Hitman: Absolution – welcome to the city of sin

By Stace Harman, Saturday, 24 November 2012 01:48 GMT

Stace Harman accompanies Agent 47 on his journey of personal torment and professional betrayal to find out what new tricks the old dog has up his impeccably tailored sleeve.

Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution marks the fifth title in the Hitman series since 2000 and the first since 2006’s Hitman: Blood Money.

Creativity is the name of the game with multiple ways to take out a mark; some levels feature over a dozen ways to eliminate the target and entice replay with rewards for achieving each method.

IO’s new Glacier 2 engine makes it hard to believe that both Hitman: Blood Money and Hitman: Absolution belong to the same console generation.

Long known for its dark humour, IO Interactive has gone out of its way to include numerous Easter Eggs based on previous Hitman titles, as well as many of Sqaure Enix’s other titles. Of particular note is the appearance of a hard-bitten, dysfunctional duo that shows up in South Dakota.

Patience is a virtue. Veteran Hitman players will be familiar with this sentiment. Watching, waiting, planning; for the majority of Hitman: Absolution’s score of levels, patience is the most powerful tool in an assassin’s arsenal. Over the course its 20-hour campaign, patience is a necessity.

If you want to avoid every level turning into a bloodbath, I can offer no better advice for your first play through of Hitman: Absolution than to take your time. Take a few moments to walk around each level and note the locations and behaviour of NPCs, be aware of off-limits areas and pay particular attention to accidents waiting to happen. Then, and only then, begin to plan your approach, comfortable in the knowledge that should it all go wrong, 47 can, for the most part, handle himself in a shoot-out.

In Hitman: Absolution, exercising such patience nets rewards. Some of these are tangible, such as the passive perks that Agent 47 receives for a job well done, but the greatest reward is the intangible sense of satisfaction when everything plays out just the way you planned it. There’s a great degree of sadistic glee to be gleaned from engineering Hitman’s trademark and often humorous signature kills. The cogs turn, the dominoes tumble and some poor schmuck falls foul of meticulous planning, masterful execution and a firework-fuelled fatality. Moreover, exercising patience is sometimes the only way to avoid frustration, especially if you’re to tackle 47’s story on anything higher than normal difficulty.

Mad world
IO has built a sumptuous world that reaches from the grimy lows of skulking through Chicago’s sewer system to the dizzy highs of being perched precariously on a window ledge in sun-baked South Dakota. It is a world built on IO’s powerful Glacier 2 engine and is based on a set of strict rules; it’s these rules that provide the basis for Absolution’s triumphs and frustrations.

For the most part, Hitman’s rules are consistent: the din of gunshots or a head-on melee assault will be investigated by NPCs in the local area, while thrown objects will prompt a search for the source of the noise. Don a disguise and you’ll gain access to areas through which 47’s iconic, tailor-made suit would mark him as a trespasser. Stray too close to those with whom you are trying to blend in and they’ll become suspicious and challenge your right to be there.

Using these rules to 47’s advantage you can engineer the memorable hits of an assortment of colourful characters, some of which don’t necessarily deserve their grisly end, but business is business and collateral damage is often inevitable. A note of caution is necessary, however: it’s these same rules that can run counter to logical assumptions and result in multiple retries.

Despite a more localised approach to inquisitive AI than that seen in previous Hitman games, there are some levels where creating a disturbance effectively results in having to start over. With some imbalanced, hard to find check-points, this can lead to frustration. If just one or two isolated people perceive your actions to be nefarious, they can be dealt with discreetly and disposed of efficiently. However, if you get rumbled in one of Absolution’s impressively busy crowd scenes then civilians will panic, armed NPCs will flock to your position and back-up will likely arrive before you can silence every aggressive red-dot on your mini-map.

This would much more palatable were it not for the fact that, right from the off, Absolution drills into you the importance of being mindful of your surroundings but can be guilty of failing to do the same. Thus, you can be spotted by eagle-eyed chefs during bustling Chinese New Year celebrations or heard throwing a punch over thumping night club music. Consistency is important in video games, but sometimes its rigid enforcement needs to make way for narrative-directed logic lest it leave you feeling that you’re fighting against the game’s own mechanics.

Here’s Sam trying for a Silent Assassin
rating on the first three levels of the game.

The answer to these frustrations can sometimes be found in one of Hitman’s most controversial features: Instinct mode. As with Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham titles, Agent 47 is gifted the ability to see through walls, highlight objects that can be interacted with and identify aggressors, targets and NPCs of note. Using Instinct mode, it’s less likely that you’ll be spotted by unseen nosey-parkers, but in some instances it feels like Instinct mode has been used as a design crutch, rather than an optional tool. However, it’s preferable to having to dip in and out of a map screen every few minutes, as has been the requirement in previous Hitman titles. For Hitman purists, Instinct mode can be largely ignored. Case in point: end-of-game stats reveal that 26 minutes of my 21-hour play through were spent using Instinct mode.

What Instinct does facilitate is sufficiently impressive gun fights. Should the best laid plans go to pot or you simply decide to give the grey matter a rest and plump for a brute force approach, the Instinct-powered Point-Shooting allows the swift dispatch of a handful of adversaries. It cannot be used indefinitely, but can be a satisfying way of extricating oneself from a bind.

Contractual obligations
When IO announced that Hitman: Absolution would ship with a multiplayer component I was doubtful that it could feel anything other than tacked-on. However, Contracts multiplayer mode is an absolute triumph and a smart example of how to create a social component that’s entirely in keeping with the single-player experience. Creating custom assignments by playing a level to set targets, conditions and score multipliers is much more intuitive than fiddling with a map editor. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what the community comes up with when the servers go live on Tuesday and Contracts will undoubtedly keep me dipping back into Absolution long after I’ve completed all of its single-player challenges.

And here’s Sam doing the opposite:
kicking up a ruckus in a bar room brawl.

Overall, Hitman: Absolution is an empowering and satisfying experience. Despite the adrenaline-fuelled game play trailers, its biggest rewards come as a result of quiet contemplation and a degree of trial and error. Many of its individual levels stand out as some of the best of the series, with multiple paths, emergent game play and the trademark Hitman design of dynamic-action wrapped around a fiendish puzzle.

The individual character performances don’t quite convey the intended impact of its overarching narrative but while 47’s personal turmoil isn’t fully explored, the script is both funny and dour. Hitman: Absolution will reward fans of the series and new players alike but most of all it will reward patience. Bear this in mind as you welcome back Agent 47 and you’ll truly revel in IO’s dark tale of redemptive violence.

Hitman: Absolution is out now on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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