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Hitman: Absolution (Xbox 360) artwork

Hitman: Absolution (Xbox 360) review

"Execution is everything, and IO Interactive followed their own motto with this crafty piece of software."

In the video gaming medium, a lot can happen in six years, and a lot has happened between 2006 and 2012: promising franchises have blossomed or bombed, six Halos have been published, two Wii consoles have launched, and Activision has not skipped a beat with their annual Call of Duty releases. IO Interactive, though, have taken their sweet damn time during this period with the follow-up to Hitman: Blood Money, opting instead to develop titles like Mini Ninjas and the like-it-or-really-really-hate-it Kane & Lynch series. I'm not gonna lie, waiting this long had me super worried, and Square Enix's acquisition of the studio through Eidos didn't calm fears. Then rumors started circulating about the new game possibly being a reboot (it's not), what with a certain trailer indicating a twist some fans seemed in denial about. And some even got nervous that the sequel could be more focused on action than stealth, due to new mechanics making their way in. However, the latest successor, Hitman: Absolution, has finally been released, and in the end, after all the speculation, I will gladly say it's very much a solid Hitman game in the vein of Contracts and Blood Money.

As the opening mission gets underway at a heavily-guarded mansion overlooking the sea, a narrator helps you get reacquainted with Agent 47's deadly assassination skills. Here, you'll see the bald clone still retains his familiar moveset from past games, allowing you to sneak up to people and break their necks with the fiber wire, perform headshots with the trademark silverballers, play dress up with a bevy of disguises, and launch a quick combo of punches. Returning, too, is the ability to hide bodies in containers and closets, and even throw weapons at people, this time being able to pluck out and reuse sharp objects from corpses. Though, these mechanics are now more or less attached to a new cover aspect that finally allows the professional killer to latch himself to surfaces. Undoubtedly inspired by other games and IO's own Kane & Lynch, the cover in Absolution is thankfully really useful and smooth, permitting 47 to round some corners without a problem and roll to the next surface for a slicker sneaking performance.

Now, when playing the beginning missions on my first playthrough, I wasn't too keen on some changes and omissions, like the exclusion of maps for a radar, and getting rid of saving for checkpoints. But these concerns just wounded up being petty complaints, because before I knew it, five hours passed by and I was exhausted with the amount of pure enjoyment that was had with the game. And only four missions were completed since I kept replaying them over and over! Absolution offers that quintessential Hitman experience that you've waited and hoped for six agonizing years, continuing the tradition of allowing players a wide range of ways to complete a stage. Whether this be killing the main target without ever being spotted, going in guns a blazin', doing it from a distance by "accidental" means, or up close with a silly weapon, the latest Hitman is just as relentless as Blood Money in terms of variety, except Absolution upstages its predecessor due to more refined gameplay.

IO did a fantastic job tightening the play mechanics to make this 47 the most flexible version to date, as, once you get accustomed to the new control layout and such, pulling off moves is so simple and easy. And gratifying. This may sound a bit demented, but, hurting people in Absolution feels sooooooo good. This is truly thanks to believable character animations and sound effects that accompany each assault, always ensuring a satisfying result, whether you butchered an attack or performed it perfectly; watch heads fling violently in slow motion after injecting them with bullets; see guards in agony when getting hit multiple times in the body; witness a woman struggle hopelessly as fiber wire gets wrapped around her neck; smirk as a poor sucker looks up in complete horror as a ceiling light falls on them; stare at a detailed, lifeless face as 47 drags them to a container. No matter how many times you accomplish any of these attacks, they never get old, because it really feels like you're in control of a wild beast that can't be tamed.

But the hunt is only part of a Hitman adventure, as what makes the series stand out from other stealth titles is the willingness to offer unorthodox missions. Previous games put you in scenarios such as getting into a raunchy party inside a slaughterhouse, bypassing 132 ninjas to kill one man in a seven-floor castle, and infiltrating a suburban home in witness protection during a birthday party setup, and this sequel does its predecessors proud by providing the same type of diverse, multi-layered missions. I feel like I'm doing a disservice to you, the reader, by talking about these missions, as they're just too good to spoil (skip the remainder of this paragraph and the next), but I must mention something! Continuing IO's love affair with Chinese-related settings is another Chinatown level, this one taking place in a very crowded food market with police in league with a crime boss. And another mission pits the agent in a small-town, American courthouse where an actual trial plays out, complete with a conspiracy theory nut and a judge obsessed with all things British. Guess who you get to disguise as in the latter!

