Hitman: Absolution review: beautiful contracts

By Andrew Yoon, Nov 18, 2012 5:00am PST

Hitman: Absolution is nearly everything I want from a video game. It's beautiful, big, and an absolute blast to play. While far from perfect, the addictive stealth gameplay of Hitman kept me coming back for more. IO Interactive has crafted a game filled with so many interesting sandboxes to play in, that it's hard not to come back over and over again, long after the credits have rolled.

Absolution is one of those rare games where you'll want to play just to experience the graphics. IO's new Glacier 2 engine pulls off some incredible visuals, among the best this generation has to offer. Particularly impressive are the scenes where the engine renders hundreds of NPCs for Agent 47 to walk through. Whether you're playing in a train station, a bar, or a strip club, the game manages to always throw some eye candy.

Each environment you play in feels thoroughly realized. In fact, the world can seem intimidating at times. The first time you're dropped into Chinatown, you must come to grips with the hustle and bustle of hundreds of people moving around. Then, you'll have to grasp how large the environment is, with tons of side alleys and restricted areas to access. And then you'll start realizing how many toys there are: whether it's a cup of coffee, a glass bottle, or a piece of sushi--there's so much you can interact with in your quest to take down your target.

IO clearly revels in how much they've jammed into each level in the game. At the end of a mission, you'll see a summary of what you've achieved, and what you've missed. A catalog of every interactive object in the environment is revealed, letting you ponder questions like "I wonder how I can use a bong to kill someone?" Each mission also includes a number of challenges that give you potential recipes for death. For example, if you really want to, you could dress up as a samurai and kill someone silently with a katana. And that's just one way to off your target.

Because there are so many ways to complete a level, achieving a perfect kill becomes all the more satisfying. It's one thing to kill your target and everything else in the way; it's another thing entirely to kill only your target--and make it look like an accident. By trying to make these "happy accidents" happen, Hitman: Absolution is, in many ways, like playing your own Home Alone--albeit a lot deadlier.

I personally attempted to do a "perfect" run for every level, resetting the level every time something went awry. However, Absolution offers enough flexibility where you don't have to play like that. With five difficulty levels, the game certainly tries its best trying to cater to a broad audience. Longtime fans will probably want to play the more hardcore modes, which introduces smarter enemies and gets rid of many of Agent 47's supernatural "Instinct" abilities. However, on the easier side of things, you'll be able to shoot your way out of most tight spots. (This video from Conan O'Brien is pretty representative of how a "bad" player on Easy difficulty might play.)

The game is littered with so many "did I do that?" moments that it becomes easy to ignore some of the game's more problematic aspects. In one level, I was able to steal a judge's outfit and walk into a courtroom and dismiss it. Moments like that help me forget the sometimes frustrating (and unbelievable) AI and glitchy checkpoint system.

Perhaps the game's biggest flaw is its tone. The story takes itself very seriously, in spite of it being focused on some absurd sci-fi nonsense. It's difficult to tell what IO was trying to do with the characters: were they meant to be intentionally funny, or are they simply poorly designed? Given the story features sexy ninja assassin nuns and a villain with a robotic hand, I wonder why the game takes itself so seriously.

In spite of the terrible story, the occasional glitch, and AI snafus, Absolution's gameplay has me coming back. And so long as there's still new exciting challenges for me to try and unlock I don't see myself quitting for quite some time.


This Hitman: Absolution review was based on a debug Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher. The game will be available on November 20th on Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3.

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