Friday, 7 December 2012

Review: Hitman: Absolution (PC)

Hitman: Aboslution is as close to a gritty Roger Moore era James Bond reboot as you can get without infringing copyright. It has just the right amount of "whackadoodle" nonsense to qualify as a "Spy Who Loved Me" spin-off adventure.

First there's Agent 47, a manufactured hitman who will follow orders to a "T" even when it's against people he "loves." While the twist at the end of the game brings that into question, at least slightly, he's driven almost wholly by his contracts to commit murder and never distracted by anything else, just like Bond.

Next, there's a cadre of villains and henchmen and hangers-on that wouldn't be out of place in "The Man with The Golden Gun" or "Live and Let Die." The psychotic Blake Dexter, who provides a lot of scenery chewing and is the principle bad guy; Benjamin Travis, with his creepy prosthetic left hand, head of the agency pursuing both Dexter and Agent 47; a science experiment and mountain of a man named Sanchez; a cadre of gun-toting "nuns"; an informant named Birdie on the account of his bird fetish; curvy Annie Oakley, whom Agent 47 must best in some target practice to reacquire his trademark silenced silverballers.

Hitman: Absolution is a clown costume and Fabergé egg away from being one of the finest Roger Moore Bond films ever. (My introduction to Bond films was headlined by Roger Moore so I will admit that this plays into my overall opinion of the game.)

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The stealth and silent killing that has been such a hallmark of the Hitman series is in full effect. Get in, get out, leave no evidence (or at least witnesses) and leave the area undetected in creative ways is really a lot of fun.

I attribute this to the fact I played through the game on Easy because 1) I was looking for fun and 2) I have almost no patience to replay levels again and again to find the "right" path. So, when Agent 47's cover was blown or 47 "forgot" to hide a body and enemies went on high alert to hunt him down, he could blast all commers with a faceful of buckshot or unload a magazine of bullets until there was no one left standing then move on to the next area. "Silent Assassin" being Agent 47's tagline in a previous game, I often played the game as a "Hey, I'm Over Here!" Assassin.

My goal was always to stay hidden, making use of disguises, taking cover and sneaking every where -- through air ducts, ducking out onto window ledges -- or creating minor distractions to draw enemies away from my location without alerting them to my presence. On odd occasions, Agent 47 didn't have to use guns at all. Those instances were pretty satisfying to complete without firing a shot or being detected but if came down to a gun battle, that was okay, too.

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To aid the player, there are optional checkpoints -- optional because they need to be activated with a button press -- but I'll bet a player could waltz through a level and never see a checkpoint marker. I know I did this on more than few levels.

Not that it would have made a difference on Easy.

To bolster the action option, Agent 47 can use his "Instinct" which allows him to see through walls and locate nearby targets and patrol paths; he can also use it to mark targets and perform rapid fire executions of multiple targets. Everyone will approach this differently, but I broke out this move when facing overwhelming odds. Being able to basically stop time and mark off nearby threats is a huge advantage.

After playing through the game once, I did take Agent 47 back to a few locales to see what alternate paths could be sussed out or taking the opposite approach of my previous playthrough and even that was fun (keep in mind, this was the Easy difficulty).

Not content with leaving the player with multiple difficulty modes and a relatively lengthy campaign, IO Interactive also included a Contracts mode where each level gets a few layers of difficulty and conditions to achieve the best contract payment. Kill a specific target wearing certain clothes, without killing anyone else? It's not my idea of fun so I played it long enough to confirm that it worked.

It's my hope that some Bond-like assassinations show up in Contracts. A full fledged level editor might help that -- imagine trying to track down Scaramanga or avoid Jaws on a space station full of lesser henchmen -- but as it stands there's more challenge to be had well after players have exhausted the entertaining story campaign.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Phenomenal graphics
- Play the game to your personal style of play
- Agent 47 actually comes across as likeable
- Well designed levels
- Player-supported Contracts mode means players will always have new challenges

The Bad:
- Some checkpoint bugs where all dead enemies respawn after loading to checkpoint
- Higher difficulty selection could really turn the game into an exercise in frustration

Score: 9.0 / 10