Review by Crimson576

"Hitman: Absolution- It's Not Blood Money 2"

It's been a long time since the release of Hitman: Blood Money. Blood Money is considered the pinnacle of the series and was praised for its large open levels, and the freedom to dispatch your targets how you please. Now, over six years later the iconic Agent 47 is back in the newly released Hitman: Absolution. So how does 47 fare in the latest installment? Let's break it down piece by piece.

Story: Let's face it; very few people played the Hitman series for the gripping story. IO has decided to try and change this for Absolution. The opening sets 47 on a mission to assassinate his former handler Diane, who has apparently turned traitor against the ICA and kidnapped a young girl, Victoria. Before we know it 47 is on the run and trying to protect the girl from both the ICA and a nefarious arms dealer from South Dakota. Unfortunately it's just not very interesting. The cut scenes and voice work are decent, but there's nothing really new or interesting here. It's the same “stone cold killer tries to redeem himself by protecting some innocent child, ,women, etc.” that's been done a million times before.

The second problem is that you're forced along certain outcomes regardless if you play the game like a true assassin or a raging psycho who guns everyone down. For instance, early in the game you're tasked with infiltrating a hotel and eliminating a target. I weaved my way through the whole level never once being spotted or killing, but it did not matter. As soon I reached the target I'm greeted with a cut scene that ensured my epic failure. It's these moments that will most likely annoy and frustrate veterans of the series.

Story Score 5/10: Despite IOs best effort the story is the same forgettable redemption tale we've seen too many times before. Worse is the when the story yanks control from the player in a series that's known for its openness and freedom.

Graphics: This is where Absolution has seen the biggest improvement. This game is downright beautiful. With a powerful enough PC this is hands down one of the best looking games of 2012. The environments are detailed, the lighting effects are great, and the character models are very detailed as well. There's a tad too much bloom sometimes, but that's really the only complaint.

Graphics Score: 9/10: Definitely one of the best looking games this year.

Gameplay: Blood Money was a great game. It dropped you into large open levels and let you decide how to eliminate you targets. Killing with your trusty fiber wire, sniping from a vantage point with a silenced rifle, or even making deaths look accidental, the choice was yours. Things are quite a bit different this time around. The game starts off with the obligatory tutorial level. Here you'll be introduced to the new mechanics. Some are welcome changes such as being able to sneak faster, drag people right after using the fiber wire, and new cover mechanics similar to many other cover based shooters/stealth games. You're also introduced to the new disguise system and the instinct mode.

In Blood Money disguises would allow access to restricted areas and allow you to scout out levels and potentially get close to your target. I'll admit it was pretty goofy that unless you were somewhere you weren't supposed to be or brandishing a weapon, not one really noticed you. Unfortunately things now swing to the other extreme. In Absolution NPCs of a certain type (cop, guard, cook, etc.) will see through that disguise if you hang around them to long. It sounds good in theory, but doesn't quite work in execution for a multitude of reasons. For instance in one level you'll come across about 50 cops. Upon disguising yourself as a cop every other cop will see through that outfit. While this might make sense for a small group of guards protecting something, it really doesn't make sense that every cop in Chicago knows each other. It also works the other way. Infiltrate a mansion and the kill the only cook and nobody else seems to notice that the only cook there is now a bald guy with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head. The problems don't end there. NPCs have vision like wolf and can see through your disguise from fifty feet away with your back to them. The only ways to ease their suspicion is to use instinct mode to cover your face with your hand, interact with predetermined parts of the environment, or go into cover behind something. It sounds idiotic and it's pretty much feels that way when you're playing. A cop starts to see through your disguise, but suddenly forgets about it when you interact with a box of donuts or duck behind a pillar?

The next big addition is Instinct mode. This replaces the map and on lower difficulties allows you to see NPCs through walls and their patrol paths. It also highlights important items or locations in the level. Depending on the difficulty you may have a set amount of instinct and it may or may not recharge. For those Hitman purists it pretty much optional and is completely turned off on the highest difficulties.

