Hitman: Absolution picks up some years after the last game ended. The International Contract Agency has been rebuilt under new management. However, Diana Burnwood, who helped resurrect the Agency after it was almost destroyed in the previous game, goes rogue, and series protagonist Agent 47 has been contracted to eliminate her. Once he learns the reason behind Diana’s betrayal, he finds himself plunged into a struggle to protect a young girl from his masters at the Agency.
The game’s structure is simple: watch a cutscene, play a mission, watch another cutscene, twenty or so times until the end. Every mission is also the same: locate one or more individuals and eliminate him/her/them. Each level is a tiny sandbox filled with characters, many of whom are innocent bystanders, objects and multiple methods for achieving your goals. Everyone goes about their business: guards will patrol, civilians will do whatever is sensible for the setting, and you are free to poke around and proceed as you wish. If you want to methodically take down everyone who poses a threat, you can certainly try, or you can ghost your way through (i.e. complete the level without being detected) if you’re up for that challenge.
Absolution is a game that rewards patience more than anything else. It’s certainly possible to rush your way through a level, playing by instinct and hoping for the best, especially on easier difficulty levels. If, however, you take the time to explore a level, observe your targets, and plan the perfect hit, you’ll find yourself rewarded. I don’t just mean psychologically rewarded with a job well done, either. You will be very literally rewarded because the game scores you, offering up huge point rewards for remaining undetected, sparing innocent lives, and finding creative ways to kill your targets without laying a hand or bullet on them. It’ll punish you as well, making deductions for killing anyone other than the target, for being detected, as well as other things.
You’ll want those points because if you have a high enough score when you reach the next checkpoint, you’ll gain upgrades to 47’s skills. Attributes like more health, more instinct, better weapons handling, and better stealth are unlocked and provide measurable advantages later on when the sandboxes become more complex and less forgiving of mistakes.
Absolution isn’t like most stealth adventures. Yes, there’s a fair bit of sneaking around, cowering behind walls, and skulking through shadows. But there is an equal amount of hiding in plain sight. If you can find an appropriate disguise, you can walk through hostile areas with impunity. You have to remain alert because you can still be detected if you go near a person wearing the same clothing as you. For example, if you’re wearing a gardener’s disguise and walk near to another gardener, he will be able to identify you as an intruder.
This can be mitigated by using 47’s instinct. Continuing on the gardener example: suppose you have to go through a door and a gardener is standing next to it and refuses to move. In situations like this you can activate instinct mode and walk right by him. Instinct is useful in a couple other ways as well. It enables you to shoot multiple enemies in a single pass and, on easier difficulty levels, will let you see enemies through walls, highlight useful objects, and show the patrol paths of enemies. Instinct is a limited resource, however, and drains while active. You can eventually unlock ways to gain instinct back, but even then it’s best to use it sparingly.
Pacifists will not enjoy this game. Murder is at Hitman’s core and while you are encouraged to only kill your targets and no one else, you must still kill them. It’s not like Dishonored, where you can find non-violent ways to complete your mission. It seems like Absolution’s writers was aware of this, because they took great pain to make 47’s victims truly awful people. The characters you assassinate are hideous to look at and listen to—in terms of personality, not production value—and I actually felt good about ending their lives. There are no shades of grey in this story.
The same cannot be said of Contracts mode, which is Absolution’s approach to multiplayer. Basically, you can make a “contract” to assassinate up to three characters, then challenge your friends to carry it out. Unlike story mode, the targets you’re given in Contract mode have no characterization, so the morality of your conduct is questionable here.
Creating a contract is fairly simple. You pick a level—all of which come from the story mode—a difficulty, and a starting loadout. Once that’s done, you’ll be plopped into the level, which contains a large number of targetable characters wandering around. You need to mark up to three of them for assassination, take them out in whatever manner you see fit, and escape. The game keeps track of several details that automatically become bonus objectives for the contract. These include: weapon used, disguise worn, whether you were spotted, and so on. At that point you can give the contract a name and description then upload it for everyone to play.
Playing the contract is similar to the story mode. The mission briefing shows you the targets and bonus objectives, then you’re dropped into the level to perform it as you see fit. If you take out the targets in the same way the contract creator did, you’ll gain huge bonuses to your reward, but that’s optional. Overall, Contracts mode is absolutely simple to get into and a great way to extend the life of the game.
I don’t have much to complain about with Hitman: Absolution. The production values are top notch, even though the Instagrammed look isn’t my aesthetic choice of choice. I also didn’t appreciate 47 being able to conceal rifles, which goes against the believability of the game. But these are minor quibbles that I could overlook. FRAPs reported framerates in the high 20s when I had the graphics set to High, but performance still felt smooth in the first few levels (my eyes, personally, don’t notice poor performance unless it drops below 24 FPS). After about level seven I needed to drop it down to Medium, however, because there were a lot more characters and complex geometry that drained performance. At that point I got between 50 and 60 FPS throughout.
Controls are about standard for this day and age. You can use the keyboard/mouse or Xbox 360 controller, with the game automatically detecting which one you’re using and changing on-screen prompts to match. I primarily used the controller but, unlike other cross-platform games I’ve played, I didn’t have much problem adapting to the keyboard controls. I’m guessing this is because Absolution doesn’t rely on having quick reflexes, so I could take my time to figure out where exactly the T, G, and B keys are on my keyboard. Die hard PC gamers might roll their eyes at that sentence, but it’s not so easy when you don’t have the muscle memory developed for it. If you don’t like the default layout, you can remap the keys to your liking, and keep two different sets of bindings available.
Conclusion—Is It Worth The Money?
I expected to be disappointed by Hitman: Absolution, but I actually had a good time with it. Story mode alone is worth the price of entry, and is well worth playing multiple times if your first run wasn’t on the hardest difficulty (trust me, the hardest difficulty is a joy to play). Once you’ve grown tired of that, you can look into Contracts mode to extend the game’s playlife even more. I have no reservations saying this game is worth the premium price of $40 it demands.