'Hitman: Absolution' a killer title

Hitman: Absolution
Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
IO Interactive/Square Enix
Rating: Mature

Hitman: Absolution
Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
IO Interactive/Square Enix
Rating: Mature

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:54 PM ET

As a certified card-carrying grumpy ol’ gamer, I sometimes get up out of my rocking chair and angrily wave my cane at whippersnappers who have no appreciation for patience in video gaming. You kids and your sprinting space marines! Why, back in my day we waited five whole minutes in one spot just to suss out a guard’s patrol pattern! And we liked it!

It seems stealth-based video games are a harder sell these days. Sam Fisher, Solid Snake and even the dude from Dishonored are all pros at careful planning, but now it’s part of a balanced diet of homicidal mayhem that often includes balls-out action.

As the years-in-the-making Hitman: Absolution neared release this week, I was worried the game’s developers might bend to the might of the Call of Duty crowd and give bald assassin Agent 47 the ability to parkour across rooftops while wielding a .50-cal machine gun and calling in an airstrike.

But I need not have fretted. Absolution is possibly the best game yet in the long-running, stealth-focused Hitman series, and while it certainly won’t convert adrenaline-fuelled first-person shooter fanatics into thoughtful, meticulous assassins, it does a fine job of being gentle with curious newcomers.

Hitman: Absolution – the first new Hitman game in six years – finds 47 on the run from the agency that once employed him, as he tries to elude criminals, cops, a squad of hitwomen dressed as nuns (I kid you not) and other nefarious folks, while protecting a mysterious young woman who is of great interest to a great many people.

As with the previous Hitman games, Absolution is about stealth and smarts. Players must observe closely, blend in quietly and discover everyday objects that can be used as deathtraps, all in the name of killing very bad people and escaping unnoticed.

The game’s 19 multi-part chapters visit a wonderfully diverse array of locations, from a packed Chicago strip club (shooting the sleazebag owner from behind the two-way mirror in a VIP room is immensely satisfying) to a South Dakota cornfield (where 47 can disguise himself as a scarecrow to pick off hapless goons in tall cornstalks.) These dips into absurdity have always been part of Hitman’s DNA, and offset some of the game’s grimness.

To cater to newcomers, Absolution adds a feature called instinct, which allows 47 to see hostiles through walls, spot key items in the environment and predict guards’ imminent patrol routes. It sounds a bit hand-holdy, but it actually improves the game’s flow by reducing the amount of time spent waiting and calculating. (Even grumpy old gamers get tired of that after a while.) And Hitman purists can opt for higher difficulty settings that limit or even eliminate the use of instinct.

For better or worse, the trial-and-error gameplay that’s always defined Hitman is very much felt in Absolution. It’s nearly impossible to complete a mission cleanly on the first try; I often found myself making an aggressive, sloppy assault on a given location just get the lay of the land and plan out my “true” playthrough, where I’d strive for a coveted Silent Assassin rating.

But Absolution makes these multiple attempts rewarding by loading each mission with optional challenges that can’t all be completed on a single try, such as killing one target in a slew of different ways. This poked so ferociously at my obsessive-compulsive gamer tendencies that I literally played through parts of some chapters a dozen times to complete every challenge.

If that wasn’t good/bad enough, Absolution has a separate Contracts mode that encourages players to build their own Clue-like assassination scenarios (kill the King of Chinatown, with an axe, while wearing a policeman’s uniform) for others to attempt. From homicidal speed runs to treacherously complex multi-target scenarios, they’re surprisingly fun to create and play, and an extremely clever way of introducing user-generated content into the game.

For all the good that Hitman: Absolution offers, there are still chunks here and there that are tedious and kludgy (often the infiltration/exfiltration parts of an assassination mission), and the game as a whole remains very much an acquired taste. If you approach each chapter as an intricate puzzle to be viewed from every angle before solving, they can be pure joy. If you’re expecting a bald-headed Nathan Drake gunning his way through Chicago, you’re going to have a bad time.

But even during the occasional uneven patches, the game is consistently beautiful to look at. From rain-spattered rooftops to dusty roadside motels, Danish development studio IO Interactive has wrung every last visual trick out of these aging game consoles, and Hitman: Absolution will go down as one of the best-looking console titles of this generation. (If you have a reasonably powerful PC, it looks even more stunning. But you PC gamers are already used to that.)

Ultimately, Hitman: Absolution marks a faithful, gorgeous and only occasionally maddening return for a series that’s been gone far too long. It may have trouble finding fans among twitchy gamers with short attention spans, but guns and brains should never be mutually exclusive. And those kids can get off my damn lawn.

 

 

 


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