Housemate: “So, this is like Assassin’s Creed then?”
Me “No, not quite, there’s a larger stealth element in it”
Housemate “Ok, so it’s more like that one in the future where everything’s a bit yellow…”
Me “Deus Ex? A little, but this steers you away from full frontal assaults”
Housemate “Right, so it’s like Dishonored”
The above is an actual conversation between my housemate and I as he watched me attempt to move silently through a few levels of Hitman: Absolution.
I can’t blame him for getting confused, in the roughly six and a half years since Agent 47’s last outing there have been quite a few contenders to the ‘Stealth’ throne, the question on everyone’s lips though was could the original silent assassin still hold his own?
The answer, thankfully, is Yes.
From the opening cinematic detailing a very brief history of the Hitman universe, and the mission at hand, the game is a joy to play.
I’ll start by getting the most obvious critique out of the way. The story in Hitman is probably one of its weaker points; it tries its best to be open enough for newcomers, but involved enough for the long time fans of the series. It doesn’t really pull either off and to be honest, you kind of stop paying attention after a while, because the glory and fun of Hitman isn’t in the story, but in the missions.
There are twenty missions in Hitman: Absolution, each containing one or more sections, each of varying lengths and each offering a multitude of ways to progress. Some missions require you to get from A to B, some ask you to get Target X, but not to kill them, and then there are the simple Assassination missions.
What’s clear from early on is that this is much more of a cerebral game than most of the other stealth games around, with the possible exception of Dishonored. Io Interactive know that just simply killing someone is possibly in a million other games, so what they have done is allow you to pick from a long list of different ways to kill.
No matter what the requirement of the mission, they will usually start out the same. Agent 47 in his suit with an objective, how you complete it is completely up to you. The game wants you to experiment, to spend the time stalking your prey, watching their movements and picking the optimum moment to pick them off.
Maybe you’ll distract them by throwing a bottle and then sneak up behind them, perhaps you’ll find a way to poison their food and watch as they collapse in fits of pain, or maybe, and this was one of my favourites, you’ll loosen an electrical cable and wait for the poor sucker to empty their bladder all over it. Whatever way you choses you’ll soon find that going in guns blazing is the worst option.
Agent 47 is a silent assassin; the game scores you on being the ultimate stealth killing machine. To achieve the best score you have to keep to the shadows, stay out of view, use disguises, and hide bodies. When you complete in mission challenges you’ll receive points, if you’re spotted, kill the wrong target or fail to dispose of a body then points will be deducted. A scoring system in a modern console game is a novel idea, and harkens back to the days when obtaining the highest score in a game allowed you the biggest bragging rights with your friends.
If your mission does go wrong then you have access to a few new key benefits to help you deal with your enemies. One thing that any game involving shooting needs, other than the ability to shot, is the ability to take cover. Hitman now has a cover system that allows you to duck out of the way of incoming fire; previous titles required you to strafe dodge bullets in a manner similar to platform games. Agent 47 can now hide behind most objects, and if you’re clever enough, flank your enemies.
The other addition is the Point Shooting mode. This uses Agent 47’s ‘Instinct’ to slow down time, paint targets on enemies and then release bullets in a quick and precise killing spree. The mode is helpful if you suddenly find yourself cornered with few options available, but chances are you’ll avoid using it as the deducted points you’ll receive from every shot will lower your ultimate score.
Agent 47 now has access to Instinct mode, this is similar in manner to Assassin’s Creed ‘Eagle Vision’, it allows you to see enemies, highlight targets, trace guard movements and zone in on conversations. Instinct mode is available to you at all times, however you can also consume instinct, most notably when using disguises.
Disguises can be acquired from most NPC’s throughout the game, often they’ll be used to complete missions or be a requirement of them. The key point of disguises is that they don’t work on people wearing the same outfit. In the Hitman Universe, everyone employed in the same job role knows everyone else, you can just about believe this when you’re disguised as a gardener at a mansion house or as a member of a small hotels staff, but when you’re disguised as a police officer of a city it becomes less believable.
When you get too close to anyone in the same outfit as you you’ll trigger their suspicion, the best way to sneak past them is to use your instinct, Agent 47 will put his hand over his face, lower his head or look the other way and you’ll hear the suspicious NPC talking to themselves, once out of view you’ll be able to continue as normal, but if you run out of instinct then the character will start to follow you to find out who you are.
Outside of the main campaign, Io has given us Contracts Mode. This is a specific kill mode where you’ll be assigned specific contracts and gain bonuses for meeting certain requirements in the contract such as weapon used to kill and the outfit worn. Unlike the main story missions the contracts can be placed on any NPC in any level. Io Interactive has created a few to whet your appetite, but Contracts Mode is more akin to infamous 2’s level design than say Assassin’s Creed Assassinate multiplayer. You’ll be able to design your own contract missions, add your own specific requirements and then challenge your friends to the best score. If you ever manage to complete facet of the main campaign then you’ll find a second home here.
Hitman: Absolution is a great game, Io Interactive should be very proud that they’ve managed to make Agent 47’s adventures stand out in an over saturated stealth market. Hitman purists may find issue with the way the game has gone, but franchises need to move and be able to challenge their peers, especially after such a long absence. The game has its faults, the story isn’t easily followed and the more cerebral nature of the game play may distance some of the more gung-ho players but overall Hitman: Absolution is a welcome return to form.