What's especially impressive with Absolution's batch of missions is the overall amazing attention to detail to structures, visuals, animations, and audio, gracing fortunate gamers with a very engrossing and personal journey. When you walk into the Chinatown market for the first time, the orchestrated soundtrack is in full swing as chefs stir pans, waiters take orders, people have full-blown chats on cell phones, and some even trying to start conversations with you, then getting upset when you blow them off. Guards, too, that investigate strange noises aren't reduced to idiots, some being spooked, while others uttering warnings like, "I don't know what's going on... but this ain't over!", before resuming patrol. There's so much realistic and funny dialogue that I often stop to listen to people, or find something new in repeat plays. Set pieces are gorgeous because of their scope, mixed with "wham-bam" scripted events and purdy lighting effects. I never expected to be in jaw-dropping awe of a cornfield littered with fireflies at the crack of dawn, but this game pulls it off magnificantly. Absolution is even home to one of the best escape levels I've seen, putting you through many astounding situations, some hilarious, others heart-pounding, and is a perfect example of the game's cinematic, absorbing flair.

Awesomely, IO doesn't sacrifice gameplay to give you these moments, unlike other developers that force you into awkward cutscenes. About 90% of this stuff happens in real-time, and if you missed something, well, there's always that sense of discovery when you go back.

With the game already oozing out so much replay value, IO could have called it a day and actually got away with it. But they didn't, instead supplying additional content to ensure players will keep coming back for quite a long time. For years, gamers have dissected Hitman stages, constantly coming up with creative ways to finish them, as well as making up their own goals to keep things fresh. In this installment, however, IO decided to throw in their own optional challenges for players to wrastle with, providing a hefty chunk of tasks for each mission. There are typical ones that are featured with each stage, like finishing without changing clothes or without getting caught once, but each mission has a unique set of conditions, often with "humorous" title puns. A challenge called Silence Please requires 47 to incapacitate several police officers and conceal them, while another named Two for the Price of One asks to kill two specific targets with one sniper bullet. If there's one aspect I dislike about the challenges, it's that some are way too vague due to the "funny" titles, begrudgingly forcing you to check online if one can't be unraveled. Absolution can also be a collect-a-thon if you want, since the end-stage stats displays items and costumes you haven't picked up, which is surely going to drive people with OCD nuts.

Not stopping with the challenges, these devs went another step by also including a mode called Contracts, basically Absolution's edit mode. Here, you have the power to create missions where you choose who gets killed, save them, then show them off to the world. It's limited in options, as you have to use the game's actual missions with all the scripted events intact, and you can only have up to three main targets, but what can be done is still fun. Editing in Contracts is pretty clever: you actually have to play the stage yourself and perform the hits. From there, the game records what targets you marked, how you killed, with what weapon, if you were spotted, what exit was used, and so on. I like this method because it acts as a safeguard from masochistic players that want to create the impossible. If a Contract exists, its solution can be done, it's just a matter of figuring out how to pull it off. It doesn't matter if you're a long time fan or coming in fresh, if you enjoy playing the normal missions, Contracts is an addicting time waster if you really want to create the ideal hit.

Hitman: Absolution is not only a genuinely fun video game, but a feat within its own series. Looking back, the franchise had a rocky start with Codename 47, which has aged terribly if played today. But each subsequent sequel has shown improvement, also indicating the potential the series has if done correctly. When Blood Money came along, it acted as a culmination of all the right things the series did, mixed with problems that were rectified, delivering a pleasurable title. What is Absolution, then? Absolution is what happens when you go past what's been fixed, risk fiddling with something that wasn't broken, and succeeding in producing a more fine-tuned experience. Sure, the AI might bug out once in a while, Contracts isn't limitless, and the live in-game scoring is misleading, especially to newcomers, but these are gripes that shouldn't get in the way of the game's achievements. Execution is everything, and IO Interactive followed their own motto with this crafty piece of software.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (December 03, 2012)

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