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Review: Hitman Absolution

hitman-absolution

Hitman Absolution (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square-Enix
Genre(s): Third person action/stealth
Released: November 20, 2012
ESRB Rating: M – Mature

I’m a long time Hitman fanboy. I view Blood Money as the apex of the series and that hasn’t changed with the advent of this game. Just to get that out of the way.

At least once a year I have to fire up at least Blood Money for a jaunt and often times Contracts and Silent Assassin as well. The games are permanent residents on my hard drive. It’s been a long six year wait for myself and a lot of other people, but a new Hitman game is finally upon us.

I’m really not sure why it took IO this long to get around to it since the series has always been a glowing success on all platforms. It originated as a PC exclusive title, so many PC gamers like myself have a special affinity for this series that goes back to its very beginnings with the first title. The Hitman series has been known for bringing stealth gameplay options and making people be patient and creative in ways you simply can’t do in other games.

I’ll get this out of the way upfront. This game is not Blood Money 2: Here’s What 6 Years Worth of Hardware and Software Advancements Get You.

If it was you wouldn’t see this review or anything else because I’d be IV’d to the game.

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I strongly recommend any Hitman veteran not come into this game with those kinds of lofty expectations will be bitterly angry and disappointed. Tom Francis at PC Gamer gave this game a 62/100 and was very clearly and understandably someone who went in with sky high expectations and they fell way short.

The warning signs were out there early for me as far as IO making suspect creative decisions that should have merit yellow caution flags at least.

IO dumping Jesper Kyd which is like dumping John Williams off of Star Wars and also dumping David Bateson, the voice of Agent 47 throughout the entire series. Amazingly enough noise was made where they did ultimately bring Bateson back but foolishly didn’t bring Kyd back and the game suffers for it without question. Kyd’s music was another integral character in this series as John Williams music is on the Star Wars movies. That vital character is missed here in a bad way.

Furthermore, put bluntly: IO hasn’t made a good game since Blood Money. I continue to marvel how IO made such great games as the Hitman series and one of the most underrated and overlooked games of the last decade in Freedom Fighters and turned around and made the two Kane and Lynch games and even Absolution here although Absolution is most certainly a considerably better game than the K&L games I’m happy to report.

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Let’s get real here. The Kane and Lynch games are mediocre at best with intriguing art direction, especially on part two. I blame those two games for costing us six years worth of waiting for a new Hitman game. IO should have been concentrating all resources on their flagship title. I understand wanting to do new things creatively but you all be the judge: Would you trade back both K&L games for a Hitman Blood Money 2 type game a few years back vs waiting six years for a game that falls shy of that mark? I would have.

Theoretically we could have had two excellent Hitman titles instead in the time we waited for in between Blood Money and now.

Would have/could have/should have.

GRAPHICS:

The game looks fantastic especially with the eye candy maxed out on the PC but even console gamers will easily see the differences between this game vs its now 6 year old predecessor Blood Money. An unquestionable leap forward on visuals across the boards. If only the rest of the game matched this leap forward. Nixxess handled the PC porting duties and has done another superlative job just as they did on Deus Ex Human Revolution last year. It basically doesn’t look or feel like a console port and all the PC centric menu options are there.

AUDIO:

Good voice acting. Even run of the mill NPCs have good voice acting, conversations, and banter. Sometimes if you eavesdrop they’ll unwittingly give you clues.

Excellent sound direction and placement. Play this one with the speakers or headphones cranking.

Music takes a huge swan dive from Jesper Kyd as I’ve already mentioned. It’s minimalistic droning and completely lacking distinction. It’s effective enough for this game but that’s about all I can say. Unforgivable decision to dump Jesper by IO.

Thankfully they brought back David Bateson to voice Agent 47 at the last minute due to fan outcry. It’s a shame they didn’t do the same for Jesper Kyd. Marsha Thomason replaces Vivienne McKee as the voice of Agent 47’s now former handler Diana Burnwood and did a very respectable imitation of sorts.

