Hitman: Absolution Review

By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Nov 19, 2012

Hitman: Absolution is outstanding. Best in the series by a wide margin, and easily one of the best games released in 2012.

The Pros
  • Elaborate environments overflow with murderous possibilities
  • Huge amount of content
  • One of the best-looking games of this generation
  • Contracts forces you to approach the same locales from different perspectives
The Cons
  • Too-limited field of view when hiding inside of containers
  • Contracts would be stronger with more specific kill requirement possibilities

Hitman: Absolution Review:

IO Interactive tapped into something unique in 2000 when Hitman: Codename 47 was released. There's always been this vision in popular entertainment of the well-dressed, urbane contract killer, and 47 emobodied that vision perfectly. Each new hit amounted to a murderer's sandbox, with makeshift weapons, disguises, and environment-specific features that all existed for the singular purpose of pulling off an improbable kill.

Now, more than a decade later, IO Interactive returns to the universe that launched the studio with Hitman: Absolution. The sandbox is much bigger and more elaborate now, but the song remains the same. Kill your target and don't be seen.



More Than Just A Contract

Hitman: Absolution dives deep into the series' established fiction, though you won't need any kind of background with the previous games to figure out what's going on. An intro cutscene lays out the basic setup, which establishes that Agent 47's former handler, Diana Burnwood, went rogue in the time leading up to the game. She blew the whistle on 47's empoyer, the ICA. and the newly re-formed organization now wants her dead.

You quickly learn in the game's prologue that there's more to Diana turning on her former employer than a crisis of conscience over what the ICA represents. She's also protecting a young woman named Victoria. It's not clear why the girl or the USB drive-looking necklace that she wears is so important, but you eventually come to learn that it ties in with 47's own origins at a professional hitman.

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The story's execution is surprisingly tight given the length of the game (around 15-20 hours on the Normal difficulty). This isn't groundbreaking storytelling, but it's a perfectly competent noir-ish thriller with some light sci-fi thrown in. More importantly, the plot never falls into the trap of becoming too convoluted. There's always a clear picture of the action driving 47 from location to location, especially now that the proceedings amount to more than a loosely connected series of contracted murders.

You'll take out your fair share of miscreants, of course, but you'll also find yourself on the run from the cops, embarking on fact-finding missions, and breaking out of capture situations. The unfolding plot aligns various forces against 47, which in turn serves to throw a variety of obstacles into your path, on both sides of the law.

Hitman: Absolution

Sandbox Murder

Fundamentally, Hitman: Absolution is the same game that it's always been. It's bigger for sure, offering a lot more flexibility in terms of how you approach any given situation. New features like Point Shooting -- which functions much like Splinter Cell: Conviction's Mark and Execute feature -- give a boost to the more action-packed side of the game, but a "proper" Absolution playthough still avoids violence almost entirely, except where specific targets are concerned. Same as it ever was.

While you'll still use many of the same tools that 47 always has -- a garrote, those signature Silverballer pistols, a variety of disguises -- there's one major addition to the toolbox that fundamentally alters the way you approach the game: Instinct. Pressing and holding a button (RB on an Xbox 360 controller) layers an enhanced view on top of the existing world, similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum/City's Detective Mode.

Using Instinct, you are able to see outlines of enemies and innocents alike in your immediate vicinity, even if they're on the other side of a wall. The range won't cover most of Absolution's large maps, but it's certainly large enough to work with when planning your stealthy advance. Instinct also highlights the movements of enemy patrols, allowing you to see who's coming and where they're headed.

Hitman: Absolution

Instinct is a game-changing feature, particularly on the lower difficulty settings (a "Purist" difficulty removes it entirely, along with everything other than your crosshair). It isn't foolproof, since you still can't predict when someone's going to suddenly turn around a see your sneaking, bald-headed self creeping up. It's also not terribly useful when you hide away in a dumpster or locker due to (seemingly unnecessary) limitations placed on your field of view in those circumstances.

In addition to giving you a clearer view of the world around you, Instinct also has more direct uses. For stealthy play, you can "spend" Instinct (via a diminishing on screen meter) to blend in when you're wearing a disguise. An enemy guard might realize you're not part of the team when he sees you disguised as one of his fellow lackeys, but using Instinct as you walk past effectively keeps your cover from being blown.

The possibilities for social stealth are greatly enhanced by this. Agent 47 sticks out in any crowd when he's wearing his trademark suit and tie, but the combination of a disguise with Instinct allows you to navigate your way through hostile environments that would have been impossible to explore in earlier games.

Hitman: Absolution

Credit goes as well to the Glacier 2 engine that powers Absolution. Every one of the game's 50+ discrete environments is brimming with life and personality, as well as any number of points of interaction. There are makeshift weapons to be found, shortcuts and secret access points accessible via ledges and air ducts, distraction opportunities... so much that it's almost daunting. Replay value is at an all-time high in the campaign since you can approach any challenge in a ridiculous variety of ways.

There are even dangling carrots to keep you going after that "perfect hit" in each mission. Any given map that you explore comes with a set of challenges, some of which are conflicting. Completing one might involve wearing every disguise available in that area while another might call for you to make it through without ever abandoning your suit. Completing these unlocks disguises and improves 47's skills, making him more effective in both the campaign and the new Contracts mode.

Hitman: Absolution

Murder By H.O.R.S.E.

Contracts is essentially Hitman's own take on H.O.R.S.E.. Instead of lining up impossible basketball shots, you're trying to best the Hitman-playing community with an impossible kill challenge. The catch is that you've got to complete the hit (or hits) yourself first.

Creating a Contract is easy enough. You select a map pulled from any of the chunks of campaign that you've played through already. Once you're in, you find whoever you'd like to target for your hit, mark him or her (with a Y button press), and execute the kill in the manner of your choosing. Contracts automatically tracks the type of weapon used, the disguise you're wearing, whether or not the body was hidden, and the like, setting these as optional kill objectives for those who would take on your Contract.

What's really neat about Contracts is the way it fundamentally changes how you approach the game. You're stepping into the map of your choosing with no specific goal beyond "select up to three targets and kill them however you like." Instead of trying to out-think an AI-controlled enemy force, you're working to develop enough of an understanding of the AI's inner workings to create advantageous kill scenarios that are difficult for others to replicate.

Hitman: Absolution

That said, Contracts still could have used more depth. You might, for example, want to set a kill condition that involves using a specific, unique revolver that is only found on the map you've selected. Contracts only recognizes firearms by class, however, which means that any revolver will satisfy the optional kill objective. There's also no way to have a contract condition depend on the murder happening in a specific location.

These are small complaints given how flexible and entertaining Contracts is in its current, finished form. You earn money for completing contracts that can then be spent on new disguises and upgrading a select assortment of Agency weapons, but the dangling carrots are secondary to the raw level of fun that you'll just have taking on friends' contracts and pitting them against your own.

Hitman: Absolution

The Perfect Kill

Hitman: Absolution is a triumph, top to bottom. Fans of the series can look forward to the best entry yet, without question. In a year that has already seen some of the best stealth games of this generation, veteran developer IO Interactive delivers an experience that still manages to stand out. This is an outstanding effort from the veteran developer, and an absolute must-play for anyone who embraces the thrill of striking from the shadows and slipping away unseen.