Gamers were first introduced to Agent 47 way back in 2000 with the first, PC exclusive, Hitman game. Three sequels followed, one releasing every two years. Then 47 took a six year break. The bald and tattooed master of disguise has finally returned in Hitman: Absolution courtesy of Square Enix and Io Interactive. Billed as a more accessible game than its predecessors, Absolution also tries to please hardcore players with various difficulty options and a near-limitless supply of additional assassination challenges. Can a new Hitman game still excite longtime fans and bring in new gamers, or will Agent 47 slip by unnoticed?
Hitman: Absolution’s story sees Agent 47 sent to take out his former handler Diana Burnwood and return a teenage girl, Victoria, she’s been looking after to the Agency. Diana convinces him to protect Victoria and keep her out of the Agency’s hands. 47 hides her in an orphanage, then goes about killing a whole lot of people. Everything is presented with a sort of pulpy, grindhouse feel. Even in semi-serious moments characters seem to revel in their ridiculousness and how generally evil they can be. I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of them are especially endearing, but I couldn’t help but smile when going up against a troupe of patently ludicrous battle-nuns. Missions are broken up into different sections that allow for great pacing. In one part you might simply need to take out a single target. In the next you could have Chicago’s finest chasing you down while you simply try to escape unnoticed. These situations are varied enough to keep things from ever feeling stagnant. A lot of Hitman: Absolution’s freshness comes from the myriad ways you can tackle objectives. You’re free to run into an area, shoot your target in front of many witnesses, and then gun down anyone else who gets in your way. Conversely, you could disguise yourself as a chef, put sleeping pills in someone’s coffee, and take them out silently once they wander out of the guards’ sight. Absolution keeps things challenging by not allowing you to leave any given area if people are actively gunning for you. This forces you to lose some heat and try to be a little creative about how you escape. Going in, guns blazing, is always an option, but the ensuing chaos and waves of armed guards will make escape more difficult. Being sneakier will unlock new weapons and perks like steadier hands or the ability to better avoid detection by prying eyes. Mission structure doesn’t simply boil down to a simple dichotomy of sneaky versus loud, however. Using disguises is particularly interesting thanks to their thoughtful implementation and different outfits’ varying degrees of usefulness. For instance, a police officer might not pay any attention to you if you’re dressed as a janitor, but other janitors will notice you’re not part of their crew. Being dressed as an electrician might get you past one level of security guards, but you won’t be able to move into other more protected areas without drawing immediate hostile attention. Throwing bottles or sabotaging breaker boxes will distract enemies and give you a chance to take them out quietly or just sneak past. There are so many interesting ways to tackle every challenge Hitman: Absolution throws at you and the results of your actions always play out in a way that is satisfying and makes sense.
Everything from footsteps to gunshots sounds great, but certain moments resonate with a little extra panache. The report of each suppressed pistol shot sounds appropriately muffled, but deadly. Breaking someone’s neck is accompanied by a gruesome snap that actually made me cringe a couple times while playing. Music helps set the mood in each scene, but, apart from this series’ trademark usage of Ave Maria, wasn’t ever really memorable. Voice acting, however, did make a couple characters stick out in a good way. Powers Boothe is great as the grumbling Benjamin Travis, and Vivica Fox really sells the lunacy of the nun/assassin Lasandra Dixon. Every voice actor did great work here and, even in its cheesiest moments, I enjoyed hearing these characters. There are even some funny moments thrown in from time to time where henchmen will say things that made me feel like the game was sort of winking at me. Hitman: Absolution features a great audio presentation that is aided by its fidelity, brutality, and the fact that this game never takes itself too seriously.
Hitman: Absolution has a unique and gritty look that reinforces it’s violent subject matter. Film grain adds to the grindhouse feel. Lens flares abound and draw attention to every bright spot on screen. From the dark, rain soaked streets of Chicago to the arid deserts of South Dakota, Absolution manages to change up its color palette often and drastically enough to stay visually engaging. While there are some parts where so-so textures or lackluster lighting mar Absolution’s look, most of this game looks really great. Certain levels feature immense crowds that are truly a sight to behold. NPCs will react appropriately to your actions and are well animated. Light and shadows are utilized to great effect with very few exceptions. Each area has been constructed to look like a legitimate and functional space. Hitman: Absolution is the best looking game in the series by a large margin and can stand toe to toe visually with some of the best console games currently on the market. Its graphics are often pretty, sometimes breathtaking, and always more than adequate.
Stalking around as Agent 47 plays like a dream. Series purists might not appreciate the new, streamlined controls, but they really make Hitman: Absolution more accessible without sacrificing challenge. Weapons are mapped to the d pad, hand to hand combat features quicktime events that keep fights tense, and enemies can be tossed out windows with a single, context sensitive button press. There are an immense number of ways to interact with Absolution’s environment and its inhabitants, but the great controls keep things from ever feeling overwhelming. Everything just makes sense. Any time you do decide to start shooting, guns handle excellently. Lining up shots is easy enough to be effective, but doesn’t feature the same level of auto-aiming found in most third person shooters. This means you can be surgical with shots, but Absolution is actively trying to make you lean towards stealthier tactics as opposed to just shooting your way out of every skirmish. Navigating areas, taking cover, and climbing ledges works well and feels tight and methodical. When using a disguise to try slipping by someone who might realize you’re out of place, you’ll be able to use Agent 47’s instinct meter to cover your face and, ideally, buy enough time to get past whoever is eyeing you. Using instinct will also allow you to see enemies through walls and even predict where they’re going to walk. When you need to take out multiple targets at once you can spend instinct on a focus mode that slows time and lets 47 paint targets. This works a lot like Dead Eye in Red Dead Redemption. You’ll have to precisely line up where you want each shot to land, and, if you run out of instinct before picking all your targets, you’re out of luck. Actions like taking out enemies and hiding bodies will net more instinct and you’ll always need to be wary of how close you are to running out. The various gameplay systems in Absolution merge into a thrilling and cohesive whole that lends itself to tense moments that feel truly organic.
Beating Hitman: Absolution on normal difficulty took me about 13 hours. As you can likely tell by watching me play this game, I’m not great at being stealthy. I’ve seen game completion times that range from 9 to 20 plus hours and my sloppy style of taking out targets put me right in the middle. There’s no real multiplayer mode, but Absolution does feature a mode where you will take on additional contracts posted by both the game’s creators and other players around the world. These are essentially remixed versions of single player levels with different targets and some more specific objectives. Beating contracts earns you money that can be spent on equipment and can potentially add a lot more play time. Whether you’re going back through the story on different difficulties, trying numerous ways to eliminate your targets, or creating and competing in the contracts mode, Hitman: Absolution has plenty of content to entertain creative murderers for hours on end.
Design – 9.0
Audio – 9.0
Graphics – 9.0
Gameplay – 9.5
Replay Value – 8.5
Overall – 9.0