6 years, 5 months and 29 days. That's how long has past since the release of the previous game in the Hitman series - Blood Money. In that time we've had two Olympics, two World Cups, the launch of the major social networking site - Twitter, the end of the television series 24, 6 different Apple iPhones. It's safe to say that the world is a very different place to what it used to be back in 2006. So does Danish Developer, IO Interactive's latest addition to the widely popular, long running stealth series adapt to this new era of games or is it stuck in the past?
For those new to the series, the premise is relatively simple - Before the start of each level, you're given a target to assassinate. How you go about taking care of the target is where the series excels and where it has gained the main source of it's followers since the release of the first title back in 2001. Players are given complete free roam of the level allowing for many ways of dealing creative deaths. Absolution continues this trend, although it adds more of a focus around the story this time, taking the series in a new and different sort of direction than fans are used to. Missions vary between traditional assassinations and story based stealth action moments, which actually work together to push the story forward and creative a better narrative; one that sees Agent 47 unraveling a conspiracy involving a collection of interesting, horrible characters and the world surrounding their gritty underworld.
Since the game now has more of a story woven into it compared to previous Hitman incarnations, this comes off with mixed results at times. The characters which Agent 47 comes into contact with are often brutish, blunt or even cartoonish at times, while the connections between missions can also feel blurred and?in-cohesive. Some assassinations appear to come out of nowhere, creating somewhat of a bolted on feeling to the actual plotline. Though, you've completed Hitman: Absolution's lengthy story it shouldn't be too hard to connect the muddled dots.
Absolution's missions are as strong and varied as before with Agent 47 shuffling through the crowded streets of Chinatown or incognito-ly wandering through a small police friendly American town in order to take out three members of a 1950's style greaser gang. The player is almost always given multiple options when it comes to approaching a target with signature assassinations earning the biggest rewards within the game. A signature hit is when 47 manages to make the death of his target look like a completely natural occurance, be that through tampering with a petrol pump when the target is smoking like a chimney next to it or, replacing BBQ hot sauce with a rather potent lighter fluid.
For the first time, IO Interactive rewards players through a realtime in-game points rating system that is constantly linked to Xbox Live, PSN or Steam. The points gain minor ability upgrades at the end of a level, but never feel like a necessary add on to deter you from the way you want to play. There does seem to be a general way that the Danish developers want players to play, with silent assassinations bring in the most points and unwarranted kills removing any points; it is possible for players to end each level on a minus score which could be jarring for some.
The one largest addition to the game is the implementation of Instinct Mode. By holding down the RB button on the Xbox 360 controller (or the R1 on the Playstation 3) Agent 47 can use his advanced training and hitman senses to survey the surrounding area, showing yellow silhouettes of obscured guards and nearby objects of interest. It's quite a change to previous games, but it's a shift that makes the game a lot more user friendly, allowing people who have avoided the harsh nature of the series so far to gain more of an enjoyable playthrough. One of the features of Instinct Mode is Point Shooting, an mechanic that allows Agent 47 to slow down time and tag enemies for a quick and devastating execution. It's often remarkably useful, and extremely satisfying when you're able to clear an entire room of foes lying in your path in a second allowing 47 to pass through unharmed.
These new found tools really come into their own when playing the Hitman series first splash into the world multiplayer gaming - Contracts. Basically, you're tasked with killing anyone you want in any of the game's missions in an attempt to set a tough challenge and then invite friends and others to attempt to replicate your assassination. It's quite satisfying being able to one up friends or strangers on leaderboards and having each level as a blank canvas to do your dirty dealings is a breath of fresh air into the long running franchise. Contracts gives an extended life expectancy to this already meaty game.
Praise should also be given to the new Glacier 2 engine that IO Interactive have developed and put to good work here, truly bringing Agent 47 into the modern day era with graphics that match his smart, suave suits. Having a game bring so much colour and graphical quality to consoles that have 7 year old technology inside is a joy to behold. Ties sway, assassinations feel brutal and each level has it's own filmic charm to it.
Hitman has changed. But it has changes that needed to happen to keep the franchise fresh and full of life in this world of stagnant dull shooters. The changes to the well oiled formula could have ruined the series if they were executed poorly, but that's not an issue. I'm sure some long running fans and purists would have preferred just another game that didn't allow the series to evolve in the same way Absolution does, but what the developer has created is a new formula allowing for a new breed of Hitman games to follow. The story can be disjointed at times so it's a good thing that the game mechanics are back with a swift fiber wire to the neck. Hitman Absolution has its flaws, but it's modern injection of stealth and deadly assassinations tells us that the series isn't just back, it's back with a bang.
Words by Colin Gallacher.
- Hitman is back
- Graphics are often stunning
- Large levels feel alive with things to do
- Hundreds of ways to kill
- Story can feel disjointed
- May not please purist of the series