Hitman Absolution screenshot
Hitman Absolution screenshot

It's not been a great month for would-be assassins. Ubisoft Montreal put you in the robes of a general dogsbody and only occasional killer, and now Io Interactive has made a Hitman game where your reward for finishing a level is often nothing more gratifying than passing through a door. On one occasion, even, the fade to black and subsequent results screen happens while you're crawling through an air duct. Or sometimes the assassination takes place in a cutscene; on more than one occasion, though, your perfect kill is botched as soon as control is taken away from you. Only sometimes in Hitman: Absolution do you get the satisfaction of executing a perfect kill before strolling off unseen.

In other words, you get all the hard work - the mistakes, the experiments, the restarts, the contingency plans, and the lengthy waits through interminable NPC conversations - without the gratification of the execution. This happens far, far too often.

If it's not really a Hitman game, then, what exactly is Hitman: Absolution? Well, there's strong evidence to suggest Io has been playing rather a lot of Splinter Cell Conviction: you use your finite supply of hitman 'instinct' to outline enemies and interactive objects, or you can expend it on 'point shooting' sequences where you mark your opponents one by one, and then jab a button to execute them. With bad guys loudly questioning your whereabouts, meanwhile, you begin to wonder whether they might even start mentioning that incident at the AIRFIELD, FISHER.

Being discovered, of course, is part and parcel of every Hitman game. But your window of opportunity for extricating yourself from a tight spot was always a little wider before. Besides, if the worst came to the worst and your best-laid plans ended up in tatters, you could always enjoy the catharsis of gunning down scores of people to compensate for the frustration of starting again.

In Hitman: Absolution that opportunity doesn't present itself too often. You're rarely given the tools for a serious gunfight, not least because guards are more plentiful and better-armed than before. There are fewer rooms to secrete yourself in from patrols, and so many people milling around that getting out of a key NPC's sightline tends to involve sprinting away from one hail of gunfire straight into another. Part of the fun of the previous Hitman games was winging it when you messed up. Hitman: Absolution is no fun.

The bizarre thing is that Io seems to tacitly encourage thinking on your feet. Its lack of mid-mission saves and the sparse checkpoints – positioned in places that suggest Io is subtly guiding you down a specific route – suggest you're not supposed to simply reload and start again. But with AI this sharp-eyed and aggressive it's very difficult. There's nothing wrong with enemies providing a challenge, of course, but their sheer numbers make certain tactics very restrictive.

Hitman Absolution screenshot

It makes utter nonsense out of the disguise system, for starters. Wear an outfit that should allow you to blend in with others – a SWAT vest, staff uniform, guard fatigues - and you'll find venturing too close to one of your pretend peers will instantly arouse suspicion. You've then got perhaps a second to escape their eyeline before they'll start tailing you, at which point the idea is to lure them to a safe place and dispose of them by lethal or non-lethal means. There's an understandable logic to that, but safe places are rare. NPCs constantly patrol the playspace, and even if they're not the type to alert others to your presence then your cover is considered 'blown', meaning everyone on the level will react to you unless you find a fresh disguise.

You might also raise the alert simply for the sin of not pressing yourself flush against a wall, even if there's no way the alerted party could have seen you. Worse still, one of the loading screen hints recommends a tactic that simply doesn't work: strolling casually around won't quell the attentions of a pursuer. You're actually far better moving around by constantly bobbing up and down from cover positions, as this is bafflingly deemed much less suspicious behaviour than walking.

You're best staying out of sight entirely for the most part, then, but on many levels that's almost impossible; on particularly populous stages you're as well remaining in your iconic suit for the duration. 47 also never thinks to fully suit up when disguising himself, either: when adopting the garb of a balaclava-wearing henchmen or radiation suit, he leaves his distinctive, angular face visible throughout.

'The changes to the Hitman formula are all in service of a story that would be offensive if it wasn't so preposterous.'

