Article first published as XBox 360 Review: Hitman: Absolution on Blogcritics.
Earlier this year, at Square Enix’s E3 booth in Los Angeles I watched a playthrough and got some hands hands-on time with “Hitman: Absolution.” The contrast between the playable Chinatown mission and what they demonstrated in a small town that time seemingly forgot was striking. As disparate as these two locations were, even that didn’t prepare me for the variety of contrasts that “Absolution” offers. While variety in locations and gameplay are typically lauded, the game seems to have a bit of an identity crisis with a lack of consistency that is often jarring.
“Hitman: Absolution” begins with Agent 47 being given the assignment of killing his former handler Diana, who has fled the agency with a young girl named Victoria. Appropriately, the beginning of the game serves as a tutorial with flashes of the conflict running through the mind of 47. The sense of emotion the narrative conveys is consistent with the voice work and images on the title screen. As Agent 47 tracks down and corners Diana, her dying pleas and the letter she has prepared for the man she knows would be sent for her, gives the game a serious purpose. There is nothing that indicates the change in tone to come.
What evolves is a story told through the voice of an over the top garish Tarantino-like film that tries to maintain purpose with emotional attachment. You could argue a philosophically existentialist explanation about your purpose being incongruent with your environment or something along those lines but that’s not where video games are. That type of point is easier used for books with less sensory bombardment. The truth is that the game has a tone problem as well as a realism problem with a litany of arbitrary gameplay limitations.
Unlike, “Dishonored,” the other recently released stealth game “Hitman: Absolution” has good control scheme and fewer technical problems. As much as Agent 47 can do, for some reason, he can’t jump. For the most part though, “Absolution” controls like every other third person action game with the analog sticks controlling movement and the camera. The d-pad selects and either wields or sheathes your weapons and items and the face buttons have contextual uses.
In “Hitman: Absolution,” the left trigger aims and right trigger shoots although, the bumpers are used a little differently. The left bumper is used for running and the right bumper is used for instinct, Agent 47’s stealth mode. The instinct function allows you to see objectives and people in your area. It also allows you to blend in. While in instinct mode, if you press the X button, you can tag visible enemies for lethal shots until the meter is depleted and then execute them when you tap the X button again.
As each level begins, your first objective is typically to find a foot in the door, so to speak. You will usually have to find someone you can pick off from the group so you can steal their clothes for an effective disguise. Appropriately, each of these uniforms will only have a limited amount of usefulness. Obviously, a mechanic’s uniform isn’t going to help you walk around freely inside a police station. The other obstacle the game places is that, these uniforms have a very limited effect on the group associated with that costume. If you’re dressed like a cop, other police officers will not recognize you and be understandably more suspicious of you.
Where things in “Absolution” don’t make a whole lot of sense starts with the enemy detection. What you can get away with doesn’t seem to have set rules. For example, if you’ve killed everyone in one area, put on an appropriate disguise and then go to another place where no one saw what you did, often those people will still automatically attack you. The physical limitations of Agent 47 are also a little frustrating particularly for those that have played “Assassin’s Creed” or “Dishonored” and are used to a little more freedom of movement. It is worth noting that some of the environmental attacks are spectacularly satisfying, that is if you find them before deciding on a different path of action.
“Hitman: Absolution’s” story mode spans 20 levels and can be completed within about 10 hours depending on which of the five difficulties the game is played. Also included is the contracts mode which lets you play through a few missions IO Interactive has designed or contracts you or your friends have created from completed levels. There is no real multiplayer just a leader board-type comparison. That doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had with the addition, just that you can forget about stealth killing your buddies in this game.
“Hitman: Absolution” is a good amount of fun and warrants some replay time. It just isn’t a great game. One thing that struck me as odd was how great the soundtrack and voice work was but, how terrible footsteps sounded. Overall, the production value is top notch but it never really felt immersive. There are some really great things “Absolution” does but others that make no sense and the lack of a defining tone fights the narrative. Sometimes the game felt like “Splinter Cell” and other times, particularly during many of the cut scenes, it felt like “Saints Row.”
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