Levels in Absolution are no longer big areas to explore right from the start. This time they're broken up into segments and many times they don't involve taking out a target. Most levels have at least a couple segments where your only task is to move from point A to B. Thanks to somewhat broken disguise system (especially on the higher difficulties) the game quickly becomes a cover based stealth game like Splinter Cell. Worse some of these levels include things like dodging a police helicopter, or a fight played out solely through a quick time event. Many of these segments are also extremely small, sometimes only requiring you to walk about a hundred feet to the next door. Occasionally the game will drop you into an open area and task you with taking out one or more targets. This is where the game shines even if these levels are a fraction of the size of Blood Money's levels. Of course even these levels can be a royal pain thanks to the checkpoint system.

Absolution without a doubt has one of the worst check point systems I've ever seen. Gone are the days of being able to manually save when you please. Now the game saves automatically when you cross into a new segment of a level or manually use checkpoint icons you find spread throughout the levels. Here's the problem though, restarting a check point resets everything, minus the targets you kill. That means any guards you took out before the checkpoint will be back and their patrol paths reset. This completely kills the flow of the game and causes some seriously ridiculous trial and error. You'll end up playing the same sections over and over, listening to same conversations between NPCs a dozen times.

When the trial and error gets old the first thing you'll do is go Rambo. The good news is the cover system is pretty good. It's as easy as a press of a button to move between cover and the weapons feel responsive and weighty when you fire them. Enemy AI is pretty much standard fare here minus the super human senses when seeing through disguises. Another nice change is that alerting an NPC doesn't automatically make everyone know who you are and you can kill or subdue them before they can raise the alarm.

Also gone is the ability to select weapons before a level. You're now stuck with what you're given at the start and what you find. It may now seem like such a big deal, but it's just another issue that limits the ways you can play through a level.

Once you finish with the main game you can move onto Contracts mode. In a nutshell this mode allows you to create or play custom hits within the various levels of the main game. You can set up the targets and instructions on how they must be taken out such as killing with a certain weapon or while wearing a specific disguise. You can also set certain criteria for bonuses such as not being seen, or no bodies being found. The better you follow the criteria the more money you earn. You can use this money to buy weapons, upgrades, and disguises. You also pick your starting weapon and outfit before you play a contract.

Despite the limitations it's actually pretty fun and you can share contracts and compare scores with friends online. The only real downside is you have to be connected to the internet for it to work.

Gameplay Score 6/10: Many of the new improvements in Absolution are good. The cover system is descent and Contracts mode is fairly entertaining. The levels are tiny and many of them linear. The new disguise system has taken a turn for the worse and the checkpoints are flat out broken.

Length/Replayability: It took me around 8-10 hours on Normal difficulty. The higher difficulties add more guards with faster reaction time and limit or disable the Instinct mode. The levels are much smaller and somewhat linear, but Contracts mode could provide more reasons to keep playing.

PC Specifics: I didn't experience any crashes or performance issues during my playthrough. There are a number of graphics options to tweak and no glaring signs of being a console port (eg: X-Box controller button prompts). Keys can remapped. Currently there's no way to adjust to FOV.

Overall Score 7/10: Despite everything I did have fun with Absolution. It's not a bad game; it's just not a very good Hitman game. Many of the changes here are clearly an attempt to streamline the game and reach a wider audience. Unfortunately in the process they threw out many of the elements that made Blood Money such a great game. Mix that with small levels, a terrible checkpoint system, and less freedom for the player and the end product feels more like a decent Splinter Cell clone than a Hitman game. The new Contracts mode is an interesting new feature that I would love to see expanded on. If you were hoping this was going to be Blood Money 2 then you'll be sorely disappointed and I would suggest waiting for a price drop before buying.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/04/12

Game Release: Hitman: Absolution (US, 11/19/12)

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