Agent 47's Biggest Hit Yet
Absolution Pushes Boundaries, Characterization for Series
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It's been a long time since we got to step into the shoes of the big, bald, barcoded assassin known only as Agent 47. Thankfully, Hitman: Absolution was worth the wait, providing the biggest game ever with a myriad of environments that will test would-be assassins on all levels, and rate their progress using a very harsh and unforgiving scoring system.
The plot this time centers around Agent 47 coming back to the agency that his former handler Diana Burnwood liquidated at the end of the last game. In fact, your first mission is to kill Diana, which is something that I didn't think Agent 47 would actually do. Remember that Diana not only saved his life (if you found the secret resurrection level hidden in the game's credits) but also gave some of the agency's final funds to 47, a move he seemed to appreciate. It's not like 47 was in cahoots with Diana, but he certainly benefited from what she did, and had no problem with her plan, which was almost a necessity given what happened with the Vice President. But I digress. Burnwood's final request is that 47 protect a young girl named Victoria, who seems to be in the process of being groomed to become the next genetically enhanced super-weapon. That is the reason Diana burned the agency, and 47 agrees.
So he turns his back on the agency and sets about protecting Victoria. But don't think that means you won't be going on missions. There are a lot of people after Victoria, from a seedy South Dakota based arms dealer to the agency itself. Agent 47 needs information, and to get it he will have to do favors for bad people, which normally means assassinating someone. And he will need to protect Victoria from increasingly stiff resistance, with some missions either defending her or trying to save her using all his skills.
I will say that as a veteran Hitman player, I thought the mission in Blood Money where you had to assassinate the Vice President inside the White House (to save the President) was one of the hardest in the whole series going all the way back to the PS2 days. However, in Absolution, almost every mission is like that. Some are harder than others, but even on Normal level, you will find yourself screwing up and having to restart. It only takes one person in a spot where they can see you doing something suspicious, or walking into an area where you are 'trespassing' in front of a guard even if you didn't know you shouldn't be there, or a loud kill alerting passersby, to destroy your rating on a level. In this, I think purists will be happy. Hitman doesn't dumb itself down for casual players. True experts can even bump the difficulty to Hard, Expert or Purist for supreme challenges. It can also be set back to Easy, but if you do that, you can't complete any of the challenges, so your score on a level is going to be very low.
Most missions are divided up into several components which can be comprised of Agent 47 moving across the single floor of a building, or going from one end of a town to another, or simply trying to get past the bouncers so he can talk to a bartender. And each sub-mission has various challenges like killing five enemies with an old syringe, finding three different disguises, or killing a target using a specific and often comical 'signature' style. Meeting any challenge results in a 5 percent score multiplier. If you complete a challenge, it's locked in forever, so you can replay a mission to get multiple challenges complete. Some are not possible to earn in a single play-through because they are contradictory, like one that requires changing into a bunch of different disguises and one that requires that you only wear your Hitman suit for the entire level. I found myself grabbing all the disguises in that case and then immediately reloading the level to play without them, which kind of pulled me from the story of game. You really have to forget about your score and just play the game, at least the first time. That said, I did get the satisfaction of being the top ranked player in the world, for a brief and shining moment.
As with previous games, there are many paths to get to your target. You can crawl through vents. You can sometimes cut the power and sneak by guards. You can distract them by throwing objects and then either killing them or just getting through an area they are guarding. You can blend into crowds. You can disguise yourself to slip into high security areas. And since you are an expert in hand to hand combat, you can try to knock guards out, which is good if you are following the 'only kill your target' motto of a true hitman. Your play style and paths to victory are up to you and your imagination. You can even go in guns blazing and try to kill everyone between you and your target, though this is really hard to do in Absolution. Enemies, especially organized ones like cops, can call in backup or even SWAT officers if they start losing badly. Plus, this is not really how Hitman is meant to be played. It's not a shooter. However, sometimes you will need to fallback onto raw firepower, so it's nice to know that it's possible.