Still, if 47 likes to draw attention to himself all too often, the game's lighting does him no favours, an abundance of bloom glancing off his polished dome to spray a fetching shade of blue lens flare into the player's face. J.J. Abrams would be proud. Besides that, Hitman: Absolution is an attractively grimy game with the kind of attention to environmental detail that made Kane and Lynch's Shanghai shootouts so atmospheric. It's ugly in a very pretty way, in other words.

That's more than can be said for the narrative, mind you. Yes, the changes to the Hitman formula are all in service of a story that would be offensive if it wasn't so preposterous. It's a tawdry, grubby little tale of perverts and psychopaths: men are grotesque, corpulent, seedy, and greasy, but they fare better than the women, almost all of whom are helpless victims, strippers or nuns in fetish gear, most with the pneumatic proportions of an aggressively overinflated sex doll. Constant flashbacks of 47 killing his former handler in the shower are Io's stab at emotion, but lingering soft-porn shots of naked flesh make you wonder whether he's actually upset or preparing for a bit of between-mission onanism. Talking of which, one target – offed in a slow-motion action sequence straight out of a John Woo film – dies wondering why he has an erection. Mature gaming, ladies and gentlemen.

Hitman Absolution screenshot

It's not all bad. There are fleeting moments here where Io gets things absolutely right. An early highlight sees you milling unseen among an astonishing crowd in Chicago's Chinatown, with myriad ways to dispose of your target from a drug-related death to a car bomb. It's classic Hitman with a Hollywood budget. A later, sweaty-palmed motel escape, meanwhile, segues into a stalk-and-kill sequence in a darkened cornfield that nods to one of Spielberg's great set-pieces, with 47 cast as the intelligent, vicious raptor in Io's lost world. That isn't quite Hitman as we know it, but it's a rare and fleeting sign of what could have been.

'The problem with Absolution is that its new custodians from the Kane and Lynch team seem to have fundamentally misunderstood what made Hitman great.'

As, too, is Contracts mode, a smart addition that allows you to design your own hits to be shared with friends. The idea is to compete to become the most silent, deadly assassin, and while it doesn't entirely salvage the weaker stages – there's no salve for poor level design, it seems – it's something of a saving grace for Absolution as a whole, and a place where the classic 'separate and eliminate' tactic stands a greater chance of actually working.

The problem with Absolution is that its new custodians from the Kane and Lynch team seem to have fundamentally misunderstood what made Hitman great. If Io was attempting to make it more accessible then it's almost entirely failed, with more restrictive, prescriptive and awkward design allied to a challenge that is pleasingly firm but often infuriatingly unfair. If the desire was to make a Hitman for the purists, well, it's failed there too: the segmented sandboxes here simply aren't as expansive or as flexible as before. Hitman wasn't great because it was hard: it was great because it rewarded curiosity, experimentation and invention. This is what genuinely mature gaming is all about, not swearing, tits and gratuitous unpleasantness.

Occasionally you'll witness flashes of brilliance, glimpses that suggest Io could yet salvage something from this wreckage for its next Hitman game. And then you finish a stage with a tedious quick-time event, snapping the neck of a morbidly obese Danny Trejo-alike in a wrestling match watched by hundreds - astonishingly earning yourself a Silent Assassin rating in the process - and you shake your head sadly and wonder how it all went so badly wrong.

Version Tested: Xbox 360

This review was written after spending 18 hours with a retail version of the game provided by Square Enix. Story mode was completely finished and numerous Contracts missions were attempted.

