Agent 47, the antihero with the bald, barcoded head, is back after a six-year absence, every bit the self-possessed and cold-blooded predator he was when we last saw him in Hitman: Blood Money. Though the new Hitman game makes some concessions to the latest gaming trends, Hitman: Absolution still rewards patient watchfulness and devious thinking more than it does fast reflexes.
Even if Absolution is not as good as Blood Money, it is not the dramatic departure from the series’ stealth roots that many fans were expecting. At its black heart, it is still a deadly game of hide and seek, ripe with tension, thick with atmosphere and armed with a wicked sense of humour. It’s a welcome change of pace from the quicker-paced “predator stealth” games that rule the genre today.
Absolution has Agent 47 on the run from his dubious employers — the International Contract Agency — with a teenage girl named Victoria under his care. To survive, 47 needs to evade or erase the numerous agency contract killers and criminals who have an interest in his capturing his young ward. As in earlier games in the series, the genetically engineered killer relies more on his ability to blend in with his environment and to melt away from view than on his guns or muscles.
Most levels are about locating one or more targets and then killing them discretely, vanishing without a trace when the job is done. Don’t worry: most of the baddies are such extreme caricatures of villainy that you’ll have few moral qualms about offing them.
To be a master assassin and get a Silent Assassin rating for a mission, 47 needs to slip through the level unseen. He must kill his targets in ways that look like accidents, or bump them off unnoticed and hide their remains from view. And he should kill no one besides the target, though quietly subduing characters who aren’t targets isn’t penalised if their unconscious bodies are hidden.
47 has a number of tools and abilities that can help him achieve his nefarious ends — from mastery of disguise to the ability to move with a preternatural silence through his world. Most missions involve a few steps on the route to securing that Silent Assassin rating: identifying someone with the clothes needed to gain access to off-limited areas and stealing his threads; finding the targets; and looking for gruesomely poetic ways to kill them.
Most of the time, the options are plentiful. Agent 47 could simply shoot his way through the level to get to the target and put a bullet between his eyes — it’s a viable option though he is frailer and clumsier with a gun than the average action game hero. Or he could find a way to isolate the villain from his minders and snuff him with the assassin’s trademark garrote. And he can find ways to manipulate the environment so that the death appears to be accidental.
For example, he could plan for a pile of rubble to fall on the target, an electrical shock, food poisoning or a gas explosion. Hitman: Absolution is like a sandbox full of deadly toys that rewards improvisation and experimentation. A number of challenges set up for each level offers some tips about the many ways that 47 can achieve his ends, adding to the game’s re-playability.
The biggest addition to the game is a new instinct ability. It offers a special vision mode rather similar to those found in games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum or Dishonored. 47 can use it to see through walls and anticipate enemies’ patrol patterns. When the instinct button is held down, 47 is also better able to fool those who might otherwise see through a disguise.
Finally, instinct can also be used to mark targets for quick execution with a firearm before they are able to respond. This is an ability that veteran Hitman players aiming to be Silent Assassins will not make much use of. The Instinct meter limits how often 47 can use these abilities, and is recharged by subduing enemies and achieving in-game goals.
HOW IT SCORES
Hitman’s varied US locations — from cornfields and derelict hotels to secret labs and sleazy strip joints — ooze atmosphere, with some beautiful lighting effects and great art design.
Clever use of silence and a score that swells and falls off with the onscreen action help to ratchet up the tension. There is some great voice acting from B action movie stars like Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine, too.
Purists may have some quibbles with the tweaks to the formula, but Hitman: Absolution is true to the franchise’s heart despite the streamlining.
The campaign is beefy and challenging at higher difficulty levels, with 10 hours or more of play on higher difficulty levels and plenty of re-playability. The online Contracts mode, where players can set up assassination contracts for each other using the levels featured in the story missions, adds to the shelf life.
Despite its fumbled story and a couple of lackluster missions, Hitman: Absolution is a nail-biting stealth game that rewards waiting and observation rather than a quick trigger finger.
The game’s presentation is excellent. Hitman features great art design that immerses you in the killer’s stylised movie world, along with a B-movie script told through cinematics featuring a range of Hollywood actors. The plot isn’t particularly coherent and the F-bomb-heavy script isn’t well-written, which is unfortunate for a game that puts such an emphasis on story.
Hitman: Absolution includes some gameplay changes that will irk the purists, notably the fact that 47 can’t choose his gear before an assignment any more. And, especially in the earlier levels, there are too many tedious missions focused on creeping around in the shadows rather than on assassination — many of them painfully linear compared to the open sandboxes we used to expect from Hitman games. The checkpointing system can also be a little annoying if you’re an adult with limited time for gaming who can’t afford to wait 30 minutes or an hour between saves. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media
- Reviewed on Xbox 360. Also available for PS3 and Windows PC