A number of notable names round out the voice cast:

Keith Carradine as Blake Dexter, the main antagonist.

Powers Boothe as Benjamin Travis, the head of ICA. He was later stated to be the secondary antagonist.

Vivica Fox as Lasandra Dixon, head assassin of “The Saints”, ICA’s elite hit team.

Traci Lords as Layla Stockton, an associate of Blake Dexter.

Steven Bauer as Birdie, 47’s informant.

Jon Gries as Sheriff Clive Skurky, sheriff in Hope.

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GAMEPLAY:

There is a gaming mechanic that’s making its round that came from Splinter Cell Conviction and in Hitman Absolution it’s called point shooting. This is a fun, neat mechanic if it’s put on a tight leash and especially in a Hitman game. Like everything else you do in this game, you’re heavily penalized for even using it. You can’t wipe your nose in this game, seemingly, without watching deduction of points happen and loss of instinct. If you use this prepare to watch your points swan dive.

The gameplay itself feels smooth and great and I’ll say is a refinement over Blood Money, particularly the menu systems and general interface. See? It’s not all bad news and in some ways they did make the controls and interface considerably less clunky than previous Hitman games.

Contracts mode has potential to be a true gem for this game and frankly it feels more like the way things should be. You get to actually choose your loadout the way it always was in every previous Hitman game, set certain parameters and go for it with more freedom the way it should be. This has glowing potential.

COMPLAINTS:

I’m afraid so. After six years of waiting there’s a handful of inexcusable problems with this game as I write this. The good news is that I really do think even on 500-600MB refinement patch could go a long ways. I have seen IO personnel directly interact with people on their forums about some of these issues so they’re aware of the overriding common denominator complaints that I’m going to spell out here.

The most glaring two issues are: The disguise system and/or AI detection is broken. It’s that simple. Even on Easy and Normal difficulties it’s readily apparent and past that the game becomes almost unplayable if someone is trying to be Mr. Smart Stealth Assassin. In its present form, I can’t recommend playing this game past Normal difficulty. Don’t bother.

The overarching problem with this game that strikes directly against what the Hitman series is about is less freedom for the player in a number of different aspect of the game.

For Hitman veterans the level design is excellent in a number of areas but there’s very clearly a leaning towards a more linear experience and a number of “get from point A to point B and try not to get caught” situation which isn’t what Hitman is supposed to be about.

I again cite the apex, Blood Money: Even in a small level like A New Life there were so many different ways to accomplish goals and no “wrong” way to do it whereas you can have some fairly large levels and a fraction of the same options.

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There’s no Safe House or picking your own gear in story mode. That’s appalling. I’ve seen the excuse that it fits with the storyline because 47 is rogue and on the run. Nonsense. Like he wouldn’t have a worse case scenario stash hidden in at least one if not several places?

Early in the game you’re thrown into levels with your trusty garrote and a loud crappy pistol that most players would never pick or use in the first place.

A player should be able to pick the weapons (re: “tools”) for the missions like we always have been able to for every previous Hitman game. Early on in the story mode 47 improbably gives up his kit of goodies to achieve a goal. Of course this all is supposed to make sense in the story narrative and it does to a point. I personally have a very difficult time believing a character like Agent 47 wouldn’t have a secret stash and assets that even the ICA wouldn’t know about since this is a character that would never trust anyone or anything completely. Agent 47 is all about having every possible contingency accounted for and several ways to handle said contingencies to boot. For me it stretches credulity and it feels more like the developers simply putting another needless limitation in the game for the sake of the story line. Other reviewers have have mentioned how previous Hitman games had narrative as more of a background while the action was the emphasis while this game emphasizes the narrative arguably at the expense of the gameplay. That’s my assessment as well.

Another problem with this game is: You get punished for EVERYTHING point wise. You rack up points to unlock goodies and abilities so you have to care how you perform to a point. I much prefer the way it was in previous games where the smarter and stealthier you were the more money you racked up and you could buy goodies.

