• Hitman: Absolution Review - Microsoft Xbox360

    Hitman: Absolution marks the long awaited return of contract killer Agent 47 in another third person stealth offering from Io. This release has given the title a modern, shiny graphical sheen and turned in a more accomplished, sequential storyline to bring it up to modern day player expectations, but in doing so manages to stay true to its roots and not compromise on the core basis that has brought it this far.
    Being an international hitman isn't all fun and games, sometimes a bit of moonlighting is necessary to cover all those suit dry cleaning bills.
    Being an international hitman isn't all fun and games, sometimes a bit of moonlighting is necessary to cover all those suit dry cleaning bills.
    Hitman has always done its own thing when it comes to the stealth genre, with a very strong emphasis on donning the disguises of your victims and then utilising them to gain access to the restricted portions of the levels. If the player wanted to go the traditional route of simply trying to remain unseen, that was always an option, but mapping out all the different NPCs' routes and learning what outfits could give you access to where gave the titles a huge degree of depth and replayability. With Absolution Io have still kept to this strong foundation, but with one fundamental alteration that puts a completely new and original spin on how the player approaches the scenarios.

    In previous releases each disguise would give you carte blanche access to various portions of the map, but this time around you can be spotted and identified as an imposter by those wearing the same outfit. The time it takes them to detect your presence is dependent on your proximity, orientation to the viewer and whether or not you are using some of a limited use instinct power, that accumulates as you achieve your goals. In addition some levels feature workstations where you can stop and blend in, essentially masking Agent 47 from the people pacing around the room. Not only is this actually a far more realistic take on the stealth mechanic, with characters' calling out challenges or talking about you to each other if they don't recognise you, but it enriches the depth of the experience, opening up even more complex problems and solutions. It builds a whole new layer on proceedings and provides yet more variety in how to approach the challenges the game throws at you, with the player having to balance the access level of different disguises with how rarely they will be encountered.
    It's now key to balance the clearance level of a disguise with the people you will encounter.
    It's now key to balance the clearance level of a disguise with the people you will encounter.
    It's a bold move to make such a radical change to a formula that was already delivering one of the most interesting and comprehensive stealth games in the first place, but it works really well and doesn't restrict the number of options available to the player or direct them down any obvious path. There's a new degree of challenge, particularly with the comprehensive five difficulty levels on offer, that can make for some extremely tense moments on the higher settings. When discovered, the enemies will often be able to call in backup and some levels cannot be completed while your foes are still on alert, so this isn't a game where you can slowly move through, incapacitating everyone you come across. Careful, precise timing of when to snag your prey and hide them before being spotted is the order of the day here, and with a thorough scoring system that appraises your performance for each level and tracks them against an online leaderboard there's an emphasis on getting the job done right. When your friends' bests scores are constantly displayed on screen, there's always that urge to go for the perfect run, or experiment and try to find a new, more optimal approach.

    The locations are full of different options, both in terms of getting close to your targets and in how you actually pull off the execution. It's really rewarding to go through and discover whole other approaches that you hadn't considered before, and even after multiple playthroughs of a level you can still be surprised with how some people have pulled them off. Despite the storyline now being a continuous sequence there's still a large amount of different locales on offer, and while there is the odd, more basic segue between the larger environments, these make up a very small portion of the in-game time. The levels themselves range from busy, packed clubs through to entire city streets with numerous buildings and roads and there are plenty of little areas to explore in each. You can also increase your score further by attempting to achieve all the different kill options available in each of these, so there's always the incentive to vary your tactics next time around. It's not often in this day and age that you see a title so invested in offering real player choice and the fact that, when entering the first main level, the game's announcer dares you to find all twelve methods to take out your target just goes to show how strongly focused this element remains.
    You can pick up useful tips and opportunities from the incidental dialogue between NPCs
    You can pick up useful tips and opportunities from the incidental dialogue between NPCs.
    While the more aggressive disguise system makes for a more robust challenge, the gunplay mechanics have also come on in leaps and bounds, with a well integrated cover system and recoil model. If you choose to go in guns blazing the experience is now much more balanced towards this approach and it actually functions well as a third person shooter. One niggle is that sometimes when relaunching a checkpoint, previously incapacitated enemies can be replaced in a manner that actually forces you to adopt this approach to finish the level. As with the stealth mechanics delivering their own unique blend of action, the shooting plays somewhat differently to the usual fare as well, with the player rarely ever actually running. Instead calm, measured bursts of violence, interspersed with hurried walking to your next ambush point is common. It's at once both more realistic and extremely tense, lending combat an ebb and flow, in tune to the calm, collected depiction of Agent 47 himself.

