped before the ruse was up. (END SPOILER.) It was a tense moment made comical by my ineptitude but also raises the issue of AI. Overall I think it is intuitive but there are times when lapses occur. The following is an example of the latter.
Cowboys don't sneak. So it's appropriate that my Agent 47 was dressed as one when I got caught and had to dish out some frontier justice. As happened, these goons didn't do themselves any favors, though admittedly it took me I think three tries before I got it right. (SPOILER ALERT.)
Having reached the same floor as my target, I unfortunately got caught trying to sneak up on foes and then flubbed the melee combat quick time events. Yes, melee combat is reduced to a series of QTEs; not impossible but can be nettlesome for the uncoordinated (or just plain old haha).
Cue firefight. I retreated to a room with a low barrier and resorted to my Instinct for Point Shooting. Some of my ducks were in a row so went down in short order but others sought cover or were shielded by columns. On occasion I was flanked, but at other times foes shot at one of the doorways even though I wasn't there.
With some thus distracted, I was able to take out a few more. So based on this exchange, the AI was decidedly mixed. Some took cover and flanked, others stood in the open or shot at air. I've only played a few missions, but so far I think the overall impression is of good AI with a few regretable lapses. (END SPOILER.)
This mission's stats highlight my bull in a china shop approach to stealth games. Relatively lots of collateral damage. Good thing my direct approach was rewarded with an upgrade to my technique!
Besides post-mission stats, Absolution tallies all manner of data on one's overall progression. This detailed info is available anytime, if I recall, and can provide interesting insight into one's gameplay during the campaign.
Damage Taken (above) reminds me of my Bullet Sponge achievement for Clive Barker's Jericho. At least my Hit Ratio was decent, thanks in large part to copious use of Point Shooting in Instinct mode. Not that it matters much if I'm dead.
With the caveat that math is not a strong suit, I believe I have a 56% failure rate when comparing Disguises Picked Up with Disguises Blown. Likewise, I have a 195% failure rate when considering Successful Blend Ins versus Caught Trespassing. Yes, apparently that IS possible, courtesy of yours truly.
My headshot is ratio is decent, again due to Point Shooting. More than anything else, however, my Kills stats highlight my FPS experience. After all, you can take stealth out of the shooter, but you can't take the shooter out of stealth, or something.
I'm not sure that this screenshot (above) provides you with much insight into my gameplay, except that I walk 99% of the time compared with running, which pretty much mirrors real life. Too bad there is no measure for a sedentary strategy, as I would kill with that number.
As mentioned previously, the characters I've encountered so far are all colorful and entertaining. They add real depth to the storyline and are interesting counterweights to Agent 47.
Containers are not only helpful for stowing bodies but can provide a hiding place as well. This proves crucial in areas with multiple foes patroling various patterns. Though the Peek option doesn't seem like it would be as safe as it suggests given how wide you open the container. Good thing the city's finest are not always so fine.
The moody atmosphere is accentuated by images such as this (above). As a kind of crime drama set in a dark and foreboding urban landscape, with a strong and threatening central character, you can't help but be reminded of similar material. In this case, the design evoked Batman: Arkham City.
Several sequences early on involve a helicopter and up the ante when it comes to suspense. The added searchlight and weaponry meant extra caution was necessary to escape alive. Or just extra lives. Can you guess which scenario I opted for?
A funny thing happened on the way to my freedom (SPOILER ALERT). I had to find my way through a building filled with hippies and cops (and BTW there are great touches like one tenant who madly collects marijuana plants to flush down a toilet). In the process, I decide I need a new disguise as mine is blown.
I tried to subdue the plant flushing hippie but his wardrobe of T-shirt and boxer shorts wasn't available as a disguise. So I wandered into the open, where these hippies ignored me despite their open disdain for the cops hovering outside in a helicopter. Skeptical of any reaction, I subdued their friend at the next window. Bad move.
The hippies DID notice that and freaked out, attracting the cops and leading to my demise. Searching for options, I again tried to sneak up to cops but was discovered and flubbed the melee QTEs. Eventually I pretended to surrender but then grabbed a nearby cop for cover (don't ask me how) and cleared a room before running away (END SPOILER).
Some missions are multistage affairs that can really pad your stats and rewards. In this case, I had some very helpful upgrades. Granted, I was caught several times, died a few times and had to restart, but thankfully checkpoints at least on Normal difficulty were well spaced so I never felt punished for screwing up.
I would be remiss for not pointing out an important gameplay mechanic exemplified by this latest mission. I won't go into any great detail, except to say that the stealth action involves a kind of puzzle for escaping a multiplatform train station. It was interesting and fun.
In fact, if history is any indication, the entire game should play out like a puzzle, allowing gamers to figure out what combination of gameplay, items or weapons will help them achieve their objectives. And of course the genius of at least the first few missions of Absolution -- and of the series as a whole -- is level design that allows for multiple choice.
After about two hours of gameplay and a few missions I can say that despite shortcomings such as sometimes inconsistent AI (which frankly might be remedied by higher difficulties), I was pleasantly surprised to see that the successful gameplay has been retained and even improved with elements like Instinct.
Bottom line, so far I've found Hitman: Absolution to be an entertaining, well-balanced and overall well made addition to a venerable series renowned for its open gameplay structure and emphasis on player choice. With a promising story and high production values, I can't wait to play more, or to explore the added Contracts mode of customized missions.
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