Hitman: Absolution: catch-up review

  • Platform: PC (version reviewed), PS3, 360
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: IO Interactive
  • Players: 1
  • Site: www.hitman.com

Hitman: Blood Money sits on its own special plinth in our hearts here at Critical Gamer. One or two staffers might even go as far as placing it in their top ten games lists (that will only be printed here when hell freezes over, thaws out and smells of damp). Does the assassin-y sequel live up to the expectations of the shuffling hive of devoted hitfans out there, or is it just not welcome at this picnic?

First thing’s first, this is in no way Blood Money 2, but of course you already knew that. The marketing and trailers running months before the release were abundantly open about this, so much so that it had a lot of long-time fans worried about their much cherished game series. To reiterate what you should already know: the levels are smaller, the map is gone, there’s a Red Dead Redemption-style mark and execute system, 47 has x-ray vision and sexy killer nuns make an appearance. So far it sounds most unlike a game that centres on silent assassination.

Around the corner – it’s the last place they’d think to look

It’s quite clear that with Square Enix at the reigns, they wanted to open up Hitman to make it a lot more accessible to different play styles. You have always been able to shoot your way through each level in previous games, but the gunplay has always been a bit clunky and very unsatisfying. Absolution has improved on this massively, with a functional snap-to-cover system in place with decent shooting mechanics and effects. Each gunshot impact is accompanied by a thud and particle disturbance, making gun battles more cinematic than your standard vanilla shooter and very satisfying in a super guilty way. But whilst the gunplay is excellent, it just feels completely out of place in this game.

Each level tracks your progressive score and changes it based on actions you take, such as objectives completed, bodies hidden, non-target casualties and more. There just seems to be far too many actions that send this number into negative figures, all of them seemingly tied to taking advantage of the new shooting mechanics that turn levels into blood and bullet riddled messes. Stealth, subterfuge and silent assassin behaviour is rewarded, as it should be, but that implies to us that any other style of play is wrong.

This scoring coupled with more linear locations makes it all feel a lot more funnelled and direct. PR gurus would call it streamlining, but it’s taken away something that once made the series great. Another example of this is that you can no longer choose equipment to take with you before the mission, eliminating a huge amount of the initial planning element. It makes the majority of your actions and decisions feel like they’re opportunistic and made ‘on-the-fly’, rather than being meticulously planned masterpieces of carnage. As such, 47 comes across more as a sinister stalker, rather than a man pumped with more instinct than Jason Bourne and Doctor Who combined.

“My instinct tells me to pose like a policeman, a badass policeman”

Talking of instinct, a magic meter now appears on your screen that pauses the game world, allowing you to line up and pop off a series of shots faster than a speeding bullet (well, probably at a similar speed actually). It’s a feature that can be disabled for purists, but is a handy cheat when you want a bit of time to line up that surgically precise shot in a millisecond of in-game time. The meter’s also used to blend in when you’re disguised and walking near similarly clothed NPCs, a feature we’re not too fond of.

As with other games in the series, stripping down enemies and wearing their miraculously well-fitting clothes forms a large part of the stealth aspect. However, walk too close to an identically dressed character and they’ll start to get suspicious, with a Splinter Cell Conviction-like HUD indicator telling you how close you are to being rumbled. It’s far too easy to be spotted like this, especially as the most useful disguise on most levels is often shared by 80% of the population. It gets frustrating, and you soon learn that the best way to get about unnoticed is to sneak about, rolling between bits of cover whilst dressed as a slightly suspicious policeman.

Of course, if you are spotted you can clean up the mess by swiftly murdering all witnesses and hiding the bodies, but this then negatively impacts your score and makes you look like an incredibly pants assassin, rather than a deadly chameleon capable of adapting to the situation.

47’s so good at hide and seek, he chooses to help others hide first

We played the PC version of the game which has thankfully followed Square Enix’s trend of decent PC ports, as we have no complaints about the platform jump at all. Admittedly, we chose to play with a wired Xbox 360 controller, rather than adapting the crab-hand keyboard dance to deal with the frequent quick time events involved with most takedowns, but the switch between control inputs is completely seamless in execution.

There are a few niggling aspects that bug us, such as weapons magically appearing in 47’s hands, as opposed to the swift removal from inside his jacket like the games before it managed. It’s especially immersion breaking with large weapons like rifles. We always loved smuggling the iconic sniper rifle through levels in a suitcase, unpacking and packing it away as necessary. It’s a small issue, but it just seems like a conveniently cut corner.

Hitman: Absolution is a good game. It challenges you to act with precision and has fairly decent stealth mechanics, especially when compared to most games. It’s thinking of the omissions from Blood Money when our biggest gripes come out, such as the shonky disguise mechanics and the frustrating checkpoint save system that only remembers your location in the level (and not any of the guards you worked so hard to remove). Are we approaching this game as bittervets? Most definitely. But whilst we feel the series has lots more potential, Absolution is still a worthy entry, even if it isn’t the high point we wanted.

critical score 8

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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