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Hitman: Absolution Review (X360)

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Hitman: Absolution Review (X360)
Square Enix
Stealth fans won't like this, but the streamlining of stealth mechanics in games like Dishonored, Splinter Cell: Conviction, XBLA's Mark of the Ninja and now Hitman: Absolution is the best thing that could have happened to the genre. Appealing to a wider audience is a good thing. Allowing a range of play styles rather than just hardcore stealth is a good thing. Making you feel like an actual stealthy secret agent bad-ass, even if you're overpowered, is a good thing. Hitman: Absolution matches accessible gameplay with fantastic presentation and a ton of content to make a great overall experience that series vets and newbies alike will both be able to enjoy.
Game Details

  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Io Interactive
  • ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
  • Genre: Stealth Action
  • Pros: Accessible stealth gameplay; Contracts mode; nice presentation
  • Cons: Dumb A.I.; easier than past Hitman games

Hitman: Absolution is split into two sections - the story missions, and contracts mode. The story is initially about the apparent defection of Agent 47's former handler at The Agency, Diana, and him being sent in to kill her, but quickly leads to 47's own defection when Diana's last request is for him to protect a young girl that The Agency wants. What could have been a twisting and interesting tale of espionage and competing assassins, however, is ultimately rather shallow and predictable and disappointingly one-note.

Contracts Mode

Contracts mode, on the other hand, is more straightforward with no story, just you going into a level and killing a target or three. The way it works is that players can create a kill contract simply by going through a level, selecting as many as three targets from a huge group of NPCs wandering around in each level, and then killing them in interesting and specific ways. You can then upload your contract for other players to try out, and a scoring system based on efficiency and style and other things gives you a high score to try to beat. It is a fantastic system that is easy to use and surprisingly fun and is the pure stealth and assassination gameplay that Hitman has always been about without any story to get in the way. As time goes on Contracts mode will be neat to watch as players get more skilled and the contracts become more involved and interesting.

The story takes 10+ hours to beat, depending on how you play, and is nicely replayable thanks to multiple paths through each level, multiple ways to deal with each enemy, hidden weapons and disguises, and more. Contracts mode adds near infinite replay value as well. All in all, Hitman: Absolution has dozens upon dozens of hours of potential playtime.

Gameplay

Square Enix
The beauty of Hitman: Absolution, of course, is in the gameplay and the sheer amount of tools at your disposal to have fun with it. First off, there are multiple difficulty levels to accommodate players of any skill level. The difficulty affects the enemy A.I. (which is actually kind of braindead no matter which level you play on ...), 47's instinct meter and how it refills, how many checkpoints are in a level, number of enemies on each level, and other things. The difficulty ranges from having a ton of tips and onscreen indicators and a ton of health on the easiest setting all the way to having no onscreen hud or interface whatsoever, the maximum number of the smartest enemies, and no checkpoints on the "Purist" difficulty. There are lots of levels in between as well, which lets anyone of any interest and skill level jump in and have a good time. It helps you learn the level layouts and objectives on an easier, far less stressful difficulty where stealth isn't as important (you can play Rambo if you want), before you jump into the real stealth oriented difficulties later.

The gameplay is third-person-shooter, but with clever additions that make sneaking and stealth as painless as possible. Crouching and sticking to cover to hide is simple. Using 47's "Instinct" ability to see enemies, their pathways, and important items is intuitive and well thought out with it only having a limited number of uses depending on your difficulty. Changing weapons or items is done with a quick tap on the d-pad. Using environmental objects or items or dumping poison into someone's drink or changing your disguise is all context sensitive and happens right where you can use it. When you have to kill someone, the shooting is extremely sharp and precise. There is also a "point shooting" mode similar to SC: Conviction's "mark and execute" where time slows down, you mark enemies, and then 47 kills them all for you. Or, better yet, you can always sneak through the levels undetected, killing no one, maybe knocking an enemy or two out (make sure to hide their bodies) or giving them sleeping pills to get them out of your way. You always have multiple options on how to accomplish pretty much everything in the game.

On the whole, Hitman: Absolution is generally easier than past Hitman games, which has as much to do with the streamlining of certain elements as it does with the fact that this is one of the best controlling stealth games ever. Stealth games are traditionally kind of notorious for having bad controls, or omniscient A.I., or specific rules that make you play only the way the developer intended. Hitman: Absolution has fantastically sharp and responsive controls, and while it does have a specific rule-set in terms of how the stealth works, it isn't unforgiving and brutal like stealth games of the past have been. It is all perfectly easy to understand and playable and surprisingly accessible. It lets you just have fun, whether you want to be uber-stealth, no kill, no alert, perfect stealth man, or if you don't mind killing everything you see on your way to the target, Hitman: Absolution lets you do it. I like that. A lot.

One slight complaint we do have is that while past Hitman games have been large open "sandbox" levels where you were dumped into a huge level and had to figure out most things on your own, Absolution consists of mostly smaller sandbox levels that are part of one connected mission level. What I mean is that in the past you might have a huge mansion to freely explore inside and out, Absolution only gives you smaller chunks of that same location to play in at a time rather than the whole thing. You still have plenty of options to explore and play how you want, so it isn't necessarily worse than past games, just different and something that longtime fans will definitely notice.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation is also top notch here. Everything is nicely detailed and it is abundantly clear that thought was put into every model and texture in each level, even ones in out of the way places, because the nature of the game dictates some player somewhere is probably going to see it so it all needed to look great. The art style is a little darker and grittier than the Hitman series has seen in the past, with some obvious nods to Io's Kane & Lynch series' style, but it looks good and is entirely appropriate to the tone of the game. Character models look great, and it is especially impressive how the game can throw dozens of models onscreen at once with no framerate drops.

The sound is also very well done. The dialogue is just about perfect from the main characters all the way down to generic thugs whose conversation you might overhear. Dynamic music rises and falls according to the action onscreen is also a nice touch. Sound effects are also nice and loud and realistic - not just gunfire but more normal activities that suddenly seem earth-shatteringly bombastic when you're desperately trying to be quiet - and it is all very well done.

Bottom Line

Square Enix
Hitman: Absolution is Hitman for the masses, much to the chagrin of longtime stealth fans, but good for everyone else. The last Hitman title, 2006's Hitman: Blood Money, was already a step in this direction, but Absolution fully embraces casual stealth fans and more action-oriented gamers in ways that no stealth-centric game has dared. By offering a ton of difficulty levels as well as a multitude of ways to play the game and be successful - kill everyone or kill no one, they both get the job done - Hitman: Absolution is one of the most accessible stealth games ever. Both stealth die-hards or folks that don't normally like stealth will be able to pick up Hitman: Absolution and have a great time, likely for completely different, but equally valid, reasons. That seems like the sign of a good game to us. We highly recommend Hitman: Absolution for a purchase.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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