When Agent 47 last graced consoles in 2006’s Hitman: Blood Money, his bald, barcoded head stood at the pinnacle of video game assassins. However, on 47’s return in Hitman: Absolution, he finds that 2012 is a different world; there are assassins-a-plenty knocking about now, and things have changed. They aren’t silently garrotting their way across the world, they’re flamboyant free-runners simultaneously writing the course history while preventing the end of the world, all the while telling us that “everything is permitted”. 47 certainly has a bit of a fight on his hands to retake his position as gaming’s pre-eminent Hitman then.
And fight he does, or at least can. Developers IO Interactive courted a few controversies prior to release (oh, the nuns. Why the nuns?), one of which was the action-focused trailers. Fans of 47’s previous outings were worried that Absolution might be just another shooter. Their fears were a little unfounded. You can play Absolution as a shooter, and it’s a decent enough. Shooting itself is pretty satisfying, with a wide variety of weapons, and the cover system works well. Enemies make good use of it, and are accurate enough to pose a threat. And there are usually a lot of them, making good use of the multi-pathed levels to flank you. If you do find a good bottleneck though, enemies become passive and uncreative, sitting behind cover and taking pot shots until they get bored, at which point they stroll towards you like friendly fish in a soon-to-be-bloody barrel.
So yes, the trailers were accurate, in that you can play Absolution as a shooter and have a decent time with it. But long-time fans of the series will be pleased to know that Absolution shines when you play as silent assassin. The acceptable shooter mechanics just mean your inevitable failures at doing this are a bit less annoying.
As in previous games, when you get given a target, there’s usually variety of ways to take him out. Take the second level in the game, set around a Chinatown square. The first thing that struck me in this area was simply the crowd. A wall of noise hits you upon entering the area, and while 47’s movement through the crowds doesn’t look perfect, the sheer number of people in the area more than makes up for it. The first encounter with crowds is a genuine “wow” moment, and it’s a strong feature that remains impressive without being overused. The crowds stand out even in a game that’s generally strong graphically.
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I headed straight to the target and shot him in the head. Smooth. Unfortunately, the police frowned up that sort of thing, and swiftly ended my less-than-glittering career as an assassin. A more subtle approach was called for. In this case, that involved following the target’s drug dealer, knocking him out, disguising myself in his clothes, and setting up a drug deal in a quiet corner. And then shooting the target in the face. My subtlety has limits.
Further investigation of the area revealed more possibilities. A sniper nest overlooking the square. Some poison that can be surreptitiously added to the target’s food, drinks or drugs (or all three, if you want to be sure). Some remote explosives, that can be planted nearby to blow him (and everyone else nearby) into bits. There are always plenty of items scattered around levels which can be used as improvised weapons or distractions. My plunger based killing spree was a particular highlight. Add to that 47’s “instinct” mechanic (of which supply is limited) which highlights enemies, temporarily improves your disguise or, if you’re desperate, gives you a Dead-Eye style “Point Shooting” mechanism, and you’re never really stuck for options.
Hitman: Absolution is a game with significant replay value, simply because there’s plenty of depth to these levels. A bit of poking around will usually reveal new ways to kill your targets, a lot of which are fun to watch. Given the opportunity to attend a barbeque and slyly replace the hot sauce with lighter fluid, it would be rude not to watch the results. The game signposts opportunities like this through “Challenges” within the menu system, but only through hints, and rarely in a way that takes away the satisfaction of discovering them. A level in a scientific research facility is a particular highlight for creative deaths, and the next level at a bare knuckle fight shows off the variety of approach – your kill can normally be as complicated or as simple as you like.
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