As a new comer to the series, Hitman Absolution has made me a fan. The stealth experience reminds me of a Splinter Cell or even Syphon Filter game. There are two main components to the game – the campaign or Absolution mode and the Contracts Mode. The latter pits you up against the community in individual contracts, grading you on various categories. The Absolution is the campaign or story which revolves around ‘hits’ within a narrative.
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Distributor: Megarom Interactive
For fans of: Stealth games
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: Playstation 3, PC
If we had to give it a numerical score: 8.5/10
What I liked
- Stunning design
- Stealth mechanics
- Audio and visual quality
- Just about flawless cover-system
- Freedom on how you tackle the level
- Checkpoint system
Not so much
- Lower difficulties a little too easy
- Disguises in more difficult levels are inconsistent
- Grading system can be hampering on how you take on the levels
- Choice options are deceiving
Gameplay and features
It appears as though IO Interactive has taken the stealth aspect to new heights with Absolution. Players can do almost anything you would want in a stealthy role – I have played all the stealth series bar this one, and often thought “wouldn’t it be great if I could do this, or that…” and with this one it appears as if you can do just about anything. Once you get into the campaign though, you will start to realise that while it appears that you can go about it in any manner, you are still tunnelled into the “correct” ways to clear the levels, if I can word it that way. For example, in one of the first missions where I found a sniper-rifle, which I used to snipe the ‘hit’, all hell broke loose when I did. All the enemies were alerted making any further progression almost impossible and I lost a massive amount of points. This annoys me, because I got a clear shot for a vast distance away, so I was expecting my approach to be a success. So in theory, I could do exactly that – snipe the target from a distance – but I would be heavily penalised for doing so, and so the ‘choice’ seems to be little deceiving. You are also not given your trademark silenced guns in the beginning of most stages, again, limiting you on how you go about taking down your target. For the most parts you start stages with an un-silenced weapon, which will only get you discovered.
This is not to say that the game is on rails, at all. You are given the freedom to traverse around the level’s map in whichever way you want, and are often rewarded for exploring. There are always many routes to your target, and the stealth mechanics will only give you all the more options. The stealth mechanics actually often surprised me, as well as objects and how I could use them in Absolution’s world. I found sleeping-tabs for example, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that this wouldn’t just be a useless finding; I could actually use them, and with great affect. Players are given a range of possibilities in how to tackle the various objectives, but as explained, some will score you higher than the rest, and so there definitely still is the more “correct” ways to go about things. The prologue or tutorial had me in absolute awe – learning how magnanimous the gameplay mechanics were. The tutorial also reveals loads of classy little touches that make this stand out above anything I have experienced in the genre before.
The stealth revolves around Agent 47’s ‘Instinct’ which is depleted as you use it up. You can replenish and fill your Instinct gauge by performing in various ways – from getting passed foes unnoticed or leaving areas with no tracks that you were there etc. Instinct can be used to benefit you in various manners; from scoping out the area for clues, to spotting enemies, even to trick enemies. Your entire approach in how you go about achieving your objectives, almost entirely revolves around your use of the Instinct.
The control-mechanics will be familiar to the genre, and absolutely fluid. The entire controller’s interface is used, and used very well for that matter. I said it’s the little touches that really wowed me, and the controlling mechanics is where I was most impressed. I mean, Absolution does innovate in the stealth gameplay arena, but if you have played a few of titles before it, you will find the gameplay fairly familiar – we have often needed to get rid of bodies that we have executed for example, but Absolution gives you some real tangent ways of dealing with this. I don’t want to give everything away, but let’s just say you will be able to more than just hide a body around a corner or in a dark nook.
Then the cover-system, or more specifically, how absolutely seamlessly the cover-system works – again, a little touch that made a world of difference. Players are able to sneak around effortlessly, swapping from cover-point to cover-point, with ease and none of those awkward sticky moments that so many stealth games suffer from. You can hide inside objects (like containers) to further the stealth element, peaking out to scope out the level. You need to listen to conversations, to pick up on any clues. The cover-system and all the gameplay aspects surrounding the stealth, work wonderfully and in harmony to give you the best shot at being the silent assassin.
