Hitman Absolution review

“One day, I will think of this as just another job. After all, this is what I do.”

Despite greatly enjoying Blood Money, I never did pick up Hitman Absolution when it was released a few years ago now. Maybe it was due to its rather underwhelming reception amongst fans of the series, or maybe it just got overshadowed by the multitude of releases since. Anyway it got offered free on Games With Gold ages ago and so here I am with a review of it.

Let’s get this out the way nice and early.

Hitman Absolution has quite possibly the worst story of any game I can remember playing, I can’t even comprehend how awful it is. It basically centers on 47 taking out his old handler Diana and then protecting a young girl called Victoria but the plot doesn’t merely buckle under its own failures, it practically capsizes. I would give it the benefit of the doubt if it was Saints Row stupid but it’s not, some of the themes and plot details are uncomfortably crude and downright nasty.

Absolution seems to have no idea what kind of tone it should go for, the serious attempt at a story is completely blown apart when you’re impersonating a wrestler for example, it’s ludicrous. The writing is equally terrible with regards to the main story, the characters are all incredibly uninteresting and just amazingly idiotic and it reached the point when I actually decided to eventually skip every cut-scene because it became too jarring to see these unnecessary characters on the screen.

It’s a shame to start this review with such a sour note because believe it or not, I really enjoyed playing the game, it’s Hitman after all and you’ll not find many better moments in gaming than executing that ‘perfectly planned’ assassination.

Absolution is a slow-paced third-person stealth game, underpinned by the symbolically expansive hub areas that Hitman is known for and where you will find your designated assassination target. However Absolution’s structure differs from previous Hitman games as most of the game’s big set-pieces is interlinked through linear areas where the only objective is to get to Point A to Point B, preferably unseen. This is still really fun however, simply because Hitman’s stealth gameplay works very well indeed, an excellent cover system coupled with fantastic level design makes it a patient, yet ultimately a very satisfying endeavour. This is where the infamous instinct system comes into play, (purists can turn this off) whereupon guard patterns are highlighted, key objects illuminated and exit paths signposted. It’s a legitimate point that it can make the game feel a bit dumbed-down, but for most of the time it strikes a thoughtful balance as some of the hub areas are so meticulously detailed, you can’t identify which things you can interact with and which paths you can go down. Thus it prevents needless frustration and contributes to maintaining the focus of the game as a whole.

One of the biggest strengths of any Hitman game is in its brilliant level design, Absolution follows suit with some absolutely terrific stages for you to wreak havoc in. You’ll explore a densely packed Chinatown, an old Chicago library and train station, penthouses, greenhouses, a motel and its surrounding cornfields, even a wrestling arena. All of the areas are diverse, expansive and crucially so rewarding to explore. This is complemented with a sprinkling of some great little touches such as the mini-level where you pick up a new suit for 47 at his tailor and a desert excursion with a nasty little fellow named Lenny.

A real problem in the gameplay however is that disguises simply don’t work, if you’re looked at by a character wearing the same uniform as you, a policeman for example they’ll instantly get suspicious forcing you to use the instinct to quickly get by them, but this just doesn’t make any sense does every policeman know every other policeman? Does every chef know every other chef? I understand that compromises have to be made to ensure some kind of challenge but disguises have been made effectively transparent and therefore pointless, making a signature part of Hitman games just not any fun anymore.

The checkpoint system is terribly confusing as well as with all the assassination possibilities and mayhem that comes with a Hitman game, IO seemingly could not figure out an effective way to structure a checkpoint system neatly into the level design. I played on ‘Normal’ difficulty and still even then checkpoints were very sparse, even worse if you load up from a checkpoints guard patterns reset so it could prove to be impossible to progress if you didn’t acquire a disguise at that point etc.

Contacts mode meanwhile is the big innovation in Absolution, a sort of level editor where you can create your very own assassinations for the world to enjoy or loathe, it’s a great idea and one for the large part, works well. This is what you’ll be replaying Absolution for I suspect, taking on player-created levels and trying to post the best score on the leaderboards.

Absolution looks on the whole quite good, it’s at its best when you’re exploring the huge hub areas that are teeming with bustling crowds; walking into the Chinatown level for instance is a particular highlight. Additionally, there are some neat details with regards to the introduction of the hub areas, for instance before you enter a club, you’ll only hear a distant hum and muffled sound behind the door but when you enter it gives way to an overwhelming roar of loud music, huge crowds and bright lighting. Absolution doesn’t look amazing, some levels fall flat but it employs some effective tools and it’s a solid effort all-round.

Overall, I really enjoyed Hitman Absolution, it still requires patience and rewards creativity, a more linear Hitman game to be sure, but strong pacing is maintained throughout meaning you’re never far away from your next target. Having said all this, I hope the next iteration is a more minimalist story with 47 just taking on contracts at will all around the world and not part of a forced narrative.

7.5/10

+Superb stealth

+Terrific level design

+Expansive assassination options

+Contracts mode

-Atrocious storyline

-Disguises don’t work

-Frustrating checkpoint system