Hitman: Absolution
Developer: iO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: Single player, leaderboards & ‘Contracts’ mission editor.
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The Hitman, Codename #47 returns for his fifth outing overall, and his second on Xbox 360. Things are about to change and “The Agency” for whom he’s always worked, is about to be torn apart by one of their own.

The first level sees Agent 47 coldheartedly shooting his former handler, Diana, in the shower on orders from “The Agency.” Remarkably in a game that’s happy for you to blow up, garrotte, stab, shoot, burn and hurl enemies to their deaths, we’re saved from the complete moral corruption we’d have presumably suffered by seeing Diana’s breasts by a magic shower curtain, that protects her modesty to the dire end. I only mentioned that because I think it’s just one more indication of what a strange, messed-up world we live in.

To reinforce the strange set of morals and censorship rules that poor games designers have to work to these days, you lose points for killing non-targets but regain them for hiding the bodies! Chests, trunks, lockers and wardrobes are all usable for places to stow bodies and as hiding places too, and glow handily when you use 47’s ‘Instinct.’ Instinct (mapped to ‘RB’ by default) also allows you to see enemies through walls and sense their patrol paths. You can turn it off and play the game on the ‘Purist’ setting, but you’re going to be up against a mighty challenge, and I’m reliably informed there are other games available this year.

Absolution features a new mode called ‘Point Shooting’ which allows you to aim at multiple enemies during slow-motion “Instinct” time: you hold ‘RB’ for instinct, press ‘X’ to select Point Shooting, hold the left trigger to aim accurately for headshots, press the right trigger to lock onto them, then just press ‘X’ again to fire at all the targets you’ve tagged. This is similar to Splinter Cell: Conviction’s “Mark & Execute” precision shooting mode, but doesn’t seem to work quite as well in moments of intense action and pressure, because it requires a good deal more skill. However, when you do pull off a multi-target execution, just like SS:C, it feels extremely cool!

Weapons range from #47’s trademark dual Silverballer pistols, Revolver, SMG, Shotgun, Assault Rifle and Sniper Rifle, through a host of obvious weapons like swords, knives and fire pokers to other objects that can be used as improvised clubs and thrown objects like books, vases and statues that can be used to cause a distraction. There are also proximity mines, remote explosives and fuel cans that can be use to blow enemies/things up.

The dopiness of the AI has often made stealth games seem daft in the past, as enemies often seem to be short sighted and wearing blinkers. While H:A doesn’t avoid unbelievable and silly situations altogether, the AI is, in the main, credible and tricky to get by without being seen and drawn into combat. In fact, the way enemies instantly lock onto your position when the shit hits the fan and always shoot immediately makes some parts feel harder and more basic than Splinter Cell: Conviction, and the way the enemies searched the place you were ‘last seen’. This offered plenty of opportunities to get the drop on them. In Absolution, throwing items and smashing others with a silenced pistol is a good way of distracting them, but if all else fails then the shooting mechanic and the cover mode is good enough to let you blast your way out of most situations, and any Hitman veteran will tell you, this hasn’t always been the case. Hitman purists may baulk at this more variable approach, but it does mean the game can and will appeal to a wider audience.

A great deal of patience is required just to complete some levels which require a large amount of sneaking around, listening to guards have inane conversations and waiting for your chance to move stealthily by them or take them out covertly. If you lack patience or just don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to a single game, then H:A probably isn’t the game for you, as many situations quickly dissolve into frantic, and frankly silly, shootouts or a game of high stakes hide & seek should you try and hurry through a level. The difficulty and frustration level may be compounded for some by the lack of mid-level checkpoints, generally there is only one checkpoint per mission and that has to be located and triggered within the level itself; so screw up and die and it’s right back to the start.

Alert the enemy and you have two options, kill them or hide and wait for the alert to subside. Alternatively, the ‘Fake Surrender’ move (hold ‘A’) will get you out of many tight spots. 47 feigns surrender, putting his hands up before disarming the enemy and putting him into a ‘meatshield’ hostage position. This usually ends up in a huge shootout with every enemy on the level and any reinforcements that arrive but sometimes situations can be controlled. Agent 47 has a number of slick moves to help him out of tight situations (including “hiding” by performing an action that makes him blend in with the other characters on a level), however, dragging bodies around looking for places to hide them is a slow and painful experience, and I have no idea why 47 can’t just sling them over his shoulder for quicker movement.

Each level has a number of related challenges, some of which you will get in normal play and others (like killing with a certain object or set piece of scenery, or hiding a certain number of bodies in a certain way) will tempt you to replay levels many times, and I’ve rarely wanted to replay a game’s levels more than Absolution’s.

The voice acting and script is of the highest quality with actors like David Bateson (reprising his role as 47), Powers Boothe (and his daughter Parisse), Keith Carradine, Tracy Lords and Vivica Fox (as a remarkably naughty nun), There are also nice audible touches like the radio news telling of your exploits in the pre-release sniper demo and a man getting some good news from his doctor about bowel cancer seconds before you hurl him to his death. The screenplay, written by Martin Brennan and Michael Jackson (no, not that one), is so good, dark and twisted that it could be Quentin Tarantino’s next movie.

Visually H:A is mostly very tidy and at times the Glacier 2 game engine is very impressive (particularly crowd scenes and a corn field you won’t forget in a hurry). It allows for a great deal of detail, but the spot effects vary to a large degree, with the result that some locations and cut-scenes look like they were rendered by graphic artists of hugely differing abilities. Objects and characters clipping through scenery and each other is also a frequent and major visual poke in the eye. I really hoped we’d get rid of this sort of thing in this generation of games, particularly as things like ragdoll physics have improved so much.

‘Contracts’ is new kind of online mode, you don’t compete against other players in some half-arsed, poorly implemented deathmatch that’s barely recognisable compared to the solo game (Spec Ops: The Line I’m looking at YOU), it’s a mission editor mode which allows gamers to create and share their own custom challenges within the Hitman Absolution game. You choose a level, target(s), weapons and can then set new rules for completing your ‘contract’ based on time, style and the number of witnesses. There’s no need to worry about a fiddly level editor either, you just play a level as you would in the story mode and add targets and other parameters via a simple on-screen icons and an interface in the top right corner of the screen-if you’re fed up with the constraints of the story mode missions you can even make every NPC on a level a valid target, and even make a Contract shorter than the story mission-it’s entirely up to you. A simple, yet creative, competitive and interesting mode, Contracts allows you to play friends’ customised levels and friends can play your levels whether you’re online or not.

What I wasn’t expecting from iO Interactive was the improvement in visual quality, because Absolution is absolutely stunning in places. Slick to play, cool to watch and very, very violent, Hitman Absolution does what it set out to do; continue the brand’s unique style while making the game a bit more n00b-friendly—and it’s succeeded on both scores. To put it simply, this is probably the best stealth game out there, but it's big and intelligent enough to let you play it a different way if you want to.

Best Bits

- Improved shooting mechanic.
- Effective sticky cover mode.
- Clever yet simple online Contracts mode.
- Lots of ways of murdering people.
- A veritable Kill-a-thon.
- Mostly great graphics and character models.
- Great storyline, voice acting and music.
- Challenges genuinely add replay appeal.
Worst Bits

- Occasional dodgy graphics and clipping.
- Infrequent checkpoints.
- Dragging bodies around like an old man instead of being able to hoist them onto your shoulder.

by: 'Big Tony' Bolognese

Copyright © Gamecell 2012