by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Right Tool, Right Place, Right Job (cont.)
More importantly, Agent 47 is able to navigate levels with a huge degree of choice. Each level, with the exception of the escape missions, features several different ways to get to each destination. Need to get past a locked door? Kill a guard and steal the key or climb out a window and creep a long the ledge. Infiltrate a building? Distract the enemies and sneak past or slide down a ladder into the sewer. These types of freedoms allow the player to dictate their experience not unlike Dishonored or Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Absolution is a thinking man's game, slower than you might expect, one of approach and re-approach. To play it like an action-shooter would be missing much of what makes it so good. Going in guns blazing will likely get you killed (unless you play it on easy) but going undetected is one of the most satisfying experiences the game has on offer.
More Machine Than Man
At its core, Hitman: Absolution is a third-person action/stealth game and can be played with a controller or mouse and keyboard. The choice in control scheme drastically changes the feel of the game. Playing with a controller, it controls fluidly and feels much like other third-person titles. Context sensitive button presses are a big typifying factor in gamepad control.
Keyboard, on the other hand, feels deliberately more complex. While cornerstone actions – selecting weapons, using cover, and triggering Instinct Mode – all have defined keys, environmental interactions vary. There is no single button for interaction. Rather, you will press one key to open doors, one key to pick up weapons, another to don disguises, and another to drag bodies. This can feel cumbersome at first and it is easy to press the wrong key with negative results. Once you get used to it, however, Agent 47 begins to feel more like a machine you control than a man you play as. That difference is game changing. It would have been nice if IO had streamlined this system just a little bit more, because it can still feel a tad clumsy, but I definitely preferred keyboard over gamepad once I settled in.
Once Story Mode has run its course, Contracts Mode takes its place as the driving force behind Absolution's replayability. While not a true level editor, Contracts allow users to create their own assassination missions within the game's existing levels. Here contract creators choose the level and starting equipment, and then play through to mark up to three targets. Any disguise can be made available for these missions. Completing them is competitive against friends and other online players, and can be quite addictive, but starts off very limited. Many contracts gate disguises, weapons, and upgrades behind money walls, which can only be met by completing missions without those benefits.
Contracts Mode is where serious Hitman fans will likely spend most of their time. They can be more difficult but are also more free-form than campaign missions. IO Interactive highlights five featured missions a week, as well as ranking the most popular, so it is easy to see how this mode will keep players coming back again and again. Contracts Mode easily matches Story Mode's 20 hours.
Beauty in Motion and Sound
Hitman: Absolution is a beautiful game. On its highest settings, the game is stunning and ran at a steady frame right on our review machine (i5 2500k, 580GTX SLI, 16GB RAM). The game is filled with a myriad of tiny details. Bottles, floating papers, and debris litter the streets; walls are covered in graffiti or cracked with aged drywall; dining rooms are fully set to the finest detail and shades blow in the breeze. Animations are also exceptional with one minor caveat: Agent 47's face rarely moves. The man is a machine, I get that, but everything below his eyes looks rigid and plastic. The cutscenes are also well done but tend to look upscaled on higher resolutions. Bloom is also strangely high which can lead to Hitman's head literally glowing under certain lighting.
The sound is excellent. Guns pop or blast with a satisfying heft. Ambient sounds and environmental qualities stand out. Hearing enemies speak from down a hallway includes a reverberation emulating true distance. Voice acting is also quite good. What is especially noticeable is how dynamic the game's score is. It rises and falls according to what's occurring in the game. Another check for the “immersion” column.
I haven't played a Hitman game in years and I'm glad I returned with Absolution. It is a great return for a classic franchise and well worth the time for series fans and newcomers alike. Absolution isn't without its flaws, though. The control scheme, while being oddly alluring, can be cumbersome and confusing early on. Escape missions, while neat in concept, tend to break the mold and are one-off in the grand vision of the game. The slower approach, also, will be a drastic change of pace for many newcomers. The high points far outweigh the lows, however. The steep veering away from linear gameplay is refreshing and the freedom in accomplishing objectives should be applauded. Contracts Mode is also an excellent addition to the franchise that will keep players coming back for a long time to come. If any of this appeals to you, you owe it to yourself to give this game a shot.
Lots of choices to complete objectives, freedom in approaching those choices, beautiful graphics, lots of replayability in contracts mode
Escape missions are one-off, levels are smaller and segmented, keyboard controls can be cumbersome