This generation of consoles has seen a reimagining of gaming’s assassin. With Assassin’s Creed visiting the Middle Ages and, more recently, the American Revolution, there have been very few games to incorporate the concept let alone bring them into the modern-day. In the previous cycle of consoles, there was such character that took this title and made it his own. Now he’s six years wiser and back with a bang but how does Agent 47 fair against his targets today? Has he lost a step or has his small hiatus given him renewed vigour? In short, Hitman is as sharp as ever in both skills and dress sense.
The suited assassin explodes back onto the scene with bullet to the head or a discreet slip of rat poison into a bowl of soup – the choice is entirely up to you. Like previous entries into the International Contract Agency endorsed videogames, Agent 47 is a cunning character that strives to take out his targets without anyone ever knowing he was even in the same State. Developers IO Interactive have once again shown the degree of ingenuity the hitman possesses when it comes to stealth, self-concealment and reducing collateral damage to both property and un-targeted civilians.
That hasn’t stopped the Danish studio from introducing a Splinter Cell-esque mark and kill mechanic. Point Shooting allows Agent 47 to tag enemies with lead from his Silverballers but players can only reap the rewards if they hit their targets with a lethal shot. Anything other than a headshot or multiple minor injuries will not kill your target and make you more susceptible to being discovered. While the mechanic is executed well, it just doesn’t fit with slow-paced, methodical and neat character we’ve come to know. It quickly became a feature that I never used so that I could conserve valuable Instinct points. Instinct mode serves as an Arkham-esque Detective Mode where 47 can see his enemies, their movements and points of interest, allowing players to gain the tactical advantage or discover alternate ways of entry. Instinct also allows you to hide your identity when others become suspicious of your disguise, giving players the opportunity to walk into the lion’s den without alerting anyone.
However, IO has cleverly designed the missions so that a lot of the time, it isn’t necessary to use Instinct. During a hit, there will be multiple opportunities to use distractions, such as car alarms and fireworks, to wiggle your way through an entourage of guards to get to your target. Once you reach the mark, the power of choice is at your disposal. Do you make their death look like an accident by dropping a pallet onto their head or do you just put a bullet through it? Accident or not, Hitman has never been deadlier in so many ways but no matter how brilliantly levels are created, there will be some niggles. While the feel of progression and exploration is wonderful, there can be sections that irritate. Instinct does provide you with some tactical feedback, but sometimes it is never enough and you will find yourself hitting ‘Restart Checkpoint’ more than you’d like if your after that illustrious Silent Assassin rank.
That’s not all that hinders Hitman Absolution either. While storylines have never been one of the franchise’s forte, Absolution is particularly tiresome, in that at one point I had lost interest completely. That’s not why people play Hitman though and in being so forgetful, it quickly becomes a title that doesn’t need your full attention. Despite disinterest in the characters, it does irritate that when it comes to a hit on a major target, a cutscene isn’t far behind, putting to waste most of the hard work you put in to get there.
As I’ve already mentioned, you gain points throughout every level and, once the mission is complete, you are ranked. It may seem a little unorthodox for Hitman, but it works. Being able to see how well you did against your friends and the rest of the world in the leaderboards is terrific, offering pride when you’ve bested your mates and an extra incentive to try again when you fail. But with over thirty collectibles and challenges to find/complete, another excuse to replay the story isn’t needed.
Appearance wise, Hitman Absolution is a delight, something you’d expect to find from a Square Enix published title. The tone fits perfectly with the game really coming into its own during the dark and moody scenes such as the library, the mission heavily featured in the trailers. Absolution also sounds pretty great: Firearms and explosions sound exactly as you’d expect from a triple-A title, but it’s when you start to hear the difference between an iron or baseball bat to the head, or the squeeze of leather when a guard is being subdued; IO Interactive really did pull out all of the stops for production value.
The Danish developer has also added a new online component in the form of Hitman: Absolution’s Contracts Mode. The developer has taken some inspiration from Sony’s Play, Create, Share phenomenon and allowed users to create their own hits. Creating a contract is as simple as playing the game. When you load up one of the single play levels in Contracts, players are required to mark targets and eliminate them but how they do so is recorded. Whether you take down your targets with a knife, disguise yourself using their clothes to eliminate other or whether you blow everyone to kingdom come, the information is stored for others to challenge. The payout of the contract is calculated through the risk, amount of targets and whether the conditions created were followed. Once completed, players get paid which can be spent on buying new weapons, mods or disguises.
Hitman: Absolution is the return of the original assassin and IO Interactive have kept Agent 47 up-to-date with online features while keeping what makes Hitman authentic. The experience of discovering new and entertaining ways to eliminate your targets has been slightly soured by Instinct mode, but that’s a minor niggle compared to the game’s trial and error nature, putting in almost on par with Dishonored. However, there is no doubt that Hitman can keep up with the likes of Corvo and Connor Kenway in what is one of the best entries in the series.