By Stephen Grubner
The bald and barcoded Agent 47 returns for another smattering of satisfying kills in IO Interactive’s Hitman: Absolution.
Another title released since Square Enix’s acquisition of Eidos Interactive (who owns IO Interactive and the IP of which also includes the Deus Ex and Tomb Raider franchises), Absolution is a step above IO Interactive’s last release, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. New players or fans that followed previous installments should be pleased with this entry, which sees Agent 47 turning rogue while protecting a young, genetically-engineered Victoria.
The narrative is betrayal, revenge and repeat in a world full of cantankerous forty-something men and licentious twenty-something femme fatales. David Bateson reliably voices our fine anti-hero but the secondary voice-cast featuring Powers Boothe, Vivica A. Fox, Shannon Sossamon and a surprising Traci Lords help to provide the game with character beyond the Glacier 2 engine’s slick graphics.
The actual narrative is garrote wire thin but Absolution’s set-pieces make up for the weak frame story - the reason you’re playing this is to assassinate folks, after all. The now infamous killer nuns were a personal highlight and by the time they enter the narrative, players will have already stopped trying to make sense of these strange women (Why does a group of leather fetish nun hitmen try and assassinate someone with a bazooka? Why do these villains keep leaving top assassin 47 poorly guarded so he can escape? Why doesn’t Agent 47 just wear a wig?). Absolution constantly reminds players that we are within a cartoonish universe, which passes on the fact that we are really here for the murder.
How will you get the kill? The ability to disguise yourself as virtually anyone in-world is handled well and resulted in many white-knuckle escapes for me. Certain character skins will not be questioned in certain areas and when your cover is blown in one, switching to another can be life-saving. Early in my playthrough, police charged at Agent 47 after I had performed a sloppy execution and I feared exposure, only to discover that my white-knuckle change into a chef’s uniform shielded me from any suspicion.
If you remember to keep your rifle sheathed then nobody will suspect you as a janitor. Or you can choose to move from cover to cover in open combat garbed in a chicken suit. Why not try walking past security guards wearing their late partner’s uniform? If you really want a thrill, you can stick to Agent 47’s well-tailored duds and murder in style.
Absolution is standard fare as far as stealth games go, even with the augmented reality sight as a new addition to the franchise. Guards will frequently be mysteriously facing walls or leaning a little too casually next to open windows for your assassinating pleasure. Luckily Absolution has multiple solution puzzles which do not always require completely clearing the building of thugs as it can become tiresome waiting for the guards to complete their pre-set paths.
Even turning to an all-out massacre after a few failed attempts is a legitimate strategy, as I was happy to find, thanks to 47’s proficiency with his silenced Silverballer pistols. The mission rating system means that the direct approach should not be a constant strategy as superfluous kills are given a harsh point penalty – and a painstaking clean-up at the end of a massacre to regain meager points by hiding bodies is demeaning at best.
Absolution offers replayabliity through its item collection and signature kills, usually involving a well-timed collapse of environment or the odd stove-related explosion. Playing the silent assassin may see you through to the end of the game, but you will need to mix it up to find all of the attainable costumes and weapons.
‘Contracts’ is the online multiplayer mode where players can use the story mode’s maps, costumes and weapons to create custom assassination jobs for other players. The money earned from these contracts funds weapon upgrades and the costumes that you are too lazy to look for in story mode. There are hours of play embedded within these sneaky sidequests, but I often gravitated towards the four second ‘get in, get out’ missions which still provided substantial loot for my rifle upgrades.
For the players that really put the effort in, the multi-target assassination missions created really do rival the developer-created contracts. I began to really appreciate the Glacier 2 engine when creating contracts because of the ridiculous number of unique civilian targets you can single out from the crowds of Chinatown or the Chicago train station. If it weren’t for the need to unlock items from the main quest, contracts mode could have carried the weight of the game by itself.
Challenging my friend’s online scores is one thing but it would have been more fun to actually put out contracts on my friends themselves. A head-to-head multiplayer mode like the kind featured in the Assassin’s Creed franchise would have been a welcome addition and I have a hankering for any kind of DLC to satisfy me further.
Absolution is a guilty pleasure which will provide players gratifying moments of infiltration and theatrical assassinations (I will never forget stealth-killing in a wheat field dressed as a scarecrow myself). If you can get over the neo-noir cliché story and the occasional by-the-numbers stealth mission, Hitman: Absolution is worth your blood money.
Three and a half stars.
:: Publisher: Square Enix
:: Developer: Io Interactive
:: Format: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
:: Rating: R18