5 / 10

  • Vivid, detailed world
  • More than a faint whiff of misogyny
  • Punishing design
  • Inconsistent AI

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Highest Rated Comment

tvr77's Avatar

tvr77@ FantasyMeister

There not trolling, there having a debate surely there's a difference!
I'm just happy to see someone challenging what rbev has to say for once.
Posted 18:49 on 18 November 2012

User Comments

jinsurgent's Avatar

jinsurgent

Having only been playing this recently I have to chip in and say the 5 score given on this review is incredibly harsh and I should be taken with a pinch of salt. Having not played the previous versions my judgement is based on the merits of this game only and I have to say it's extremely impressive. I saw it for £20 over Xmas and despite the mixed reviews thought it was worth a punt. Knowing what I know now I would have paid double that price and still been satisfied. I'm just annoyed I put off playing it until recently, mainly due to reading misguided reviews like this.
Posted 21:54 on 25 March 2013
funtikar's Avatar

funtikar@ rbevanx

I would doubt you would even like Blood Money then if thats the case. The kind of good fun I want is at Blood Money. Would love to see some feedback from you after playing Blood Money though.
Posted 03:39 on 05 January 2013
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx@ funtikar

I have played all the Hitman game except Blood Money. All of them were good except one which was Hitman Contracts which was a rubbish game as it was just a copy of the previous games I played.
Blood Money I have bought on a Steam sale a few weeks ago and will be checking out sometime soon.

I would even say this game was better than Contracts personally but I when I played Contracts, the previous games were still fresh in my head and Contracts was a clear cash in.
But there is no real tactical thinking like the others games in this one, you really can just storm through COD style but in all honesty if you play the game as a game and try not to do that, it can be good fun and has some nice moments.

If you can get it on ebay for 15 quid, I personally think it's a steal. The review for this game on VG is that bad in all fairness.
Posted 17:42 on 04 January 2013
funtikar's Avatar

funtikar@ rbevanx

Have you played the previous Hitman games?especially Blood Money.
Posted 15:16 on 04 January 2013
funtikar's Avatar

funtikar

The trailer made me really excited before playing Absolution I played Blood Money which was surprisingly really fun eventhough it was from 2006. That made me quite bias with Absolution fooling myself that Absolution is a fun game, I was trying to force myself to like the game but it just didn't cut it. I also tried to find any stage of the game that maybe atleast the same as Blood Money, it doesn't exist.. I really like this part of the article ,
" the segmented sandboxes here simply aren't as expansive or as flexible as before. Hitman wasn't great because it was hard: it was great because it rewarded curiosity, experimentation and invention. This is what genuinely mature gaming is all about, not swearing, tits and gratuitous unpleasantness ." Couldn't be any truer. What makes Hitman a Hitman game is its not a splinter cell game. They should've made a different franchise for this game, its a freakin another game
Posted 15:12 on 04 January 2013
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx

Done about a third of Hitman and the review VG did for it couldn't have been more wrong in all fairness.
Without a shadow of a doubt to me, Chriss was looking at it as a Hitman game rather than a game in general.

It's an 8 so far and not no where near a 5 and there is nothing wrong with the checkpoint system, in fact it's better than lets say Halo where its automated and you go back to where you get killed instantly sometimes and the checkpoint positions are more than fine! But the disguise system is total pants.
Posted 12:34 on 27 December 2012
EmilioBologna's Avatar

EmilioBologna

I love this review, it's the only one on the net that says what I REALLY thought while I was finishing the game in only 7 hours. Ign and other money-sucking review sites gave the game 9/10? Are we joking? So what's the right rating for blood money? You Know what I was thinking during my cheap time playing Absolution? "What am I playing? A badly made Splinter Cell game?", and that's similiar to what you wrote in your review.
Keep writing the truth guys, even if you are the only ones... we need TRUE REVIEWERS LIKE YOU.
Posted 16:32 on 21 November 2012
Woffls's Avatar

Woffls

Well that was a disappointing eleven pages, guys :(

I'm sending my pre-ordered copy back. Partly because of this review, but also because of the rest of them. I'm not convinced that IOI have made the Hitman game they want to make. I think they've made the Hitman game that the market would respond to, and that Eidosqueenix (?) wanted for their portfolio.

