|System: PS3*, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: IO Interactive|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: November 20, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs|
by Jeff Dunn
Here’s a simple truth: Modern gamers love longevity. Players expect to get a bigger bang for their collective buck now more than ever, a sentiment that has led many game companies to pack as much replay value as they can into their titles. Some—like Call of Duty or Halo—have opted to do this by featuring a deep multiplayer suite, while others—like Skyrim or Borderlands—have chosen to simply pack as much content as they can onto a single disc. And let’s not forget this generation’s massive spike in DLC either. This whole idea of games having to last longer in order to be worthy of a player’s time and money is widespread, and one that Hitman: Absolution follows to a T. Fortunately, it’s all the better for it.
But let’s take a step back first. Hitman: Absolution is the fifth entry in developer IO Interactive’s longstanding stealth-action franchise, and the first since 2006’s Hitman: Blood Money. Players will once again control the bald killing wonder that is Agent 47, as this time out sees him on a quest for revenge, redemption, and, you guessed it, absolution.
Absolution’s narrative is more or less typical Hitman fare—dark, violent, and often ridiculous. Originally tasked with assassinating a former colleague and close friend, 47 soon finds out that the hit isn’t quite what it seemed. Things go to hell, and eventually the master assassin ends up at odds with former employers, the shadowy Agency. He winds up having to care for a gifted (and therefore, valuable) young girl named Victoria, but loses her to a cast of cartoonish characters, the likes of which include a redneck businessman, his genetically-enhanced Hispanic wrestler sidekick, a greaseball imbecile, and the Agency’s director—who is the spitting image of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation—among others.
It’s a competent and often witty tale, but let’s just say there likely won’t be any novelizations of this script anytime soon. The Man on Fire narrative of one man on an unstoppable mission to save a young girl is compelling on its own, as are the ‘60s-style aesthetic throwbacks that can be seen through the game’s old school vehicles or the Dick Dale-like guitars that play at its start menu.
But for every potentially dramatic moment, there’s some creeper talking about how aroused he is upon being shot or some NPC calling 47 an offensive slur. Hitman games have always embraced their over-the-top nature, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but here I can’t help but feel like the opportunity to explore the more readily interesting aspects of an assassin like 47—one of the first things you hear upon booting the game is a very well-delivered speech about the utilitarian nature of his work, for example—was somewhat wasted.
But let’s be honest, you’re probably not picking up a Hitman game for philosophical discourse, are you? No, we’re here to kill the bad guys, and it’s here where Absolution plays as solid as ever. Simply put, the amount of freedom Absolution grants players on a level-by-level basis is astounding. Sure, at its core, this is still like any Hitman game—you start out each level in one place, and you have to get to another place, oftentimes subduing and killing targets along the way. Absolution isn’t going to change that. But the sheer breadth of ways you’re allowed to sneak and kill here are so clever and, in most cases, so seamlessly built into each of the game’s sprawling locales that completing them all for a given section becomes a game in and of itself.
Let me give you an example. This isn’t much of a spoiler, but around midway through the game 47 goes to assassinate the genetically-enhanced wrestler—or, Sanchez, if we want to use the name IO gave him—in the middle of one of his matches. When I went to do the deed, I chose to blend in with the raucous crowd—which, like every crowd in Absolution, is portrayed fantastically thanks to IO’s great Glacier 2 engine—subtly moving my way around the ring until I reached the door to the catwalks upstairs, where I had earlier spotted a good vantage point of the area. After choking out a guard, assuming his outfit as a disguise, and stashing his body in a nearby locker, I then walked right by his now-fooled colleagues until I reached the aforementioned vantage point. When I got there, I found my eagle eyes to have served me well, because a nice, sleek sniper rifle was sitting there. I waited for Sanchez’s to turn his back to me, lined up the shot, and fired away. I quickly evaded the alerted guards and made a brisk run to the exit, with my mark now down for the count.
Now, I’d have been content with being forced to fulfill my hit that way, but after I went back through the level a couple more times, I found that I had only scratched the surface of my death-dealing. Other possibilities included dropping a lighting rig on top of him in the middle of the fight, taking out his scheduled opponent in the section prior, donning his disguise and fighting Sanchez myself, tossing a remote-detonated charge in the ring and blowing him up, rolling in guns a’ blazing and mowing down everyone in my path, or just sneaking in normally and shooting him like any other enemy. There are probably other options too. You just have to experiment and explore a bit to find them.
Just about every one of Absolution’s 20 levels is designed this way. Over the course of my fifteen-hour playthrough, I electrocuted a man while he was urinating, caused someone to accidentally set off hundreds of fireworks and burn himself alive, threw about a dozen people off of rooftops or bridges, rigged a tunnel to collapse onto someone, poisoned a villainess’ sushi, and dropped a disco ball onto a group of strip club attendees, among other things.
The thing is, though, I never had to do any of that. Hitman: Absolution unabashedly worships at the almighty altar of player choice, which means that you’re just as welcome to turn it into an action game—although the gunplay is admittedly not nearly as tight as the sneaking controls—turn it into a purely stealth game, or play it down the middle whenever you’d like.