Review by JKPSP
"This is one that needs solving..."
First of, I am going to forego mentioning the Contracts mode, instead focusing on the main bulk of the game.
To say that Hitman: Absolution is something of a mixed blessing would be both a bane and boon to gaming journalists and gamers alike, it's a big game, cinematic, linear and largely enjoyable, what it does it does brilliantly.
In the wake of a six year wait since the previous game in the series, Blood Money, Io-Interactive had a lot of time on their hands to create either a masterpiece of fan-service or a dumbed down sequel that was tailored with current gaming trends.
In this industry the word casual' is a bone of contention: cover mechanics, regenerating health, third person shooting and linear level design all bearing the mark of a casual' experience. Io-Interactive have definitely succumbed to some of these traits but at the same time delivered a narrative-driven, true Agent 47 story.
After the events of Blood Money the Agency that 47 was employed by went into disarray when his former handler exposed it to the world.
Sometime after, the Agency reforms luring 47 back into the fold with a hit that is rightfully his: Diana Burnwood (the handler). It's in the consequences that 47 does what he can to ensure the safety of a girl named Victoria who is integral both to the Agency and primary antagonist Blake Dexter, a caricature snarling buffoon of a southern American who just so happens to be behind a Home Defence System industry.
Undeniably both the level design and gameplay suffer from the linear plot-driven nature. Missions tend to funnel 47 into point A to B setups - a lack of choice and freedom that the previous iterations were praised for. It's very much staged and directed for the sake of the story, and it's likely due to being the most narrative-driven Hitman game to date.
Gripes include the disguise system, although vastly improved and contemporaneous with the technology of today, Io-Interactive having designed and built the proprietary engine Glacier 2, it is insanely sensitive and largely hits and misses.*
The Hitman series is renowned for disguises, however when distance and context mean nothing resulting in a painful binary system where the levels of detection - Suspicious' and Cautious' may as well just be Detected' something hasn't been tapped. The potential is here to have a truly next-gen system of disguises instead it seems Io-Interactive were more concerned with the, although immersive, vapid 1000+ crowds that provide quick hiding spots.
An improvement over the previous disguise systems is this one's frustrating realism. Instead of finding someone's outfit and being able to stand toe to toe with a peer, there is a suspicion system, with a radar of sorts to determine levels of, you may dodge and dive out of view and it generally works well to the point of simply abusing cover, crouching and Instinct. 47 can even now fake surrender which is amusing if not a little fruitless Hey, sir I don't know yo- human shield!
Oftentimes the game will result in the player merely having to find the rarest of get-ups to be allowed entry to mostly every part of a stage unhindered, for example a mission set in a Courtroom. One would expect the best clothes would be a Policeman outfit? Nay! You will always run out of Instinct, meet another Policeman, get detected and end up in a shootout. So upon trial and error, you'll best find the Judge and wear his robes - no more problems. This is due to the fact there is only one Judge in the entire level.
It's very much a video game. Absolution, to the savvy gamer will find it easy to exploit the mechanics and AI of NPC's. One example I can think of is that I know the drill when it comes to distractions. I threw a screwdriver and as I knew that the target (with bodyguard) would obviously have no scripted lines, the body guard would say Go check that out! She complies, into the dark she goes providing me with an easy kill.
Most missions are straight-forward, trial and error affairs that are easy to finish, however some of the best and reminiscent of the previous games are the sandbox missions. It's not because these missions remind me of the old games, it's because they do what Hitman does best freedom.
Blow up a gas stove, throw someone into a vat of oil, drop a car on a mechanics head, poison a coffee with Fugu, electrocute a pissed-upon fence, swap hot sauce with lighter fluid for a BBQ are just a few of what some of the bigger missions offer - choice.
Tighter controls, great animations, better gun mechanics and the much talked about Instinct feature that echoes Detective Mode found in the Batman: Arkham series are welcome additions that are only intrinsic of the current generation are helpful and often indispensable to the player. Some of the best graphics of this year and superb voice acting only add to this list.
If anything, if you're not completely satisfied, Absolution offers a tonne of replayability. It begs for it, asking the player to come back and explore and play as many times as possible, levels include specific challenges and the 20 playstyles to discover are all there for you to get the most out of the game and not once does it feel tacked on, it feels all entirely organic you'd do them out of a natural devious curiosity.
It's clear what Absolution offers, among other things - promise. Promise that with this iteration the developers have taken casual' and hardcore' newcomers by the hand. The important thing is that the audience has grown, with this game Io-Interactive has set the bar that can only be put higher, with the next game letting go of the collective hand and whispering go on, we've shown you the ropes this playground is now yours. And that's a likely outcome that the old fans of the series will be sure to absolve Io-Interactive of, and so I say to them wait this game out, wait for Hitman: Solved
*At time of publishing it has been confirmed that Io-Interactive are currently working on a patch to solve the disguise system complaints players hold.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/03/12
Game Release: Hitman: Absolution (EU, 11/20/12)
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