I have always loved the Hitman games. Their open-world approach to assassination and action was always so clever and smart, not to mention full of player choice. Sure, the sinister Agent 47 is a bit silly, as is all the overly-dramatic religious overtones, not to mention the oddly surreal politics of Agent 47’s organisation, but they’re all just an excuse to create elaborate puzzles of death for the player to solve.
Hitman: Absolution is aiming at all those targets – in the first few hours of the game you’ve got dirty politics, a dense backstory of betrayal to digest, random nuns, and lots of deep guilt and angst from Agent 47 himself. But while that’s all there, the actual gameplay seems a little on the lacklustre side. That could be forgiven – after many years where Hitman was about the only game in town for this kind of thing Dishonored’s come out of nowhere and pretty much moved the goalposts overnight – where it not for the amount of bugs that plague the PC version of the game.
Taken all as a whole... it’s more than a little disappointing.
When did Hitman get Blink?!
In only a few hours of installing Hitman, I’d already lost track of the lock-ups, crashes to desktop, and general issues. The game really doesn’t like Alt-Tabbing, but is also prone to simply freeze even when you’re letting it do its thing without interference – even in custscenes.
More alarming, though, are issues such as falling through floors onto whole other levels of maps. Crouching in some areas sees you sink a foot into the floor, and if you’re really unlucky, down you go. It would be kind of funny if you didn’t often end up dying after surprising a mess of guards, or needing to backtrack all over the level again, or simply reload and then try to avoid that spot on the floor.
At this early stage, it’s hard to tell if these are going to be universal issues, or if we’ve just lucked out (we’re reviewing before full release), but then there are things that just don’t gel in the game itself, as well.
Probably the two most annoying things are the lack of a first person view, and the stupid decision to turn melee into a quick time minigame. The former is annoying because, on PC at least, previous games have always had the option, and it really makes things easier if you’re not trying to peer past Agent 47’s shiny dome of a skull to see where your enemies are. In some circumstances, it’s almost impossible to get a clear site picture of what’s going on around you, forcing you pull out of aiming mode entirely. Similarly, it’s impossible to look straight up, making some levels an exercise in frustration.
The quick time thing, though, that’s just rude. You need to match a series of keystrokes to punch, counter, and successfully fight, and missing too many punches leads to game over – so rather than watching the game, you’re just watching for what buttons to press, and the random sequences are simply annoying to try and match.
Fun in the cracks
It may sound as though I’ve got a massive hate-on for the game, but that’s not quite true. When everything works, it still delivers some amazingly awesome stealth action. The Instinct system, which helps you blend in, spot important things, or tag enemies for pin-point shooting, is – ironically – a bit hit and miss, but that aside the game is capable of being great.
One thing Hitman has always done well is combine great stealth and open-world puzzling (so, I need that key, for this door, and I’ve got to get it off that guy... hmm), and then when it all goes bad and you get spotted, fantastic gunfights. Absolution is no exception – even the puniest of firearms feels awesomely lethal, and things like shotguns and assault rifles are supremely destructive. With busy environments full of lots of civilians running around, the action is very tense.
And speaking of civilians, the sheer number of people in some of the levels is amazing, and the crowd AI is everything IO has hyped it to be. Getting into a gunfight in a crowded Chinese market or a packed hotel corridor are recipes for some serious collateral damage. It’s not nice, but it’s very cinematically gritty.
I’m a little on the fence about how heavily gamified Absolution is, though. Every level ends with a complete points score comparing your performance to the online average, and there’s an exhaustive list of things you did and didn’t do right, or find. No doubt some will love having the big numbers to beat, or really get into the replay value, but it’s very in your face, and a little distracting from the game’s overall flow.
It works like a charm, however, in the Contracts mode, where you can create and share challenges with other players to see who’s the best in all kinds of scenarios. This will certainly add a lot of longevity to the game, though, of course, it’s a little hard to judge.
One thing that is clear is just how good the game looks. The Glacier engine, at Ultra, pushes out some amazing textures and lighting, and the environmental effects really make for some atmospheric and immersive level design.
Overall, Hitman: Absolution gets a lot of stuff right, but there are enough jarring mis-steps to make the game feel, at times, like too much of a chore. The incredible disconnect between fluid gunplay and lame melee events, the bugs and crashes, the challenging camera positioning all make it feel as though you’re constantly fighting to have any actual fun. But when that fun does happen, you almost feel thankful. Almost...