Where do you start with a series like Hitman? It’s a gratuitous, non-stop thinking man’s franchise that has now moved swiftly with the times courtesy of IO Interactive and Square Enix. While it may have taken over half a decade since Hitman: Blood Money to get anti-hero Agent 47 some fresher contracts to pursue, Absolution provides players with a solid narrative, some interesting online play and bucket loads of multi-executions to perfect in a grotty universe that oozes more horror and defilement than Josef Fritzl’s basement if it were stationed in Silent Hill.
It’s not all about being hypocritically “holier-than-thou” though; cleansing the seedy underworld of the US is but an afterthought in the grander, overarching scheme of things. Agent 47’s first hit in this new venture is none other than Diana Burnwood – both his contract handler back in 2006 and, more importantly, the woman who once saved his life. After going rogue in the events proceeding Blood Money, Diana has royally sabotaged the Agency by crashing all systems and publically exposing them to the rest of the world. In the ever-so-twisted moral tale of Hitman, 47 hesitates momentarily before pulling the trigger – promising himself to not get personally involved. As a final dying wish, Diana asks Agent 47 to protect a girl named Victoria from falling into the clutches of the agency – instantly offering gamers a new perspective on the ICA and launching 47 headfirst into a story of betrayal, bondage and bloodlust…
At the hands of Square Enix (a development team well known for titles such as Final Fantasy and Deus Ex) Absolution looks absolutely gorgeous. Running off IO Interactive’s Glacier 2 engine, 47’s bald head shimmers in thousands of different ways in response to the diverse weather conditions, lens flares and firefights that make up the majority of the game. Cutscenes are well produced with some solid facial recognition technology and lip-syncing, whilst the majority of the games’ sandbox locations are a spectacle to behold with their often beleaguered detail. Perhaps it may be due to the similarity in locations throughout the game, but graphically this feels a lot like Rockstar’s most recent outing, Max Payne 3. The neon streets and tropical locations feel just as immersive as they should and crowd scenes just blaze with impressive AI detail, which is the only time I’ll be able to refer to the AI positively throughout this review…
Yes it’s no secret that due to the limited nature of prior gaming generations, AI in previous Hitman games hasn’t been fantastic – however it has always been consistent and for that we must give credit where credit’s due. Hitman Absolution seems to be riddled with unpredictable errors that can often take place at key moments in your well-prepared execution plan. Whether it be random Sims noticing you for no apparent reason, guards getting suspicious within a millisecond of looking your way or indeed bad guys opening fire despite your hilariously inventive costume-change – being stealthy is never as obvious as it should be. Before you start a contract (a campaign that is split into 20 levels, including a prologue and epilogue) you are shown at the top of your screen how well your friends have done on that particular mission. Usually they have a respectable score and this inspires you to play both stealthily and creatively – a neat idea that I feel works well. Where this falls down, however, is in the way that you’re docked points for any casualties you incur whilst performing a mission. I’m sorry, guys, but with every Tom, Dick and Harry noticing me from a mile off I have to hold my hands up and admit – PEOPLE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO DIE. It’s great to be stealthy and you deservedly need to earn points that way, but with such flawed and irregular AI it becomes an impossible task to keep a “clean sheet” in the way you progress through each mission. What I’m trying to say is “I don’t actually ever want to kill but I had to”… and now I sound like Michael Clarke Duncan’s character in The Green Mile.
Online play is “interesting” and sadly that can be the only word used to describe it. I can’t help but feel Square Enix missed a trick in this department; the idea of online multiplayer Hitman style minigames is extremely appealing to me – a lot like what Assassin’s Creed eventually ended up doing by having a stealthy online segment where you have to try and take each other out. Even adopting one of Quantum of Solace’s game modes would be great – where one person plays as the Hitman and the others must play as guards attempting to stop him from either escaping or murdering his target. Instead they’ve opted for a mode called “Contracts” – whereby you play through levels and customize your own hits and loadouts and share these to compete with your friends online. While it’s a lot more freeing and creative playing other people’s levels, the only way to get a good score is to speed run and after a few games things get dull pretty quickly.
In all, Hitman Absolution is a relatively strong entry to the Hitman canon. A few missed tricks, AI errors and general bugs here and there prevent it from being the metaphorical icing on the franchise cake. While the cakes of old have usually been laced with excellence, this one seems laced with marzipan – a flavour that ultimately the majorities will enjoy but a distinct few connoisseurs will turn their noses up at. Oh well, you can’t win them all 47!