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The Hitman series has been a long time favorite of mine. No other game has managed to pull me in and immerse me the way these games have. Constructing a strategy, using the environment and disguises to your advantage, and executing a clean kill before anyone even knows you have been there is what Hitman is all about, and the most recent release in the franchise, titled Hitman: Absolution, does not disappoint. Absolution allows you to skulk through missions, taking only a few critical shots when necessary. It is a game that encourages you to think independently and to be creative. As with puzzle games, getting the solution makes you feel smarter, or in this case, stealthier.
At its heart, Hitman: Absolution is a puzzle game, one that involves setting up multiple sequences of events with perfect timing. As Agent 47, the mysterious protagonist of the Hitman series, you can expect to decipher each mission in the game. Like playing Jenga, get one piece wrong and your hard work crumbles into a mess. If done right, you are a master of assassination, a puppeteer pulling multiple strings at once. Though it is possible to go in guns blazing Absolution encourages you to do otherwise. While every level has multiple ways to accomplish your task–including spree killing–the game does an excellent job of tempting you into examining the routes and routines of your targets for the optimal sequence of events, trying to find that one perfect assassination. I found it took a couple of levels before I eased back into the pacing of the Hitman series. That being said, it is definitely worth it. There are not many games out there that reward players for refining a strategy and remaining patient but Absolution definitely does.
The last entry in the Hitman series was called Hitman: Blood Money. Much like that game, your targets in Absolution can be executed in several different ways. I took note of how my mindset changed while playing the game. As soon as I picked up on the pacing and got into the groove, I could not just settle for a simple bullet to the back of the head against my target. As each mission would begin I would immediately be on the lookout for the telltale signs of a classic Hitman kill opportunity. Some are subtler than others, but like Blood Money they are all there, waiting to be discovered. Some of the kills are kept more tightly on a linear path for dramatic effect, usually spiced up with a fancy cutscene displaying the execution. The majority of the kills however are the usual Hitman fare, meaning players can devise their own strategies. Absolution plays out in such a way that it comes across as a refined version of what IO Interactive attempted with its previous efforts. Gone are most of the quirks and less appealing aspects of previous Hitman entries. When playing Absolution I found that Agent 47 feels far more connected to the environment rather than floating around in it. Additionally, successfully sneaking up on a target from behind with your signature fiber wire is no longer quite as fickle an exercise. It is a lot more organic and a lot less stiff.
As you make your way through each level you will find that Absolution is ruthless about score keeping, and for every mistake you make you lose points. During your time spent in missions your score its compared to an average, which subtly lets you know if you are an ultimate assassin or a washed up Agent 47 who needs to find a new occupation. Due to this fact I frequently reloaded the game and restarted from a checkpoint to maintain my gamer pride, and to allow my grand schemes to fall into place flawlessly. Though one would think reloading often would be annoying, I did not find myself frustrated. Rather I was pleased at the additional opportunity to further my assassination plot.
Absolution contains a really neat mechanic called ‘Instinct.’ Much like Assassins Creed’s Eagle Vision, you can use Instinct to discover the location of your enemies, sense potential hiding places, and even see through walls. Instinct also lets you know where your enemies are going to be, and this is represented as a trail of flame. There are five difficulty levels to choose from: Easy, Medium, Hard, Expert, and Purist. Instinct becomes more limited with each ascending difficulty level and is completely absent when you play in the Purist difficulty. Come to think of it, in Purist you only get a cross hair to help you on your way as the game basically says, “good luck!”
Those who opt not to play in Easy mode will have the option of taking up Absolution’s multiple challenges. Some challenges do conflict, and therefore require players to go through missions multiple times to complete all of them. For example, you can complete one challenge by donning multiple disguises, while another challenge requires players to complete a level without ever removing their suit. The challenges add much to the replayability of the game. To completely master a level one must complete several challenges in one play through. Simply put, the challenges are great.
There is no direct form of multiplayer to be found in Absolution, as it is not really the kind of game that works well in a multiplayer context; however, Contracts mode does exist. This mode is a great way to give the game a multiplayer aspect while still maintaining a single-player feel. In this mode you can create contracts for your friends as you challenge them to assassinate targets in a free-form instance of the level of your choice. If they are up to the challenge, your friends can log onto the game and accept the contract. I found this extra little mode to be a lot of fun as I exchanged contracts with friends.
Hitman: Absolution looks great, no doubt about it. The lighting is a focus for the graphics department. It is darker and grittier looking than previous Hitman titles but it suits the game while setting a fantastic tone. It looks its best at its busiest; when you are stalking your way through the game’s dense crowds. The levels are designed well and the cutscenes are well produced; it’s quite a looker that is for sure.
I also have to say that this game sounds great too. The dynamic score ascends when it should, while softening at the appropriate moments. During my time with Absolution I found there to be quite a few moments where the audio design really shone. The audio has been crafted in such a way that it is dynamic, while remaining clean. I could open a door slowly to a loud bustling room with live music being played and the rise in volume felt both natural and realistic. The audio is solid from start to finish. By now the people at IO Interactive know that the Hitman games thrive on great atmosphere, and the audio in Absolution fills out the atmosphere perfectly.
On average, most gamers could probably find their way through the campaign in 10 hours or so. The length of the game is dependent on how you play and how much you care about the various challenges and unlocks. In the end the campaign is strong enough to stand on its own without any support from the Contracts mode, as neat as this can be. Absolution is not flawless as the AI has some occasional odd issues and portions of the mission design can be questionable. The narrative also struggles a bit at the end too, leaving some storyline gaps that could use some conclusion. All in all however, Hitman: Absolution is a technically sound title that brings back what players fell in love with in the first place, while simultaneously bringing forward new mechanics that work in harmony with the old.