Developer: Io Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
When we here at Dealspwn first got a look at Absolution in action, we were a little worried we wouldn’t have the assassination sandbox we had garrotted our way through in previous Hitman titles. Thankfully, when Jon saw it over at E3 this summer he put our minds at rest, saying he had been shown how players could approach levels in different ways. The remaining question then was if developers Io Interactive had ensured this freedom existed out throughout the entire game, and more importantly if the gameplay was up to the legacy of its predecessors. Either way, it was time to jump back into the shoes of the bald barcoded assassin and finally see for myself.
In regards to the gameplay mechanics in Absolution, there are a few new additions to aid Agent 47 during his missions, but for the most part veteran players should be able to return to the assassinating fray with little trouble (the tutorial allows everyone to get up to speed on how to get around in a helpful manner.) Button prompts appear when by items (or bodies) in a similar manner to previous instalments, and the interface provides all the information you will need, including if you’ve been identified, if your weapon is visible, and what items are at your disposal. I actually found the controls to be smooth and intuitive, allowing me to get back into the assassination game in no time. Unfortunately, the melee combat is essentially a quick time event (boo) but at least Io Interactive had the sense to put the prompts near the action so players are not missing the visuals completely.
Beyond the basic controls, there are a few new gameplay additions worth noting, first of which is the cover system. Incredibly reminiscent of the mechanic used in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, players are able to roll between nearby objects with ease, but it actually feels like a more refined mechanic compared to the futuristic RPG (47 can automatically go around a corner edge without a button prompt, for example.) The second addition is perhaps the most controversial among the community: Instinct. Providing Agent 47 with a form of ‘spidey sense’, players have a limited amount of this new resource to identify targets, items of interest, objective locations, and learn patrol paths. Depending on the difficulty level, Instinct can regenerate, be earned back by hiding in plain sight, given as a finite amount for the entire level, or be turned off altogether. As a gameplay mechanic I felt it slotted in into action rather well, but purists can always ignore it if they wish to.
The final addition is Point Shooting, which is essentially the ‘Mark & Execute’ feature from Splinter Cell, allowing 47 to mark targets and then kill them within seconds. There was something immensely satisfying about using the Point Shooting with the signature Silverballers as the cinematic execution played on screen, but perfectionists looking for the Silent Assassin grade will find it redundant in all but a few cases, and it does make handling firefights a little too easy (as long as you have the Instinct to power it.)
Unfortunately, Io Interactive has allowed a rather broken disguise mechanic to make it into the final release. Whereas in previous Hitman games the NPCs would have to be fairly near to 47 for them to start getting suspicious, they can now spot the bald cosplayer over huge distances, forcing the player to hide or crouch almost the entire time. Players do have a seconds grace to get out of sight when spotted (depending on the difficulty level) and I will admit that wearing a disguise does provide players with slightly more time compared to wearing the trademark suit, but overall the imbalance makes the disguise function completely pointless for all but a few circumstances, and concerns me that attaining the best scores on higher difficulty levels will be impossible cleanly.
Each mission in Absolution is made up of smaller stages, which while not as huge as some of the levels in previous Hitman games provide a large enough experience as a whole. Unfortunately, a number of them (especially later on) begin with 47 being hunted from the start, forcing the player to adopt a stealthy approach for its duration. There are still the large public areas where the player must assassinate someone from time to time, and even the stealth-focused stages require just as much perfect timing and planning, but the fact some stages force the player into a certain playstyle is a little disappointing. To add to this, those going for a perfect score will find there are one, possibly two, solutions available to them, which again can create a feeling of restriction instead of freedom.
