Square-Enix’s acquisition of Eidos was a strange one that called into question the future of several franchises, including Hitman. But after six years and almost an entire console generation, IO Interactive continues the venerable stealth-action series with Hitman: Absolution, a follow-up to 2006’s Blood Money.
Absolution’s story is, unfortunately, nebulous at best and forgettable at its worst. I’m aware that the titular hitman, Agent 47, is forced to betray his handler (a mission which serves as a tutorial), but aside from intermittent and gratuitous flashbacks of her getting shot while showering, I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to feel about this besides maybe a slight arousal. It doesn’t help that the cast is equally confused in their line delivery. I wasn’t sure if anyone could ever call someone else “holmes” without a gangster drawl, but Absolution has proved me very wrong indeed.
The actual gameplay is passable, but is just a little off especially in comparison to previous Hitman installments. Levels are preceded by cutscenes that explain the premises of the levels, but it always boils down to killing a target without being caught or getting to a door, which sometimes leads you to another door. Regardless of how many doors you go through though, you’ll eventually have to assassinate someone. This is aided by weapons and items littered throughout the game’s environments, and quantified by a ranking system that dings you on being a homicidal maniac or clumsy agent.
Sneaking around and searching for practical (or impractical) ways to dispatch your enemies is engaging, except when the sneaking is relegated to sticking to a single disguise and taking advantage of the Instinct resource by holding down a key, whereby Agent 47 covers his face with his arm. This is particularly jarring (as well as ridiculous looking) when the game funnels you through a doorway guarded by an inattentive mook who does nothing but mumble that you look familiar as he lets you through scot-free. It doesn’t help that this happens quite often. In addition, Instinct regenerates on Easy mode, but is only able to be replenished by killing guards on Normal difficulty or higher (up to “Purist”), which completely goes against the ranking system in place.
All this stealthy sandbox gameplay is bogged down by surreptitiously limiting level design. I distinctly recall attempting to approach a large hotel building with the purpose of infiltration from another street but was blocked by an invisible wall, which is something that should be a relic of the yesteryear of gaming – I was under the assumption that in this day and age, developers were willing to admit to the linearity of their games by placing actual physical barriers in their games, but this was obviously not the case here. Luckily, what is accessible is rather gorgeous, not to mention functional, with the inclusion of assassination set pieces that can add points to your rank while being deliciously sadistic – I once shoved one of my targets into an open sewer drain after I watched him grill an innocent bystander on my whereabouts.
The aforementioned ranking system as well as the Contracts mode make for a good amount of replayability – you take any level from the game’s story mode and choose three targets to kill and the method of killing, which ends up being quite fulfilling for the stealth perfectionist in everyone. However, the mission creator itself is a far cry from the robustness of a full-fledged editor, making you manually walk through the levels to mark targets, which leads me to wonder what could have been if the developers decided to make an editing suite like Blizzard’s Warcraft 3 World Editor.
Hitman: Absolution certainly functions as a stealth-action game in its own right but fails to put together a legitimately satisfying experience with its less-than cohesive game systems and embarrassingly convoluted story.
Available on: 360, PS3; Publisher: Square-Enix; Developer: IO Interactive; Players: 1; Released: November 20, 2012; ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (PS3/360); Official Site