It’s been over six years since Agent 47 faked his own death and now he’s back in Hitman Absolution. Traditionally a game that has prided itself on being a smart and stealthy puzzle game, Absolution continues that tradition. Setting up a sequence of events with perfect timing and being a master of the assassination isn’t easy though. The difference between this puzzle and the one you have your dining room table (right?), misplace one piece, and you’re dead.
The game has much more emphasis on pure stealth than previous iterations. Absolution introduces a cover system for the first time; taking cover behind walls 47 is able to roll from cover to cover to avoid being spotted by guards. Well timed button prompts give you the option to vault over cover or to perform takedowns on nearby enemies Gone is your magic coin used to distract guards; however there are other items that can be used to make noises or create various distractions.
47 can use a variety of weaponry from sniper rifles, machine guns, and pistols to tomahawks and measuring tape. All are satisfying and a lot of the melee-based weaponry you find has a unique kill animation. The magic map is no more and instead you are given an ability called ‘instinct.’ Instinct allows 47 to see through walls or where enemies are going and the game’s options allow you to tweak it to your style. The instinct ability “point shooting” is particularly useful for getting 47 out of trouble. It’s kind of like the ’dead eye’ ability in Red Dead Redemption where you slow down time and mark targets, followed by a single button press and 47 performing the action in sweet slow motion. You have the option to skip it if you like but I have to say it’s kind of satisfying to watch.
There are five difficulty levels from Easy to Purist, the main difference between them being the frequency of your instinct ability. In Purist instinct is out completely, leaving you a crosshair and a prayer to get the job done. Playing any difficulty above easy introduces a laundry list of challenges; giving the campaign some replay value. These challenges typically have you play the level in a way that would be different from normal play style. In one mission for example, you’re at a firing range competing with an NPC for a prize. But that isn’t the challenge, your task is to steal the prize, which at first glance seems easy enough but is easier said than done. Challenges are great for adding depth to some of the shorter missions and give you incentive to play them over.
The game falls down with its disguise system; whilst it has a strong premise, being that if dressed as a cop you can be recognised by co-workers, it is inherently flawed. To get past anyone in the same disguise you will need to burn some of your instinct ability. The problem with the system is that guards can begin to detect you over too great a distance, making the system difficult to use effectively. This essentially makes a lot of the levels a full on stealth game as you evade patrols.
Another flaw is its approach to checkpoints. Unlike previous Hitman games, where you could manually save at any point in the level, Absolution has you going to a specific physical location on the map. This feels like you are being funneled down a developer designated path which goes against the Hitman mantra. The real issue with the check pointing though is that reloading a checkpoint causes AI routines to reset and even guards you have dealt with come back, making the system a bit redundant. The manual save system in previous Hitman games were mostly used to experiment with AI reactions as you look at the level and think “What if I do this?” the new checkpoint system does not lend itself well to this approach.
Hitman’s brightest feature is contract kills where Absolution becomes a puzzle game. In contract kills you are dropped in a location and given free rein on how you dispose of your target. Some of these levels are filled with pretty thick crowds which actually feel like a crowd. What makes this specifically impressive is that it doesn’t appear to affect frame-rate. It really adds a certain atmosphere to in which way you dispose of your target in a public space. Making a plan and executing the perfect kill is extremely satisfying, it’s disappointing that there are only a few of these types of missions during the single player campaign.
The learning curve is not as notoriously steep as previous entries to the series and it is a great starting point for those new to the franchise. I did find that the normal difficulty was almost too easy and recommend starting the game on hard unless you feel uncomfortable doing so. Purist mode, the hardest difficulty setting of the game, is extremely punishing. There is no hud and you cannot use instinct to see where people are. The checkpoint system is also removed meaning you need to really think before making your move.
After a six year hiatus Agent 47 is back in one of the strongest entries in the series to date. Whether you’re a cool and calculated contract killer or run ‘n gun kamikaze, Absolution has something for new and veteran fans alike. Changes to the classic formula have been executed perfectly, brining everyone’s favourtie assassin back to the forefront of the stealth genre. Hitman Absolution is nothing less than a must play for the 2012 holiday season.
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