Hitman Absolution is easily one of 2012’s best-looking videogames, but it’s held back from perfection by plot issues and some silly design choices
Whatever else you say about Hitman Absolution, you can’t deny it’s caused a stir on its way to release. Early trailers of Agent 47 blasting through rooms of thugs with twin-ballers earlier this year caused an outcry among the Hitman faithful, who believed their beloved stealth series was turning into a hammy action shooter.
Then a video of the game’s protagonist battering a group of women dressed up as only what can be described as ‘bondage nuns’ drew accusations of sexism and promoting violence against women.
The internet was angry with IO Interactive and even the pre-release bonus, Hitman: Sniper Challenge couldn’t hold back the tide of abuse they experienced. Unfortunately, this tide is unlikely to abate, mainly because in Hitman Absolution, IO has created a game that will provoke extreme reactions. Players are likely to love and loathe Absolution in equal measure.
Hitman Absolution: Story & Characters
The plot kicks off with Agent 47 being called into to kill his former handler, Diane Burnwood. After he pumps a bullet into her sternum through a shower door, Diane implores 47 to take care of Victoria, a young girl she abducted from the Agency – the shadowy former employers of the pair of them.
Agent 47 agrees, stashes his charge in an orphanage in Chicago, and heads out in search of the reason as to why the Agency is so interested in her.
This brings him into contact with some of the most bizarre characters ever to feature in a videogame. Most of them are thoroughly odious; the redneck fatcat, Dexter, and the Agency’s acne-ridden, chainsmoking handler, Travis are especially vile.
The ‘bondage nuns’ feature – they’re a group of elite assassins called The Saints, if you can believe that – and there’s the game’s wildcard, Birdie, a gravel-voiced ex-spook who has an attraction to ornithology that can only be described as a fetish.
As daft as all of these characters sound, they’re at least colourful. However, they serve a plot that is as thin as it is forgettable; in spite of all the Grindhouse grit that runs throughout Absolution, the game’s story is merely a lunk-headed framework to hang open-ended missions on.
Hitman Absolution: Gameplay
Still, the Hitman games have never been known for their stories – indeed, they’re renowned for having some of the worst plots the medium has ever seen. They’re known, instead, for dropping players onto large scale environments, presenting them with a target – or a couple of targets – and allowing them to tackle their contract however they like.
So the established template allows the player to stealthily creep about, explore their options, experiment and then decide on a plan of attack – and for the most part, that’s the case with Hitman Absolution. The problem the game has, though, is that level design is staggered in some areas, forcing a structure that feels abrasively linear.
These missions become a slog with little pay-off; players will spend a lot of time sneaking about, subduing NPCs, changing clothes and avoiding the direct approach, only to be rewarded with a cutscene of Agent 47 wandering through a door or a cinematic.
This isn’t the rule throughout. Occasionally the player will encounter a level where they’ll be presented with an open environment containing myriad ways to dispatch their target. It’s here, where Absolution sticks to the open-ended structure and fantastic gameplay that made the series’ name in the first place, that IO’s new game positively shines.
The fact that Absolution also showcases the finest graphics in the franchise’s history doesn’t hurt, either. More than any other Hitman game before it, Absolution looks and feels like a gritty, atmospheric thriller.
Hitman Absolution: Multiplayer
The game’s saving grace – in fact, the reason we’d advise punters to pick up a copy – is Contracts Mode. It’s not a multiplayer in the truest sense; instead, it allows players to construct and design their own hit contracts and share them with the online community.
Players are required to finish their own ‘contract’ before they post it, to make sure that it’s not impossible to complete, but once that’s done, the quest for bragging rights commences.
In truth, this mode is based on the practice Blood Money fans had of posting challenges to each other through gaming forums for the last six years, but it’s great to have it here. To be honest, next to the visuals, Contracts is Absolution’s saving grace.
Hitman Absolution: Verdict
It’s a bit of a bumpy return for Agent 47 and fan criticism of IO is likely to continue. Make no mistake, it is possible to love Hitman Absolution – or at least aspects of it – but one has to wander why a development studio who perfected such gaming alchemy six years ago would tinker with it so disastrously.
That said, when everything works as it should in Absolution, it’s capable of delivering some of the best gaming highs money can buy.
Hitman Absolution release date: Out now
Hitman Absolution price: £31.99