Adding more of a narrative focus to a series that has normally only used it as a loose element to tie everything together should not be immediate grounds for concern, but it has ended up creating one of the most ridiculous and nonsensical stories I’ve played all year. The world that Agent 47 inhabits sees him visiting some of the most dilapidated locations known to man, filled with some of the most bizarre and downright disgusting personalities in existence (many of them lip-lickers, weirdly enough.) On top of this, with the exception of Diana and Victoria, the female populous with any dialogue are horribly represented as either overly-sexualised, strippers and whores, gullible fools, or angry old women. It's perfectly summed up by The Saints, the infamous killer nuns from the trailer released earlier this year, who get their origins disgracefully thrown in as an overheard conversation (Spoiler Alert: They're basically a budget version of the Beauty & The Beast squad from MGS4.)
It doesn’t help that the majority of the voice actors ham up their deliveries, making it seem like 47 is the only one taking the whole thing seriously. In fact, the voices of our bald assassin and Victoria, the one he is sworn to protect, are the only natural sounding performances in the entire game and it ends up making the moments where the story tries to go for a laugh to fall flat. Don’t get me wrong; there has always been a layer of humour within a series that provides the players with the ability to dress us as a chicken in Mardi Gras to execute a kill, but that was left to the player to instil should they wish. Instead, it feels like Io Interactive have tried to be edgy (perhaps even trying to emulate the 'grindhouse' style of films) and ended up turning the game world into a farce, something that caused me to disengage from any investment in the plot.
That’s not to say there weren’t some moments that made me laugh. The ability to start a bar brawl, and dismissing the court case of a lunatic whilst disguised as a judge provided some rather funny moments.
From a graphical point of view, there are moments where Absolution is capable of being visually stunning, with the attention to detail of facial animations and skin textures of characters worthy of praise. From a cinematic point of view, the direction of the cutscenes is incredibly well executed, even with the abundant use of Lens Flare that rivals that of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, and the combat manages to find the right balance of precise and brutal. I did notice that the PC version suffered from occasional moment of screen tearing though, but overall the performance was smooth, and while it may not be the best looking game this generation the presentation is spot on.
Although the main campaign contains a scoring system that grades the player for their performance (and compares them against the rest of the world) which in a sense provides a reason to return to it, the real reason to keep going back to Absolution is the Contracts mode. In it players can challenge the community to revisit any of the stages in Absolution and execute a specific target, be it a guard, a civilian, or shopkeeper, before escaping from the area to be rewarded with cash depending on their ability to keep it clean and within specific parameters (such as “Kill no-one else”, or “wear this bath robe as you do it.”) With players constantly creating levels, either for the entire world to play or to challenge just their friends, it provides more of a feeling akin to the classic Hitman experience than the single player campaign. If anything will convince players to keep playing Absolution it will be the Contracts mode, but its longevity will depend on the craftiest of assassins keeping things interesting.
Also, before anyone asks, there will not be any player-made contracts that are impossible to do, as the creator must complete it themselves before the game will allow it to be submitted to the masses.
The argument that Agent 47’s return is a dumbed-down affair does have its merits to a point, and I feel this is amplified by the nature of the storyline, but when you get down to the core experience of it all Absolution is a capable and enjoyable game, at least when it lets the player experiment with the world around them. That’s not to say it stops being any fun when it funnels players into a certain playstyle, but it really is at its best when the player is given free rein, a reason why Contracts mode will be what the series veterans prefer. Let’s just hope that the next instalment grounds its story somewhat and focuses on the sandbox, because although it’s a good return for Agent 47, it could have been a great one.
- Satisfying and intuitive controls.
- Contracts Mode provides more of a traditional Hitman experience.
- When allowed, provides players with an enjoyable assassination sandbox…
- … but creativity with kills is somewhat limited in the single player mode.
- A ridiculous storyline filled with ridiculous characters.
- The Disguise system is mostly pointless.
The Short Version: The return of Agent 47 may see him plough through a rather farcical single player storyline, but the core gameplay allows for a fun experience when the player is given the freedom to assassinate as they please. Along with the community-fuelled Contracts mode to keep the challenges coming, overall it’s a satisfying return for the original assassin that could have been better, but is certainly worth a look.