At a point in the year when the big titles give players big guns and explosions, Square Enix is giving players a pair of silenced Silverballer pistols and a sleek suit in which to slip through shadows as Agent 47 returns in Hitman Absolution. It's never been easy being the silent assassin, but Square Enix and IO Interactive have given 47 some new moves in hopes of bringing in a few new recruits to The Agency. The question is, though, have they done enough to get players to slip the black jacket back on?
Turns out you can teach an old hitman new tricks because Agent 47 is doing some things we didn't see back in Blood Money. The biggest addition is undoubtedly Instinct Mode, giving players a new perspective on the given mission. When using his heightened instincts, Agent 47 can see points of interest, where enemies are, where they're going, and where to find his targets or next objective. Instinct mode can directly influence gameplay as well. Being an efficient killing machine rewards players by filling an Instinct meter. With this, you can mark and kill several targets in quick succession a la Splinter Cell using a system called Point Shooting. You'll use the same Instinct meter to convince people like guards that you're totally one of them and they have no reason to wonder about you. It used to be that if you threw on a cooks outfit then you were a cook, no questions asked, but cooks aren't so trusting these days. While it may simplify Absolution to the dismay of long-time Hitman fans, it is a significant improvement upon the old way of basically forcing players to fend for themselves. For the people who want to go old school, the higher difficulties will deliver Hitman in a way they remember it. The toughest difficulty is even labeled “Purist.”
To beef up gameplay, IO Interactive has introduced challenges in each mission. These let players know how to earn a higher score while dropping clues about devious ways to dispatch undesirables. Sometimes it will be for being a silent assassin and sometimes for being anything but. However you earn your points, they go towards upgrading the abilities of Agent 47. Why simply put a bullet between someone's eyes, when you can turn their favorite place to relieve themselves into a place that sends 10,000 volts coursing through their body? Maybe pissing next to power lines wasn't such a bright idea after all? It was, for you at least.
After all, doing this while disguised means you'll be a more convincing lunatic later on. In each mission there are numerous ways to accomplish your goals, and finding a cool way to finish someone off can be very satisfying, but it could also get on your nerves. I was reminded during my playthrough that above all, a Hitman game requires patience--going through the environment, assessing the situation, finding the right place to strike and waiting for that moment to come. It's not the instant gratification other games offer, but turning that thought of “I wonder what this code goes to” into using an evil scientist's giant gun on its creator is a reward unto itself.
Hitman games tend to have serious missions to go with their serious main character, but Absolution knows when to lighten the mood and bring a little humor to the life of a joyless killing machine. Early on, evading capture by sneaking a square like Agent 47 through a bunch of hippies and getting into a courthouse holding cell might mean donning some conspiracy-inspired headwear. These moments go right along with a story that was written with the intent to humanize Agent 47, but falls short of doing so. Absolution sets the stage with a mission to go kill Agent 47's former handler, Diana, who evidently has gone rogue. Before finishing the job, Agent 47 is entrusted with the protection of a young girl, Victoria, and goes off the reservation himself. Instead of bringing the girl along for the ride, she's dumped with some nuns, taking most of the character development possibility with her. Agent 47 remains the generally emotionless hitman he's always been while trying to figure out why everyone is so interested in Victoria. This leaves it up to a cast of deviants and hit squads made up of nuns in latex outfits to give Absolution its personality. To their credit, the greasy contract killers and everyone working their own angle help to move the game along, but more could've been done.
That's probably why the ending seems to fall flat on its face. I wouldn't count it out that Hitman's style of play didn't help IO Interactive when it came to creating a climactic moment. A game that is designed around stealth and indirect action doesn't necessarily provide the best platform for engaging boss fights. Whether it was early on or at the end, the excitement built for a big confrontation wasn't met with the equivalent payoff. I did appreciate, though, that in the latter parts of the game, the story allowed for the missions to open up some, and there wasn't always pressure to go unseen. There were moments where there was an option to pick up an assault rifle and go to work. It felt right even though it's frowned upon so often in Hitman games. For as long and intense as Hitman Absolution is, breaks like that and the quirky situations mentioned previously are a good way to break the tension.
The game mentions that it runs on the Glacier 2 engine when you start it up, and it broke the tension as well, just not in the way IO and Square Enix intended. Floating coffee cups and corpses that fly up on top of boxes aren't normal, nor is Agent 47 disappearing while his lighter marches on through an air vent. It's those odd moments that make you do a double take in a game where it's perfectly normal to take Samurai armor off a display and wear it while preparing to drop a whale skeleton on someone.
For the diehard Hitman fans, the Contract mode has been introduced to see who the true, ultimate, and silent assassin really is. Hitman Absolution comes with some premade Contract challenges, but players can make their own contracts to challenge their friends and other Absolution players. Besides going back and trying to complete levels with different kills, this is what will keep people coming back to Absolution.
If there is one thing that hangs over this game it's the amount of story in relation to the length of the game. Those moments that were greeted happily for breaking the tension? They were also welcomed because I was getting tired and ready to go guns blazing to reach the end of the game. Even then a character like Agent 47 feels a little out of place, opening fire in a busy street with an assault rifle. I wish that either the story was more fleshed out or the game was shorter. Really, one half of Agent 47's enemies, evil businessman Blake Dexter and Co., could've been reworked or cut entirely to make room for the relationship between Agent 47 and Victoria. Because of her background, you couldn't do John Connor and the Teriminator in T2, but there could've been bonding and background information, stuff that gets the player behind Agent 47's ultimate goal as much as he is.
Hitman games are as cold, calculating, and methodical as their main character. Absolution doesn't stray from that style, but it could have deviated for its narrative. I've never known Hitman games to have the strongest story, but more could've been delivered on this front if it was really supposed to drive the game this time. Contracts, Instinct Mode, and Point Shooting are cool introductions to the series that help ease the difficulty of previous Hitman games. This latest installment is more approachable, but still asks a lot of the player for a less than stellar payoff. Hitman Absolution is a really good stealth game, but without a stronger story it's just not quite what it could be.
7/10 - Good
7 - Good: 7s are very fun that has solid appeal. It has obvious issues that stick out, but can still be enjoyable by anyone.
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