Disclaimer: I have not played any of the previous Hitman games. Maybe I did play them in another life and have forgotten. Either way, let’s view this stealth-em-up through the eyes of a newcomer to the franchise.
Hitman: Absolution, in stark contrast to its solemn and serious title, has a very mean sense of humour, depraved even; child-like in its ruthlessness. Things start by pulling out of a window a man who’s just found out he’s avoided cancer, and hearing him scream to his death and dash against the seaside rocks. That’s the tip of the skull-obliterating iceberg. Sure, the game doesn’t force you to do this, but he’s there, having this conversation on the phone, you’re on a ledge outside, the game is begging you to do it.
The story is complete cliched crap. The three C’s! Avoid the three c’s game developers, please. Absolutely nothing of worth transpires during the ten to fifteen hours of gameplay. For anyone curious, it’s about the hitman charged with the protection of a girl. Sometimes he manages it, sometimes he doesn’t. That’s about it. The attraction of this franchise, I suspect, is the sandbox levels with multiple pathways to dispatching the target, and Absolution does deliver somewhat on that.
Though many will be happy about the variety on offer, I was slightly disappointed the game was not bigger in scope, with more weapons, more entry and exit points, more methods of assassination, just more in general. Like Skyrim more, except without the utter crap gameplay, cliched story and complete soul-destroying bugginess. (Three c’s! Fuck you very much Bethesda, from a PS3 user)
This game does however have the best NPC dialogue of any game I’ve played to date. At times eerily realistic in the way NPCs make idle chatter or have one-sided conversations on their phones, and on the other extreme end very humorous with slapstick or meta-humour. You will laugh heartily when you hear alert guards slowly approaching the cupboard you’ve hidden in saying mockingly “Hmm, I wonder where he’s hiding?” just before they begin firing bullets at the woodwork, leaving you starting again from the last checkpoint.
Ah yes, checkpoints. In Absolution they have the potential to be almost game-ruining for some players. Though each level has checkpoints that you have to proactively discover yourself, if you decide to shut down the console and play later, you’ll be mortified to discover you have to start from the beginning of the level. The checkpoints are temporary for the duration of the game session.
I was, at first, frustrated by this revelation, but playing through the game I later cooled off on the concept. The levels honestly don’t take too long to finish, at most an hour each really.
Though I have my issues with the lame attempt at a story, the horribly creepy-plastic-looking CGI cut-scenes, the disgusting characters populating the world, what kept me plugging along was the gameplay. For a stealth game it’s adept at dropping you in scenarios ripe for navigating like a ninja. Character control is buttery smooth, rounding corners and rolling between spaces unseen is no fuss at all.
You can dispatch people in a variety of ways, with the game applying a score modifier depending on your actions. Hitman rewards you if you make the least amount of impact on the world around you. If you manage to sneak by everyone, without killing or hurting them, you’re playing the game ‘properly’. If you kill everyone in sight you’re going to see a lot of negative numbers at the end of the level. It’s hard resisting the urge to throwing scissors, hammers, bottles, bong pipes and other random objects into peoples faces though…
The disguises are varied and sometimes amusing, using them can allow you to amble by NPCs of other professions as long as you’re allowed access to wherever you’re heading to. Using them near NPCs of the same profession will arouse suspicion, though you can use a depleting ‘instinct’ meter to walk by them without trouble. I ended up using that option a few times to get to certain areas, though the meter runs out so quickly it’s not a feature you can use as often as you would like.
The game has a hearty arsenal, though like most stealth games punishes you if you depend on them. Coming off Max Payne 3, let’s just say I was punished liberally during my time as Mr Hitman. It is entirely possible to massacre everyone in sight to finish the level, but be warned the NPCs will call back-up and you will spend a good 30 minutes having a firefight that does not feel as good as it would if you were actually playing an action game. Hitman thrills with its sneakiness, not shootouts.
I have not got round to the multiplayer aspect, which consists of playing levels created by other players. (who have to finish the levels themselves before they’re allowed to post them online) I will update the end of the review once I’ve experienced it.
Hitman: Absolution is a decent game for stealth lovers, but still lacking in some areas that seem negligible, but once they’ve added up ultimately leave me feeling hollow. The world is not appealing, the characters are not compelling, there’s nothing to latch onto. The world of Metal Gear Solid by contrast is rich and pulls you in, whereas Hitman repels you. The only highlight I can remember is picking off a bunch of ridiculously dressed female assassins in a corn field with an ugly knife.
Maybe Hitman can seek absolution next time round.