Murali Venukumar, a full-time marketing exec, part-time writer and a life-long gamer reviews Hitman:Absolution.
Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Price: Xbox 360/PS3: Rs 2,799 / PC: Rs 999
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Distributor: E-xpress Interactive
Genre: Action-Adventure / Stealth
Age Rating: 18+
It’s been six years since the last Hitman game snuck its way on to store shelves. IO Interactive, in the meantime, has mostly focused on their spectacularly misunderstood Kane and Lynch series instead. And while it was no Hitman, there was no mistaking the distinctive IO worldview permeating throughout. As good as it was (or debatably wasn’t) however, what all of us wanted was to see Agent 47 garrote another hapless target. Hitman: Absolution comes out with the weight of the world on its shoulders – a remnant of an age when stealth games weren’t frowned upon and the thorny issue of casual-gamer accessibility was just a blip in the radar.
Absolution is a happy dichotomy; a product of the moment, and of the six year absence that was. IO have tried to be true to its stealth roots while also incorporating more modern advances in game design that we’ve all grown used to seeing. What that means for the player is a more expanded flavour of social stealth than in the previous games. For those new to the franchise, levels still involve making your way through sizable, elaborately set up environments filled with copious incidental detail and populated by NPCs that go about their daily lives.
You’re given an objective, in most cases, a target that you need to rub out, and then nudged out the door to do your own thing. Hitman has always been known for its striking locales and freeform emergent gameplay, and Absolution delivers on that promise. You’ll make your way through train stations, street markets and dilapidated libraries, to any number of twisted middle-American environments that cement IO as one of the few developers in the world that can dress a setting right. You’re never given more than a cursory set of instructions as to what you need to do, and are free to poke around the world and eavesdrop on NPCs to work out your own plan of action at your own pace. There’s almost always more than one way to solve a problem, including setting up opportune ‘accidents’ that your targets can perish in.
Absolution also focuses on missions that don’t always involve assassinations, but instead task you with getting to the end of a level by any means necessary. The strict scoring system will encourage you to not take the shoot first-ask questions later route or carelessly leave bodies unhidden unless you absolutely need to, although some die-hard fans may be disappointed at assassinations not being laser-focused on throughout. That said, you still subdue enemies and steal their uniforms, (or you could just chance upon one while exploring the environment) which lets you go through levels without arousing too much suspicion, create distractions and generally get up to everything else aside from actually making a hit in these levels.
Unfortunately, Absolution’s disguise mechanic seems slightly illogical in practice. NPCs who wear the same outfit as you tend to suspect you by default, which really shouldn’t happen. After all, it’s unlikely that every gardener in the world is best-chums with every other gardener. Balancing this suspicion mechanic out is a new instinct system that recharges based on how skillfully you navigate the game world. Activating your instinct meter automatically deflects suspicion and lets you get out of a tricky situation and exit the area, assuming your meter lasts that is. It also shows you important objects in the environment, the paths NPCs take, and gives you visibility on enemy number and location through walls and floors. What could have thrown game balance out the window is instead a welcome feature because there’s pretty much no hand holding otherwise (not to mention that playing on the higher difficulties disables it in any case).
Absolution, in its control mechanics, functions just as the older games did. There’s been the addition of a cover system, although it would have been great if you didn’t slide out of it automatically as you moved towards the edges of whatever you’re hiding behind. Pulling a gun feels like a modern third-person shooter ought to and the mark-and-execute mechanic from Splinter Cell: Conviction has been borrowed wholesale.
Your inventory is accessible via the d-pad, and you’re allowed to carry a melee object on you that you can use to distract or clobber enemies with. Accidental encounters can also devolve into quick-time driven fisticuffs which is a tad grating in a game that otherwise is quite cerebral.
There are several difficulty tiers that either make the game super easy so you can enjoy the sights and the experience in general, or remove every assist and HUD element thereby becoming a purist’s dream come true. There’s also a challenge system that ably backs up the scoring mechanic. Completing every challenge that the developers have set out requires multiple playthroughs, but that isn’t something you’ll mind as different methods of play are encouraged.
Production values are top notch throughout; although Jesper Kyd’s brilliant eclectic soundtrack is thoroughly missed. The pre-rendered and in-game cut scenes are well directed and the big-name voice cast really does bring it — especially Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine. The revenge and redemption centric plot may not win any awards, but it excels (and often revels) in its genre roots and packs in a brilliant intro level to boot. IO’s Glacier 2 engine is brilliant for the sort of game Hitman is, delivering crowds, lighting and environmental detail like almost no other game can. There’s so much to take in both visually and aurally if only you give yourself the time to poke around. Speed-running a game such as this would be criminal (pun intended).
Also new is Contracts, which is a multiplayer mode that involves users picking a single — or multiple — targets for other players to take out following a specific set of rules. It’s an interesting idea that’s limited by your ability to only use levels from the campaign, but the intricacies of the scoring system does keep things interesting. Mileage may vary but there’s a creeping sense of familiarity that comes from visiting the same location multiple times, even if it’s under a different condition set.
Hitman: Absolution is a long overdue game not just for fans of Agent 47, but also for those of us that love IO’s sense of style and nihilistic worldview. And while there are minor niggles to be found, they aren’t big enough to sour the experience by any stretch. Agent 47 is back, and he’s back in style.