Hitman: Absolution Hands On
Developer: IO Interactive / Publisher: Square Enix / Release Date: November 20, 2012 / Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs]
Hitman reminds me of my days as a rebellious teenager. Frequent boredom often led to tomfoolery. And there was nothing more exhilarating than planning a prank, pulling it off, and getting away scott-free.
I recently played through the first five missions of Hitman: Absolution and it can invoke a similar mischievous sense of accomplishment when everything goes according to your plans. “Your plans” is the key phrase there. Absolution is at its best when it provides you with a set of tools and the freedom to choose how to use those tools to plan your assassinations and to mix/max the risks and rewards of those plans.
An early example of when the game shines is the now often-shown Chinatown level. As is traditional in Hitman, you’ll be placed in scenarios with the goal of assassinating specific targets in the most efficient and unrecognizable ways possible. How you do this is up to you. In this mission, for example, your target is a drug dealer who can be taken out in one of many ways. You can plant an explosive on his car and detonate it when he’s near or poison his drugs or snipe him from a nearby apartment. Or you can simply gank him with an axe if you find the right opportunity. There’s a lack of pressure as you’re free to poke and prod at the game world. The more time you’ll spend looking, the more solutions you’re likely to find. It’s incredibly satisfying to perfectly execute your plan without an ounce of suspicion from anyone around you. This level of flexibility makes the world of Absolution your plaything.
These open, traditional Hitman missions are stitched together by sections that are linear rather than experimental, focusing more on the game’s stealth and disguise mechanics. From what I experienced, these usually involve sneaking your way through a room or series of rooms filled with enemies. There’s a tension and difficulty that acts as a balance to the more open areas. Hitman games are supposed to be punishing and it’s going to take some failure on your part to learn how to succeed.
One key part of finding that success in Absolution is proper management of your Instinct meter. Along with giving you the ability to see enemies through walls and spot important objects, Instinct allows you to remain hidden while in disguise. When you’re dressed up as a cop, no one will recognize you except other cops, for example. So if you’re in close proximity to other cops, using Instinct will allow you to slip past them when you would otherwise be detected. How you fill this Instinct meter is dependent on which of the five difficulty levels you’re playing on but the higher ones will require you to complete objectives like taking out enemies or remaining hidden.
It’s worth keeping in my mind how you go about these actions (and just about everything else). Absolution scores you at the end of each mission and it’s a total dick about it. Getting spotted or taking out an enemy who isn’t your target will net you negative points, while remaining stealthy and leaving the world as untouched as possible is how you stay in the black. Each mission also has optional objectives, like picking up certain disguises, which will also earn you points. There’s a lot that makes Absolution replayable and this arcade-style scoring system is near the top of the list.
Story-wise, Hitman: Absolution wastes no time attempting to humanize the series’ bald-headed killing machine, Agent 47. The game opens with 47 on a mission to kill Diana Burnwood, his personal longtime handler at The Agency and guiding voice for players through previous Hitman games. Given the personal connection, it’s a task he’s uncharacteristically hesitant about. The Agency also has their gaze upon a young girl named Victoria. Her significance is yet unknown but Burnwood’s final words to 47 are to ensure this girl’s safety.
If nothing else, Absolution is shaping up to be a technical masterpiece. IO’s pulling the wrapping off their new Glacier 2 engine and it’s doing some things I’ve never seen on a console before — namely, the number of NPCs on screen. On multiple occasions I was stunned when walking into a crowded subway station or strip club. Combine this tech with some stunning cutscene and gameplay cinematography and it’s pretty obvious Absolution is going to be a very pretty and stylish game.
It’s hard to believe it has been over six years since the last proper Hitman game. That’s almost an entire console generation worth of time for IO Interactive to meditate on the changes they want to make and aspects they want to keep. The choice and freedom seems intact but how those more familiar parts of the series gel with some of the changes being made is still unclear. And with how busy this fall is looking, November 20th may seem like a million years away, but it’s actually very soon.