The return of gaming’s favourite silent killer…
It’s an odd thing to say but, the overall quality of Hitman: Absolution really shocked me when I finally sat down and had a chance to play the sequel for around two hours. Between the ridiculous ‘Nuns with Guns’ promo trailer and IO talking about how this entry in the stealth series was going to be the most accessible yet, I and many others doubted that the follow-up to Blood Money was going to be something which marginalised existing fans of the series, chasing the easy mainstream crowd rather than those who value stealth and tactics. How wrong I was…
The truth is Hitman Absolution is the most complete experience featuring Agent 47 to date, with a new emphasis on cutting edge cinematics to thread each of the freely structured missions together and numerous new systems which allow you to tailor the game to a difficulty that suits you. Gone is the ability to save anywhere during missions, with players now restricted to one-time use checkpoints, which are located in specific areas of the map and can be activated at any time. That hardening of the difficulty curve is nullified with the new Instincts mechanic, which functions as a rechargeable power that allows players to see guards from behind walls, blend into a crowd when disguised and mark and execute enemies Sam Fisher-style, allowing Agent 47 to pause the game momentarily, tag up to five enemies and then reactivate time offing the unfortunate foes with half a dozen quick shots in the blink of an eye. These concessions to newcomers, and arguably modernity, are entirely optional though and are disabled at the game’s higher difficulties are as not to rattle any old breeds.
The mission formula still follows the traditional stealth tropes of sneaking around, choke-holding people from behind and rigging traps so that your targets meet an early and often humorous demise, be it a faulty chandelier hanging or whatever, but now IO are going for a more cinematic feel. Occasionally there are even set pieces to break up the action. These aren’t a regular component of most levels, but they are there. This isn’t as much of a problem as you’d think though, as missions going awry leads to some fantastic set pieces and puzzle solving like trying to reactivate a train line so you can escape from a murder scene without the cops picking you up or a daring roof dash atop a burning building.
IO have learnt a lot of cinematic story tricks form the Kane & Lynch series, but here they actually work as they revolve around characters you care about. In Absolution, Agent 47 is transformed from a blank canvas to a character which despite his homicidal tendencies actually feels rather fragile. Emotionally he’s in a confusing place, and for the first time he has something tangible to protect rather than just his professional pride. His former handler Diane Burnwood is at the centre of this, with the first mission requiring Baldy to kill his lady partner in arms, and from there the plot gets very grimy, sordid and unpredictable. We won’t go into more details, as we don’t want to spoil anything, but rest assured this plot takes the cloned killer premise in some really cool directions.
Having only sampled five missions, we can say that Hitman Absolution raises the stakes for this series in some really great ways, while at the same time calling back to moments which made it what it is in the first place. The dark humour returns with an even more sinister side – one time we chucked a guard through a window to his death, just after he took a call from his doctor revealing that he was indeed cleared of prostate cancer (nice!) – and those cool moments of adopting disguises to hide in plain sight, and modding weapons to your liking are all here.
If the increased polish of the campaign wasn’t enough, IO has also added scoring to each mission rewarding players with points for killing targets swiftly and silently without attracting attention. This is much like the newspaper mechanic from the previous game, only rather than getting a generalised one sentence summary of your performance, you get a detailed breakdown including penalties for being discovered, points for hiding bodies and what items of interest you missed while playing.
This new scoring mechanic is made the most of in the new Contracts mode, which allows players to not only replay missions from the campaign, but also compare their performance with others via online leaderboards. Brilliantly there’s also a new create your own mission mode, which allows target designation to be changed in existing levels. The environments stay the same, but the objectives and targets can be modified by your choosing, and that mission can be uploaded online with its own title and description. Mission environments in Hitman games are always brimming with neat little easter eggs and interactions you wouldn’t usually know were there, but with Contracts mode those environments get used again and again with new player-made objectives tempting you to explore commonly overlooked nooks and crannies.
Contracts is something most Hitman players would never hope to request, but it’s here, it works and its community-empowering genius absolutely shines through. On paper Hitman: Absolution offers a lot, but when you actually play the game you see that it’s evolved even more than that. This is a sequel which not only takes the series in really healthy directions, but it also doesn’t alienate existing fans and for a game as big budget as this, that’s something which has to be celebrated. Don’t believe the ill-conceived marketing hype, this is the Hitman game you’ve always wanted with gameplay which is as lovingly nuanced as before.
Hitman: Absolution will be released for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on November 20th.
Tags: Hitman Absolution
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