After years of being a professional killer, I suspect you would be pretty numb to almost anything. In Hitman: Absolution, Agent 47 shows his human side, striking out on his own to protect a young girl and seek the truth about why she is being pursued by his employer, The Agency. With terrific characters and tons of player choice, Absolution is more about the journey than the destination, and it’s a journey that’s definitely worth taking.
The game begins when Agent 47’s trusted handler, Diana, sabotages Agency operations and escapes with a young girl. 47 is a professional, and despite his personal feelings he takes the contract to kill Diana and recover the girl. In the process of executing the contract on Diana he learns that the situation goes much deeper than he imagined, and he promises to protect the girl from anyone trying to take her, including his employers.
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Hitman: Absolution is a third person action game focused on stealth. As Agent 47 you can use your skills to evade enemies and move undetected to reach your goal. After years as a professional, 47 has excellent instincts, and you can use that to spot useful objects in the environment and locate enemies, and even predict their movements. Instinct is a renewable resource, and its careful use and management will be key to your success.
Assassins don’t get where they are by leaving everyone alive though, and most of the time, 47’s skills are used to put him in position to take out a target. While stealth is the name of the game, sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned, and you may have to take out some additional enemies. In order to keep from being detected, 47 can hide bodies, and even steal their clothes to use as a disguise.
Unlike other stealth games, being spotted isn’t necessarily the end, and if required, you can shoot your way out of almost any situation, especially on lower difficulties. While it’s nice to not have to be perfect, given the amount of time required to dispatch a large wave of enemies, sometimes it’s just faster to restart from a checkpoint. Wearing disguises and avoiding close encounters minimizes your risk of being recognized, but it can be inconsistent, and sometimes faraway enemies would spot me when nearby ones didn’t.
Each level of Hitman: Absolution plays like a self-contained open world game, and every target or objective can be handled in many different ways. Shooting someone with your silenced pistol certainly works, but so does rigging their car with explosives or arranging for something heavy to “accidentally” fall on them. The game is full of options, and exploring the different ways to take out a target is as much fun as the deed itself.
Staying abstracted from your kills helps you remain inconspicuous, so there is ample reason to check out your environment and get creative. On any difficulty but easy, each level has challenges that can be completed, most of them revolving around different ways to take out enemies. The challenges provide plenty of reasons to replay levels; not just to complete them, but also because the descriptions may tip you off to options you had never even considered. The incredible number of choices that you have is impressive, although occasionally you’ll get stuck wandering around, looking for a specific object you need to complete an objective.
Controls for movement and switching weapons are fast and responsive, as is navigation, and 47 can sneak in the back door of a building or climb a ledge and come in through a second floor window with ease. Cover is plentiful but can be inconsistent at times – it’s easy to accidentally come off of a wall you were hiding behind, and which objects you can and can’t jump over is totally arbitrary. If you’re in a bind, you can use your intuition to slow time and line up several shots, then execute them rapidly, mowing down a room full of enemies.
Absolution scores you based on how you play the game, and at the beginning of each level you’ll see the highest score among your friends, as well as the average for your country and the world. You can even preview your current score before you exit a level to see if you’ve hit your goal, but you don’t get the comparative numbers then, which would have been useful. In addition to the main game, there are challenges, single missions with a variety of parameters that allow you to challenge friends to see who can get the best score. The game includes a number of these, but also encourages users to create and share their own, adding replay value.
The environments in Hitman: Absolution are excellent, and the game is filled with impressive set pieces and some great action sequences. From the sewers to the desert, everything looks great, and the nice design makes it easy to forgive the occasional frame rate hiccup. Character faces, in particular, are really great, and everything from sneers to darting eyes really makes them come alive.
The game’s audio is just as impressive, and each character has a distinctive, well-acted voice that fits perfectly. When you’re out in the world, there is tons of background dialog, which provides a very real feel and can be useful when you’re eavesdropping on some guards talking about the location of a keycard. The soundtrack works very well, staying mostly out of the way during gameplay but surging at the appropriate times to gives everything a movie-like feel. Little touches, like the crinkling of 47’s leather gloves as he begins to squeeze the trigger also help to round out the experience.
For new players, the systems in Hitman can take some getting used to. Once acclimated, my only real problem was deciding how I wanted to take out my target. With the incredible number of options, it’s possible to play the same level multiple times, in a completely different way each time. Add to that the user created challenges, and the result is a fun game that has tons of replay value. With five difficulty settings, the game will appeal to both hardcore stealth fans and casual gamers alike, and it’s a terrific package that anyone can enjoy.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.