For many, Hitman: Absolution will be an excellent introduction into a near-perfect assassin-sim which has earned its stripes over the years by being slightly to-one-side of the ramshackle mainstream ‘stealth’ games. To Hitman purists, Absolution is a dumbed down version of what was a stand alone genre in its own right, the Fisher Price My-First-Hitman…

Developed by IO Interactive, Hitman: Absolution is the direct sequel to Hitman: Blood Money and if you haven’t played Hitman: Blood Money, I urge you to play it, even if it’s so you understand the importance of some of the choices that IO Interactive have made and the relevance of some of the mentioned names in game.

So it’s all well and good me leaving my first statement hanging there above this one like an ill-fitted chandelier but I need to fully explain my reasonings behind such a boilerplate synopsis. Firstly, Hitman: Absolution does do a lot of things right with the franchise and being a long time fan of the Hitman games I feel that it doesn’t exactly ruin the overall Hitman experience with it’s sometimes questionable choices in game so I’m hoping to give you a full comparison of both the best and worst sides of Hitman: Absolution.

Level design is a huge deal with Hitman games, the levels are usually designed as large, open plan levels with a few treats such as weapons, disguises and items thrown around, you have a start point, a target and an exit point and you’re basically slapped gently on the butt and told to have fun! Absolution doesn’t agree with this methodology and whilst any experience I have had with this game prior to this review has taken place solely in the King of Chinatown mission (which does fit the above criteria) many of the levels are simply attention avoidance exercises which force you to sneak past guards, police and try to get to the single point of exit in the level.
You are usually treated with a multiple choice of how to dispatch a target but this is all at the mercy of the level designer and whether or not you are ‘supposed’ to kill a target with a falling tonne of bricks or whether or not that particular tonne of bricks was supposed to be a distraction.

Items also seem to have disappeared from Absolution as when you approach one of the rare item pickups in the game you are now presented with a brief description of what an item is useful for by pressing your Instinct button (I’ll talk about Instinct soon) but you’re usually told “Can of Poison – This is poisonous” or instances such as “Spicy Food – This should cover up any poison” and there is very little room for personal intervention, it’s almost as though IO Interactive have used the Point And Click rulebook of “every item has one and only one use” so whilst desperately thinking “I’m sure I could put some of this poison in a syringe and kill my target that way” you won’t realise that you actually have to poison something completely different in order to take him out.

Controls are slightly shaky sometimes too as aiming is controlled by pulling the left trigger and then ‘gently squeezing’ the right trigger to get a better aim on your target and this lead to one too many accidental misfires on my part (when I actually needed to use my guns) and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’d end up being challenged to a shootout contest by a scantily clad cowgirl with an outrageously stereotypical Texan accent and amidst the ‘Yee-haw’s’ and ‘Wull I’ll be day-umd’ (This actually happens roughly halfway through the game, I’m not making this up) I’d end up trying to get a better aim on my target and spraying bullets everywhere. I’m supposed to be playing as a genetically built super assassin comprised of the DNA from the top 5 most deadly assassins in the world, I shouldn’t need to try and obtain a better aim, it should just be there, these tools should be part and parcel of any Hitman game.

And speaking of tools, a small way through the game you need to compose a business transaction with a filthy, faeces ridden individual who demands that you give him your ‘Hitman Toolkit’ as payment, and you actually do it – guns, suit, the works! You spend the next few levels looking like you just rolled out of the Heavy Rain after party wearing a dirty raincoat and a half arsed attempt of a tie. Moving through these levels I couldn’t shake the feeling that 47 was having some sort of assassin-specific mid life crisis, as though in the next scene I would see him driving a custom outfitted car and going to a strip club (actually, that happens too, but not like you may think)

I know, I know, I promised that I’d offer a balanced and impartial argument for Absolution and so far all I’ve done is shovel copious amounts of faecal matter over it, so let me brighten up this review with a rundown of my favourite things from Hitman Absolution:

It looks wonderful!
This isn’t even an exaggeration, even playing it on my XBox 360 the graphics are wonderful, the textures and skin details are supurb with the only exception of the blatent overuse of bloom which, in the wrong situations, leaves a blurry cloud of pink light radiating from 47’s head.

The voice acting is superb!
It always had been in my opinion and Absoultion is no exception, David Bateson does a wonderful job as 47 which nobody else could possibly match and I’ve also noted that I’ve never heard 47 speak so much before this game – it’s a treat which at first I was opposed to but quickly fell in love with (especially during the end of the End Of The Line mission)

Instinct Mode
For those who don’t know what Instinct Mode is, think of a cross between the Detective Mode from Batman Arkham Asylum and the Blending ability from Assassins Creed squashed into one slightly less powerful ability. The premise is that when disguised as, say, a police officer – anybody else in the level won’t question your presence but other officers will be suspicious of you if you stand around wearing one of their friends uniforms so to counter that Instinct can be used to help blend 47 in by, strangely enough, rubbing his head. This actually seems to work for the games AI and eventually they ignore you, Instincts is a finite resource though and can be replenished through silent takedowns. Obviously as you progress through the difficulty levels Instinct is removed but it offers that helpful assistance to any new players which has thus far been missing from previous Hitman games.

The story ‘isn’t terrible’
Let’s face it, we’re talking about a super-assassin who has dressed as a giant chicken to kill another super assassin who was dressed as a giant crow in the past, we should be partially thankful that 47 isn’t re-enacting the terrible Peter Vs Chicken fights from Family Guy by this point in the series but Absolutions story is surprisingly engaging with elements from previous games which will mean fans will be very interested to see what happens, there are a number of distinctive characters who will (for one reason or another) leave a lasting impression on your play through.

Contracts Mode is a very interesting element in Absolution because for as long as I can remember whilst playing Hitman games, players have issued each other challenges to make the game more complex; Complete this level whilst remaining in your signature suit” or “Only take out the target with an ‘accident’ instead of actually killing them” that sort of thing. IO Interactive have now taken that element and built it into Absolution, you can now set up contracts with confining rules and conditions and share them online, issue them to friends and compete to see who is the overall best assassin. It’s a nice trick and an element that has clearly come from passionate player feedback (I remember this activity being most prevalent just after the release of Hitman: Blood Money)

Strippers! Sexy Nuns! Almost complete disregard for women!
Okay so this is not one of my favourite aspects of the game but it’s very hard to shake the feeling that Hitman Absolution isn’t a thoroughly sexist game, from the now infamous Saints trailer to the strip club featured in the game and the scores of dead female NPC’s in a different level (which I can’t name for risk of spoilers) and personally this type of treatment needs to stop in an industry which is desperately trying to be accepted by mainstream media. Sure, I know a good percentage of female gamers who loved the idea of The Saints (a collection of highly inappropriately dressed female assassins) but that doesn’t make it okay.

In conclusion, If you look at the individual parts of Hitman Absolution that make the game great: the excellent graphics, Contracts mode, the inclusion of a much needed Instinct attribute and the story built on what we already know and love about the Hitman franchise then you’ll really enjoy Absolution, but it’s the occasional level breaking glitch, the over suspiciousness of the AI and an almost claustrophobic linearity in some places which brings the experience crashing to earth, couple that with the slightly outlandish scenarios and cameo appearances of other characters from IO Interactives other titles (Kane and Lynch in particular) cheapen the overall experience and whilst Hitman: Absolution is a great game, it’s just not a great Hitman game.

Review Score : [starreview tpl=16]

Title :  Hitman: Absolution
Format : XBox 360
Developer : IO Interactive
Publisher : Square Enix
Release Date : Out Now

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

Square Enix provided with a review copy of Hitman: Absolution