The checkpoint and grading systems work hand in hand. You can choose to activate the checkpoint when you find them. So if you are happy with how you performed in that level, then you can save at the checkpoint, so that you can restart at that point. This really worked for me as I would often repeat levels with the aim of achieving a higher grade for the level. You are graded on various points on how you cleared the level, and the checkpoint system only compliments this. You can tackle the levels in whichever manner you choose, so again, the checkpoints will only benefit you in redoing exactly what you want to redo. On the down side, the grading system can be a little intrusive, but it does makes for great replay value. The down side is that at first I was redoing missions over and over, as I missed a particular objective or killed someone I shouldn’t have. This would frustrate me and I would lose track of the narrative. Until I decided to throw caution into the wind for my first playthrough and just to keep the story going, I was frustrating myself in how to tackle the various objectives. On the upside, I can’t think of too many games where I am busy with the first playthrough and already thinking on how I would take on the second playthrough – what I would do different to achieve the masses of mini-objectives. Your score summary at the end of the mission just made things worse for me as it gives you your score on how you did in ZA and around the globe. So when I scored too low in ZA, I would want to redo the mission just to achieve a higher score. Like I said though, bad that it’s intrusive, but awesome that it gives you a proper reason to play again and again.
The Contracts Mode is absolutely brilliant, and again adds so much replay value. I must hand it to IO Interactive, instead of including a half-baked multiplayer offering, they added a mode that allows you to compete against others, while staying true to the strengths or theme of the game. Here you can basically pit yourself against other players in specific contracts. Players accumulate points across various categories and you should find yourself repeating the contracts to beat other players after carefully studying the best way to go about this. The Contract Mode is a wonderfully fresh take on the multiplayer competitions and should do well within communities, to which it is geared for. You don’t need to rely on a strong internet connection, fill any lobbies or even make idle chit chat. You can take on the IO or community created contracts and take them on in your own time, and replay the contracts as much as you like. I might even enjoy the Contracts mode more than the campaign, or I will be playing in this mode in future as opposed to repeating the campaign. So for me, the longevity of the game is with the Contracts mode.
Sound and Visuals
The sound and visual quality is of a very high calibre and keeps up with the best of them. The campaign is wonderfully immersive, filled with grand cut-scenes and great special effects. The visuals are not perfect though. I did find a bit of objects over-lapping each other, or characters getting stuck in the environment. For the most part though, the visuals are very impressive and the technical issues were not frequent enough to detract from the experience. Agents 47’s animations and movement is extremely smooth and realistic as is the cast with the supporting characters. The cuts-scenes are seamlessly stitched into the gameplay scenes and if anything, I would have liked to have taken control of some of the final kills, which are often played out by cut-scenes. This wasn’t totally a bad design choice, but a bit of an anti-climax.
The sound effects, the scoring, the dialogue, voice-acting and general sound production is also of a high quality. Agent 47 is a little bit of the strong silent type, an aspect does suit his persona, but the lack of the narrative fleshing out his character, was a little disconnecting for me – I don’t feel like I know much about him, but this could be because this was my first Agent 47 game. The scoring was the highlight for me in the audio department, peaking when it should and all together and powerfully capturing the tense mood of the narrative.
I was a little disappointed to find out that what seemed like endless possibilities or choice was a little actually a little deceiving. And even though the narrative falls a little short for me, and Agent 47 did not turn out to be the most beguiling of characters as I thought he would be, Hitman Absolution was as compelling as I hoped it would be, as a newcomer to the series. The mechanics are extremely satisfying, the little touches set this one apart from most stealth games, and while the masses of objectives can impede on how you take on the game, they do make for great replay value. And I definitely will want to keep playing this one. The only thing that I had to almost completely ignore in Absolution was the scoring system – I mean if I am going to assume the role of a hit-man, for goodness sakes, let me do a lot of ‘hitting’ without being penalised.
Read about our ratings here.