If you subdue someone and then dump them in a box it breaks even. If you kill someone it’s worse. If you want to get points to rack up goodies you have to tiptoe through the tulips and that’s another needless constraint. I understand that you probably shouldn’t kill civilians and the like but if someone has a piece on them and they take it out you shouldn’t be penalized for putting them down. If I do a non lethal takedown on anyone to get somewhere that shouldn’t result in a penalty, either.

I should rack up points for being an awesome Hitman. It’s that simple. Being smart = being rewarded. That’s the way it used to be and should be.

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GAME LENGTH/REPLAY VALUE:

A fairly decent amount despite my complaints especially thanks to the online Contracts mode which I hope IO throws some nice support at.

CONCLUSION:

It’s not Blood Money 2 and it should have been. That would have been a 10/10 game for me and you wouldn’t even be seeing me here right now because I’d probably be IV’d to the thing. ;)

This review made waves fast when it hit a week or so before Hitman Absolution was released. It raised a huge warning flag for a lot of us going into the game.

If I’m bluntly honest about it I could basically co-sign that review for the most part although I was able to enjoy the game quite a bit on its own merits so I can’t go along with 62/100 or an equivalent thereof.

The only reason I won’t and didn’t grade the game that harshly myself is unlike Tom Francis and some of these other reviewers: I had ample warning and was able to steer my expectations downwards considerably before getting the game myself.

If I had come at this game blind with hopeful thinking of Blood Money 2 or remotely equivalent I very likely would have scored this game at around the same range and there would have been more a more notable edge to a number of my comments.

It’s a good game on its own merits but when you put the name Hitman on something there are certain expectations people have and all of those expectations simply aren’t met here with this game in its present form as of the date I write this. I’m hoping a robust patch or two comes along from IO and helps put this over the top. If that happens, I’ll happily revise my review upwards accordingly. There’s a lot to like here and a lot of potential but my list of complaints holds it back from realizing that full potential.

Official Score:

3stars

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Comments

  1. I’m going to copy and paste my remarks from Gary’s GOTY column here: http://vortexeffect.net/2012/12/05/garys-blog-my-personal-game-of-the-year-is/

    Gary provides an excellent counterpoint view on Absolution of someone who has never played a Hitman game before vs a Hitman series vet like myself.

    I do hope with this review that I’ve conveyed that my few complaints are mostly quibbles and that this is certainly a damned good game in its own right and it does a lot of things right. The PC version looks and runs great as well. The eye candy maxed out is attention grabbing. The game has been bug and glitch free across all platforms.

    If a patch comes out that even refines a few of my quibbles then two things are going to happen very quickly:

    1.) You’ll see me revise my review accordingly and probably bump it up to 4/4 stars. As a Hitman fanboy I’m looking for an excuse, believe me.

    2.) It’ll be a much tougher GOTY call for me. Even with its lumps Hitman is probably somewhere on my GOTY shortlist but as of this date behind the likes of Borderlands 2, AC3, and Sleeping Dogs in its present form. Possibly behind Dishonored as well. Mind you this is all by very close, toss up margins here.

    If someone has never played a Hitman game before there’s no question they’ll feel differently than a longtime veteran of the series like myself might by and large.Comparing Gary to myself is a perfect example of that. I think a person can read both of our takes on this game and get a nice full picture of what Hitman Absolution is all about.

    It’s impossible for a Hitman series vet to not compare this game to what came before it and especially against the overall apex, Blood Money.

    If you thought I was harsh about Absolution, read this: http://www.pcgamer.com/review/hitman-absolution-review/

    The performance issues were fixed before the game officially streeted and while I agree with some of his criticisms that’s awfully harsh.

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  2. Great review Eric.

    Our disagreements with the game do stem from me being a noob to the series and you being a “vet fanboy.” That I have played the previous games definitely contributed to my enjoyment of this one as much I do.

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