    One feature that is superbly implemented is the new crowd mechanic. Some levels are filled with huge swathes of people, which while not only visually impressive, also enables an additional means of area negotiation. As you move through the throngs you will attract the attention of security personal, again the speed with which this occurs is based on Agent 47's orientation and speed of movement, but if you find a large enough, tightly packed group and remain still the heat will fade, giving you a chance to move off again when the coast is clear. Barging people will also attract attention and the locations of these groups will, at times move, as will the routes through which you can negotiate without being slowed by others' movements or pushing them. The result can make for some extremely tense encounters, one particular sequence involving navigating a train station on police lockdown is incredibly thrilling and taught, despite the relative lack of action. It's yet another example of the designers thinking outside the box and bringing a new experience to the table.
    ALWAYS tip the help.
    ALWAYS tip the help.
    There's always been a degree of dark humour to the Hitman releases and, despite the more serious storyline underpinning this outing, that fact hasn't changed. The world is full of amusing conversations between the individuals scattered around the levels, many of questionable moral fibre. It's a seedy underbelly of a world, that helps to enrich the sinister feel and often turns in a wry smile from the player as you pick off enemies through their vocal stupidity or their own weaknesses of character. The script writers are not without a sense of irony and the voice cast nail every accentuation, no matter how small the part. Fans of Io will also be pleased to see the continuation of the crossovers with the Kane and Lynch franchise, both turning up throughout the game including their signature weapons and little rewarding touches for fans. There's even an amusing piece of dialogue between the gun shop owner and a patron in reference to Lynch, where the developers take sly jabs at the reviewers who criticised the extent of foul language in their other franchise. Like everything else to do with this release, Absolution is stamped through with its own boldness and isn't afraid to make a statement.

    Special mention has to go to the Contracts mode, a new and innovative multiplayer offering. Players can load up any of the campaign levels, mark out up to three of the unique personalities in that level for execution, of which there are many, and then carry it out. The weapons and disguises used are recorded as are performance factors such as whether guards were alerted, bodies hidden and so on. Afterwards you can then select which of these you want to apply to the scoring system and this is then shared with the rest of the world, along with its own leaderboard. This adds a huge amount of longevity beyond the already substantial campaign with its wealth of different goals and difficulty settings. It opens up all kinds of new routes, experiences and challenges to keep the player on their toes and can also be a fantastic way to learn new aspects of the levels in question. It's interesting to see some of the inventive approaches created by other players, as with all the outfits and weapons unlocked, it has resulted in a large amount of variety, whether it's a take off of Friday the 13th, mask and butcher knife in hand, or the return of the classic bird suit from Blood Money.
    Now to find a darkened alley...
    Now to find a darkened alley...
    Absolution is more than just an, admittedly huge, graphical step up for the Hitman series. It hasn't restricted player choice, confined the freedom of exploration or diluted the essence of what made the franchise so successful. It's innovated and explored new territory, adding concrete improvements to an already very strong stealth formula. There are so many interesting ideas and novel approaches throughout the whole journey, and the Contracts mode frankly shows the competition how stealth multiplayer should be done. Whether you are a fan of stealth games or not, this game stands out and deserves to be played, it moulds itself to your playstyle and doesn't rely on tired genre tropes to get the job done.
    Hitman: Absolution boxshot.
    Third person action
    Io Interactive
    Square Enix
    Xbox 360
    - Inventive, new mechanics.
    - Wide variety and player options.
    - Balance between the different playstyles.
    - Original, best in class stealth multiplayer.
    - Slightly iffy checkpoint behaviour.
    - The odd limited linear sequence.
    Score: 9/10

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