I really hope they're using this game as a stepping stone for another Hitman game that will be truer to what the franchise should be about. I expect this was a semi-rush job with focus on marketing to get people interested in it again, and talking about Hitman. It will also work wonders in 2 years' time when the new Hitman game actually gives series fans what they want, and everyone goes mental about it.

My instincts were right on this, and I shouldn't have ordered it in the first place (Sniper Challenge is ace, though). The initial trailers were disconcerting, IOI's apparent focus on gritty things supported them, the aggressive marketing made it feel like they were aiming at an audience that needed to be told what to buy rather than convinced, and most importantly the demo I played at EG Expo was dire: AI was unpredictable, the environment was too loose and not clinical enough to work for a Hitman game, and the disguises just didn't help at all.

I've not played this game, and I don't think I need to, but I will buy it when it's cheap - which it will be after everyone trades it in this week - so that I can bitch about it and be happy when IOI make a proper Hitman game in a couple of years.

The disappointment I feel over this game based on others' impressions is very disheartening. Hitman is one of my favourite game series, and all they had to do was improve on a game they made six *****ing years ago.
Posted 12:19 on 21 November 2012
BC_Animus's Avatar

BC_Animus@ InvalidUser

Quote:
Originally Posted by InvalidUser
One thing I cannot condone is a review that ignores all the flaws of the previous entry, rushed in 18 hours, by someone who clearly does not give a ***** for this series.

This brings up an interesting point actually, one thing has probably been brought up tons of times before - but really, shouldn't games be rated and judged based on their own merits?

In some ways I actually prefer a review from a reviewer who is new to (or someone who is not neccessarily a fan of) the series. This way at least we know we would get a balanced and unbiased review that isn't tainted by nostalgia.
Posted 04:51 on 21 November 2012
reg321's Avatar

reg321

I thought this was a really good review after having played absolution. there is alot of bias when it comes to media reviewing games, i.e. ign. alot of times the reviews are paid for their high ratings and or bought off to increase sales. more importantly, this game took out all the fun elements that made blood money: a successful hitman title, and forced the player to go through each linear level with no freedom or ability to roam and or discover creative ways to kill the ai. as a matter of fact the a.i. have the ability to see through disguises and you are again forced to use "instinct" in order to survive. while this may seem challenging, in practice it isnt fun at all hiding the whole entire time (especially on purist mode). the previous hitman titles were designed to allow the player to move at his/her own pace and be able to successfully kill and hide bodies quickly without having the frustration of ducking and covering every 5 minutes. This makes the game very boring, and you feel as the the developers are constantly trying to lead you in one direction rather than giving you the whole area to do whatever you want. They spent too much time expanding a story which doesnt really live up to the hitman series at all. Some other small details include poor music, no iconic briefcase, switching between weapons and hiding them magically under a suit. The dialogue was filled with gratuous one liners, or immature remarks that wouldnt resemble real policeman and or people demonstrated in the real world.
Posted 23:50 on 20 November 2012
Ghost_Dog's Avatar

Ghost_Dog

I've just read all these posts and now my head hurts.
Posted 22:35 on 20 November 2012
Marink's Avatar

Marink@ Bloodstorm

I did.
Posted 14:35 on 20 November 2012
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

Click the link.
Posted 14:35 on 20 November 2012
Marink's Avatar

Marink@ Bloodstorm

Yes?
Posted 14:34 on 20 November 2012
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm@ Marink

Errr....
Posted 14:27 on 20 November 2012

Game Stats

Hitman Absolution
5
Out of 10
Hitman Absolution
  • Vivid, detailed world
  • More than a faint whiff of misogyny
  • Punishing design
  • Inconsistent AI
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 20/11/2012
Platforms: Xbox 360 , PS3 , PC
Developer: Io Interactive
Publisher: Square-Enix Co
Genre: Action
Rating: PEGI 18+
Site Rank: 362 13
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