The Hitman series has returned, allowing players to exact a subtle, bloody and destructive end to their mark. Developed by IO Interactive and Published by Square Enix, Hitman: Absolution invites players once more into a world where you play as the daunting, ruthless and cunning Agent 47 who is tasked with finding vile and wicked criminals and putting an end to their sorry existence however you wish. Hitman: Absolution remains true to the series with murderous choices to be made along with some new surprises of it's own.
Agent 47 has been contracted to kill his former handler Diane Burnwood, who has turned her back on their organisation: the International Contract Agency by sabotaging their funding and information. Agent 47 must also retrieve an important asset: a young girl named Victoria. As Diane is dying, Agent 47 asks Diane the reason for her betrayal. Agent 47 learns that Victoria was actually going to become an Assassin like 47 and thus sabotaged the Agency to help Victoria escape. Diane's final request is for Agent 47 to protect Victoria from all those that mean her harm. Now it's a race against time as Agent 47 must hunt down those who are after Victoria for their own gain.
Hitman: Absolution sticks to the aspects from the previous games by offering the player a chance to deliver whatever unpleasant doom they wish to their targets. Missions come complete with a plethora of choices on completing the contract with whatever you have in mind. The game encourages creativity, patience and biding your time to turn your kills into an art form. Blunt objects nearby could be used to grant a painful end to the target. Perhaps you could taint their drink with poison. Hazardous environments emitting electricity or flammable liquids could mean a nasty industrial “accident” for the poor unfortunate soul. The good old-fashioned fibre wire is always a guarantee kill. A silenced pistol or rifle is a charm to those who never see the bullet coming. The possibilities are endless. The more creative the kill the more rewarding the outcome will be and watching your flawless execution in motion feels utterly and eerily satisfying. You gain high points after the contract and earn new skills depending on your performance. Enemies are crude, vile and nefarious. They have no qualms in harming innocent people and the game continually reminds you of their crudeness and vile behaviour so there's no guilt and more satisfaction in killing them.
Like in the previous games you're able to wear the disguise of your subdued victims to blend in and make sneaking around a little more easier. Be careful though as some enemies may get suspicious if you're too close while wearing it. The enemies have become more vigilant than before, watching any suspicions activity and quickly acting on anything out of the ordinary. Disguises are tougher to use when you're wearing the same clothing as some of the guards who get suspicious of you. Luckily to make the hunt easier, Hitman: Absolution brings it's own new tricks to the franchise. The shooting mechanics have been greatly improved with a cover based system that is in line with other third person shooters. Agent 47 is now able to use Instinct Mode, which allows him to sense enemies nearby even through walls and beyond doors. The player can note enemy patrols or easily locate interesting factors and Instinct Mode allows you to make blending in with your disguise much easier, removing any suspicions the enemy previously had. Another new mechanic is Point Shooting, which come in handy during gun battles. When you activate it time stops and which enables you to tag each enemy and kill them with one shot. Should guards see though your disguise, you are able to perform a fake surrender which draws the guards in to be easily taken taken out.
Hitman: Absolution also features Contracts mode where you can create your own challenges and share them with other players, complete with your own mission scenarios, objectives and conditions. In Contracts mode players compete in various challenges set up by other players. Players are given a target within a mission and must also meet certain conditions to attain a high score count such as completing the challenge unseen or taking the target out without any guns. You're given a score which rates your performance which can be compared to other players. The higher the score the higher your position will be among the league table of that challenge. You can also unlock new weapons and gadgets to take with you to other contracts and earn even higher scores for other players to beat.
The single player story and Contracts mode offer a ton of replayability. Single player levels can be played again allowing you to find more creative ways of completing the level, earn higher points and a higher rank. Contracts mode offers a lot of replay value as there are many, many challenges to be played from the Hitman community and you may be spending much of your time creating your own to be shared with others.
It's safe to the say that the game looks absolutely stunning. Running off the Glacier 2 engine, Hitman: Absolution is capable of presenting some amazing visuals with smooth performance. Highly detailed character models, realistic lighting effects, highly detailed environments and more serve more purpose than just eye-candy. Hundreds of things can be going on within the game such as multiple non-playable characters and particle effects all with minimal performance loss. It's always a good sign when you can set the game on the lowest graphics setting on the PC version while still getting the game to look great. The PC version includes Direct X11 features including tessellation and global lighting which add even more graphical goodness to the game. The sound design in Hitman: Absolution adds a cinematic flair to the game, with top notch voice acting, powerful gunshots, great music and varied ambient environment sounds helping to build up the dark, cinematic atmosphere even more.
With all these great feats that the Hitman series has taken, one may expect this game to be the definite chapter of Agent 47's violent career. However if you've played the previous game Hitman: Blood Money, you can't help but draw comparisons between Blood Money and Absolution and notice certain things missing which made Blood Money great. The huge, open and intimidating levels of Blood Money have now been replaced with much tighter, linear levels which still offer choice but don't give you much room to exercise your choices. Some missions don't even have any contracts and are merely sneaking missions where you're getting from point a to b without alerting any guards. Melee combat is controlled via quicktime events which are frustrating and can end the game very abruptly. Some of the kills happen during cutscenes which makes most of your time spent getting to your target wasted.
The story is really, really bad. It's like the plot was squeezed in with the rest of the game to match other story driven actions games like Uncharted or Metal Gear. The game tries hard to tell a compelling, cinematic story about a misunderstood Assassin who is driven by a need to protect a young girl from a fate worse than death, but it isn't told well since it's full of uninteresting characters, plotholes and inconsistencies that you'll begin to wonder if the writers actually thought (or cared) about this before adding the plot to a game where a heavy story-driven experience wasn't actually needed. In the previous Hitman games, Agent 47's cold, sinister presence within the mission was what made the player feel empowered, threatening and dangerous. The player was a threat and Agent 47 did not really need a personality since it was the player that made Agent 47 what he is and not the story. The plot was of no importance when the focus was on each mission and getting it done in whatever way possible. Now it feels like whatever he does is an act of desperation and a struggle against time rather than for satisfaction. As a result Agent 47 does not feel as imposing and frightening as he was before. It's very disheartening to watch a once fearless, remorseless, well-dressed expert killer get beaten up, mess up his kills completely and sulk around in the darkness. It makes you wonder how someone who has turned his morbid profession into an art form totally mess it up.
Despite it's badly delivered story and it's departure from how Hitman games where once before, it's still a Hitman game, just gone in a different direction. Some changes to the series have actually been for the better such as the shooting mechanics, the inclusion of Point Shooting, Instinct Mode and Contracts mode. Hitman: Absolution is still part of a great video game series which offers some diabolical gratification from careful planning, hunting your target down, killing them however you wish and vanishing like a ghost. If you're willing to put aside the comparisons between this and Blood Money, then Hitman: Absolution could very well be the weapon of choice for the contract killer to be.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by Square Enix.