Review by ptemptibus
Best Hitman Yet (a big call!)
As a massive Hitman fan, the first game-play preview for Absolution had me slightly worried. Hiding and running from the cops in a library just did not look like the way a Hitman game should play. I mean, it should be all about hunting down targets a taking them out in the most efficient and interesting way possible, right? Thankfully, the majority of this game is exactly that.
I dont want to give anything away, so lets just say that someone you care about has been captured and you have to take-out various baddies in order to track down their whereabouts. Okay, so care might be too strong of a word when it comes to 47 - perhaps it is best to think of it in terms of honor, respect, or duty but 47 has been humanized somewhat in this game which arguably makes his actions more excusable and, to my thinking, a bit more involving. Of course, the extent of 47s brutality and body-count is all up to you, so any moral decisions made are on your head, not his.
Freakin awesome. The sneaking game has been taken to a new level here, and the shooting is extremely tight. There are numerous ways to assassinate most targets, with the more interesting approaches granting score modifiers. Killing civilians or non-target hostiles will decrease your score, as will getting spotted. Wearing all disguises will give a score mod, but then so will just wearing your suit for the entire time. This and other contradicting objectives will make you want to play the level several times over to achieve 100% synchronization, I mean completion. Oops.
The best levels are when you are put into a relatively small environment and given one or more targets to dispose of. Here you will use your enhanced vision to find targets, follow their path and look for unique ways to kill them. You might be able to poison their food, crush them with a hanging object, get them near a sabotaged electrical device, push them down a man-hole or find a sniper-rifle and execute from a distance. Of course, if all else fails you can just run up and publicly garrote them, or go in guns blazing, but I wouldnt recommend it.
You can subdue non-targets and take their clothes. These disguises will grant you access to certain areas and will not raise the suspicion of anyone who is not dressed like you. However, characters who are dressed like you will quickly become alerted if you are spotted, unless you happen to have a lot of instinct which allows you to blend in and pass by unnoticed. Instinct wears out very fast though, so these blends can only be done occasionally and instinct can only be recharged by accomplishing goals and special actions. I thought that this was all very cool. It makes sense that a night-club bouncer would not mistake you for someone who works there just because you are wearing the uniform. The fact that instinct is fleeting means that you have to choose your moments and move very carefully. It makes every assassination feel like an intricate little puzzle that you have to figure out how to do just-right.
It is true that some levels are not assassination-orientated as they involve you trying to get away from hunters (like the above mentioned library level), but even most of these levels still have specific targets that can be taken-out in a variety of ways, or have moments of sneaky mastery that must be pulled off in order to progress with the highest possible score.
Look, I dont want this review to go on too long, so Im just going to say that the game-play is brilliant and completely engrossing with its consistent moments of heart-in-mouth suspense and homicidal satisfaction.
Graphics / Sound:
Visually, the game is quite stunning. The scenery is grand, beautifully lit and vibrant. Textures are tactile and load smoothly. Characters are a little bit clunky but certainly get the job done. The cut-scenes are not as breathtaking as the teaser trailer, but still pretty good. Most impressive is the amount of action that can happen onscreen without any lag or frame-rate issues. Some levels are literally packed with people and the crowd mechanics here are also very impressive.
The soundtrack adds to the tension nicely but is not overdone. The dialogue and voice acting is very good and often quite humorous. The main villains have a lot of personality, but it was the little conversations that can be heard between random thugs and civilians that I found the most entertaining. Sometimes these eavesdropped conversations can give you a hint about what to do, whilst some are just plain amusing. Often these secondary characters will discus their home-lives the nice, normal things that they are planning to do with their families which really makes you question whether or not you should stab them with a screwdriver and stash their body in closet. On a negative note: I did have quite a few problems with the sound cutting in and out in several areas, so that was a bit annoying.
Contracts is an online game mode where you can choose to complete any level in any way you want, and then your friends or randoms have to try to complete it in the same way. You can choose characters to target that are not targets within the campaign, so this really mixes things up. Whatever outfit you are in or weapon you kill these targets with is what online competitors will have to mimic. Speed, precision and anonymity are also factors. This is a great way to add more replay value to the game and really gets the competitive blood flowing. Making the contracts as difficult and unique as possible and then seeing if anyone can match you is a blast. Having people play and like your mission is rewarding both emotionally and with in-game credits. Disguises and weapons unlocked during the campaign can be used online, so this gives even more incentive to clock the game completely.
All in all, I loved this game. In fact, I think it may just be the best game I have played all year (and Ive played pretty much every significant release). It was everything I wanted it to be, which is rare in modern gaming, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Much like I have done with Blood Money, I assume that I will come back to this gem every so often to get my assassination or rampage fix, and will work to do it all differently then the previous play-through. Its just a class act all round; highly recommended.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Hitman: Absolution (ANZ Limited Edition) (AU, 11/20/12)
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