Enemies are also smart this time around, at least compared to other games. Hiding bodies is a must, but other factors can give you away. If you take out a guard, and his buddy comes by later to grab a smoke and talk, he will realize that his friend is missing and get suspicious. If he then sees signs of a struggle or some blood on the wall, he'll probably raise the alarm even if the body isn't around.
You're actual assassinations are also wide open in terms of how you kill a target. Poison is often an option if they are seen eating or drinking anything in a level and you can find some. Environmental kills are also almost always possible because if you watch someone for long enough, they almost always decide to urinate beside a live wire at some point. You can sometimes hit them from long range with a sniper rifle, or kill them quietly with a silenced pistol. Or you can go in old school style and just garrote them. The choice is yours.
Graphically, Hitman Absolution looks amazing. All the environmental effects you would expect from a modern console or PC are present. Your suit gets wet and soggy in the rain. Fires produce blinding smoke. Shadows dance realistically against walls or stretch out way down an alley in the right conditions, providing early warnings that someone is coming too close for comfort. Neon lights blaze and fireworks light up the night sky on some levels and innocent bystanders mingle and go about their business in much more detail than even the Marti Gras level from the previous game that was so darn impressive. And the physics provided by the Glacier 2 engine would probably have been considered a form of black magic just a few years ago. It allows up to 500 characters to be on the screen at the same time, each reacting like individuals in a given situation whether they are trying to catch a train home or enjoying a carnival.
The sound is almost as nice as the graphics. Not only is there a stellar voice cast in the likes of David Bateson as Agent 47, Marsha Thomason as Diana, and everyone from Powers Boothe to Vivica A. Fox, Traci Lords and Isabelle Fuhrman taking on roles. But what is even more impressive is that all of the extras seem real too. He might be some bystander in the crowd at the end of a level, but he's talking on the phone with his wife about his divorce, or she's a girl trying to find her sister in the huge crowd, but they all seem real. You can choose to ignore them or listen in to their world. Either way, they make the game seem like real life. Couple that with great music and cool atmospheric effects, and you have quite an audio experience.
The single player campaign is quite large, with 20 pretty full missions. It will take quite sometime to get through them all. Once you're done with that, or perhaps before you even really get into it, there is also a Contracts mode. This multiplayer mode lets players create levels and assign targets based on what they find in the game. They can then compete on things like the quickest kill, who earned the most money, and even who is the best and most creative level designer. I can see this adding an unlimited amount of replay to the standard game. Money you earn in Contracts can be spent on better gear, which makes you a more effective assassin overall.
The one complaint leveled at the game, even before it was released, was that it could be considered a bit misogynistic. Sadly, I have to admit that this may be true. I don't personally mind. I mean, Agent 47 has to move in the seedy parts of town, but some locations he visits, like a strip club where girls are being murdered for snuff films in the back room could be considered a bit much. On the plus side, you do put a stop to those activities in the course of your adventures. There are even levels that push the envelope in other ways, like one where a religious school gets shot up and you have to move around the bloody bodies of freshly murdered nuns as you try to get the power restored. That might cause more than one person to turn away from the game. I'm pretty liberal with stuff like that, but even I thought that might be taking things a step too far. Let's just say that it earns its M rating more than any other game probably ever created, and leave it at that.
I missed the Hitman series during its long absence. I think a lot of people did. Hitman Absolution is bigger and in many ways better than anything that came before. Some of its quirks, like being really difficult, are magnified here, but so are the rewards of creative thinking in terms of stalking your kill. Pretty much Absolution is like other Hitman games with everything from before, good and bad, magnified. Depending on how you feel about the series, and how much you like sneaking and stabbing in general, Hitman Absolution will either be one of the greatest games of all time or something you won't even bother to muddle through a few levels with before you rage quit in disgust. However, in terms of being a solid game with lots of replay value, Absolution scores. Love it or hate it, I'm standing by my 5 GiN Gem overall rating.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.