Hitman Absolution Review: Misfiring With A Great Gun
Missing The Mark?
Square Enix and IO Interactive were very vocal about how they were planning to make this a much more accessible game, while preserving the core of the Hitman experience. For the most part, mission accomplished…except of course for the ways the game seems to conspire against you to ruin the joy of playing. So what went wrong?
- The camera really sucks. Sorry, but it’s true. I’ve spent far longer than necessary messing around with my aspect ratio and yet, if I’m positioned just so, critical command prompts are hidden below the bottom of my screen. Further, more than once you’ll find objects behind Agent 47 actually obscuring your view, if you happened to be positioned just right. But the worst is the way Agent 47 hogs your field of view even when aiming. Particularly during instances where precision shooting matters, you’ll be amazed at how limited your range of vision is, thanks to 47′s giant melon dome taking up 35% of the screen. (Mess around with your settings, and it’s still a problem. Booo.)
- Hand to hand combat: The concept of real fisticuffs is kind of new to the series, so one is tempted to grade on a curve, but screw it, it’s a mess. Hand to hand in Hitman Absolution is almost entirely made up of very imprecise quick time events. It’s often unclear when you’re supposed to push the button, and because of how commands appear onscreen, it might take a moment to identify the button. While it’s an improvement over previous games, players are forced to endure what amount to some of the most boring fights in recent memory.
- Instinct’s active features kind of suck. When using them, you expend instinct points just by going into the mode. This isn’t a problem when blending, because it happens instantly as you walk past an enemy and activate Instinct mode. However, it’s a gigantic problem when using the point shooting ability. Imagine a Fantasy game in which you expend manna simply by accessing your menu of available spells. As you’re trying to decide which of your spells to use, you’re also losing the ability to actually perform them, which means that if you take too long, you’ll find that you might as well never have earned the spells in the first place. This is exactly how Instinct works in practical terms. Yes, it gets easier as you earn points and increase your available Instinct, but this is still kind of an insane way to make Instinct cost the player anything for its use.
- The save system: They’ve replaced the previous games’ save system with a combination of checkpoint and autosave that in theory is a vast improvement. Unfortunately, while the autosave is reliable, the checkpoint system is manual. Yes, manual. In 2012, they’re still requiring to search around for an arbitrary checkpoint save spot and actually click to activate it. Each spot only works once, which means if you reach a checkpoint, complete several other objectives, don’t find another checkpoint, and then die, you’ll have to do a lot of work over again. And that means you’ll have to deal with another bizarre problem…
- Cutscenes are unskippable. No, really. It’s 2012 and we’re still dealing with unskippable cutscenes. Even if they mattered, it would suck, but they kind of don’t, and blame for that lies in the story.
- The story is, like we said, pretty thin, but it’s also kind of pointless. The beginning of Absolution is essentially in direct contradiction to the end of Blood Money, without explanation, which is more of a problem in that IO Interactive is expecting players to fill in the blanks because they know how stories like this go. Worse, the dialogue is filled with line after hackneyed line that feels like it’s just barely on the wrong side of knowingly bad. Particularly with the character Birdie, characters mouth insipidly rendered slang that reminds one of when old white people tried to mock hip hop back in the 80s. It’s reminiscent of other recent games that felt kind of warmed over from a decade ago (albeit without the sexism.) Of course, this is minor considering that they seem to be going for the Grindhouse aesthetic, and considering what an insufferable snob I am, it probably comes down to a taste thing. The bigger problem is that the events of the story don’t really matter.
Especially during the first half of the game, completing an objective has no impact on how the story unfolds. You’ll spend however long it takes to finish a mission, and yet despite the fact that completion of your objectives is intended to provoke a specific outcome, the opposite happens, you know, just cuz. It makes the missions feel rootless, and once you realize it’s happening, cutscenes become a boring impediment to your game rather than an enhancement. One can’t help but wonder how much better Absolution would feel as an overall gaming experience if they’d just released a game full of scripted assassination missions barely framed by story, instead of trying to craft a more involved narrative. Maybe “Hitman: Blood Money II” or something similar.
Should you play it on PC?
The PC version of Hitman Absolution looks incredible, but you should choose carefully. For one thing, they haven’t, so far as we’ve been able to discover, included access to the dev console. That’s not a huge deal but if you were hoping for a truly custom experience, you won’t get it here. In addition, and I stress we don’t mean this as a criticism of the game, you’ll quickly discover that Hitman Absolution’s minimum specs are going to feel a lot more minimum than other recent PC games. I have a slightly underpowered rig, and Borderlands 2, which was optimized for the Geforce 680, looks and performs great despite that. Absolution, on the other hand, took some serious tweaking to reduce lag and stutter. We strongly advise that you err closer to recommended specs and if you can’t upgrade, you might want to consider the console version. (Review the requirements here.)
The Final Judgment
So should you get it? If you love a challenging game that encourages creative thinking and delivers targeted, difficult snippets of violence, most definitely. The multiple-solution levels and associated optional challenges deserve medals for replayability. Killing remains as satisfying and challenging as ever, and the genre flip works pretty well. The new Contracts mode is a great idea that because it’s free adds more value than most games have provided in years. It’s also gorgeous, a fitting end to the current console generation, and a great use of your PC’s expensive as hell GPU. If it isn’t the triumphant return of a series once thought dead, it isn’t for lack of trying. Hitman Absolution almost gets away with the crime.
But if you’re in it for the story, or you absolutely cannot stand annoying gameplay quirks best left to the PS2 era, you should probably walk away. Hitman Absolution is an almost great game with many very great features, but it fails – barely – to come together into a perfect whole. The good news is that there’s always next time. Just so long as they never, ever force you to sit through another cutscene again.
- While not as effective as games like DXHR and Dishonored, level/mission completion variety and incidental universe-building moments work very well.
- Assassinations are fun, challenging and satisfying; despite changes to core conventions, stealth remains supremely important and worth the patience required.
- Gorgeous; Grindcore/Western aesthetic is also a welcome change.
- Challenges are fun, add lots of replay value.
- Contracts Mode is great.
- Unskippable cutscenes, terrible camera, poorly mapped interactive elements and poorly designed quick time events are unnecessary inconveniences.
- The updates don’t always blend well with legacy conventions, particularly the terrible hand to hand combat.
- Apparent lack of a dev console makes the PC version feel like a beautiful afterthought.
- The story is barely there, and makes objectives within missions feel like busywork; very inconsistent writing, particularly dialogue.
- May require a bigger PC investment than many gamers are willing to make at the moment.
Final Score: 85/100