The Hitman series is held in very high regard by fans. Blood Money is seen as the pinicle of the series. It is six years since the release of Blood Money and fans have been desperate for a fresh dose of their favourite hired hitman, Agent 47. Since then, there has been a film based on the game, but that was awful, so when a new title was announced the hype machine was in full flow, IO Interactive, on new hardware, it was hard not to get excited.
As with previous titles, the story is well written, rather than being a reboot for the series, like other games tend to do, it fits in with the previous titles, therefore offering plenty of subtle material for those who have stuck with the game since the first in 2001. Agent 47 has been sent to kill former handler Diana Burnwood, who has taken the agency to its knees. At the point of the assasination attempt, which unfortunately is pure cut-scene, Agent 47 is told of a young girl, who he must save. This one moment turns 47’s world upside down, as he then becomes hunted by those who once he trusted. There are plenty of twists as players progress and the acting along with the writing offer a fairly mature story that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the player.
Hitman games excelled at being a sandbox game, but not in the same sense as a GTA or Saint Row, instead players were given objectives then the levels were full of the tools to complete that objective. How you did it, was completely up to you. In Absolution, IO Interactive have tried to offer the same experience, yet a few of the new features make the whole experience feel a bit more linear.
Instinct Mode is the biggest new introduction, which allows Agent 47 to highlight enemies and points of interest, similar to the ideas in the recent Splinter Cell, or Batman Arkham City, in doing so, the game loses the sense of discovery and exploration that made the earlier games a joy to play. Pressing the right shoulder button activates instinct mode and enemies, weapons and tools are highlighted in yellow. This isn’t just limited to those in sight of Agent 47, as he can also see where enemies are before he has even had the chance to spot them himself. This works in a similar way to the mini-map in older games, the map which is still there in this very game. A silver lining though, is that this can be turned off in the options. Also in the harder modes the usefulness of Instinct becomes less and less, right through to purist mode, where you get no hints, or interface at all.
There is still a range of ways to take out targets, it still has the sandbox way of playing. It is even possible to get through without killing anyone, bar the targets and depending on the difficulty level the time taken to find a way to a target can take a short time, or prove to be a tense slow progression , again depending also on how you choose to approach the task. It won’t be uncommon to spend more time tracking the movements of targets and enemies, rather than sneaking past, or taking them out. There is an awful lot of planning as you access the situation, before deciding on the best course of action.
Of course you can just go in all guns blazing, that is the beauty of a Hitman game, it may not be the best way to do things, nor is it playing the game in the spirit it should be played, however it can be done. What is introduced too, is a scoring system, that grades how each section is tackled. Points are awarded for getting through areas undetected, or by taking down an enemy without arousing suspicion. Whereas points are lost if 47 is spotted, or even not as clean with a kill as he could be. Going in all guns blazing will see players ending a scenario deep in the minus figures.
It’s not just a scoring system that encourages you to vary your play style, there are also a lot of challenges on offer, that if completed will unlock various bonuses, such as new weapons. Again, whether you want to play through and complete the challenges, is totally up to your own discretion. It does encourage multiple play through attempts, which again was something that stood out about the previous games, no matter how many times you played, you could find a new way to complete an objective.
On the surface, Hitman Absolution does lots of good things, but something just doesn’t sit right with the game, yet this will only be an issue for veterans of the series. All the tools seem to be included to create a true sandbox experience, but it never really lives up to the lofty heights of Blood Money. There are too many cut-scenes mid action, or quick-time-events, which serve to make you feel that some areas are simply sending you into a bottleneck, so it can give you the outcome the story desires. As mentioned, there are a number of cut-scene executions, however these do become less prominent as the game moves forward.
Stepping away from the main story, there is the Contracts mode, which allows players to pick any level, pick the weapons and pick the target, creating your own objectives, which can then be shared for other people to download. They then try to match you objective and are scored on how close they get to how you approached the level. The beauty of this is that you are not confined to only making the main target the same one that was set in the story mode. This is Hitman at it almost best, taking away the limitations from the story mode and allowing players to create something of their own. This mode alone has a lot of potential and could have been an entire game in itself. This is real Hitman. If enough players get on board and new maps and targets are created, this could be the defining mode of the game. To the point where if the game was purely this, it would be something outstanding.
Forgetting this is a Hitman for a moment, as a standalone game, it is fun to play, offering up some decent writing, acting and some solid gameplay. The difficulty levels are well integrated, allowing those of different skill sets to get the experience they need. It is challenging and engrossing and would be a perfect fit as a new IP.
Overall, Hitman isn’t a bad game, in fact it it is hard to find fault. The main issue is that it is a Hitman game and the main new mechanics and the structure of the story mode take away that feeling you had when playing an earlier Hitman game. If you are new to the series then you will love what is on offer, but fans will be left with a bit of a bitter taste in their mouth.