Available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Steam
I love Hitman. Fact. From being introduced to the barcoded bald assassin, known as Agent 47 or ’47’ for short, on the PS2 in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, I was instantly hooked on the gameplay. You are given a contract to assassinate one or multiple targets. You must successfully complete the mission to progress, but how you decide to complete the task is entirely up to you. You can either go in all guns blazing and eradicate every living thing til there’s only you and your enemy left to pop a cap in his ass, or you can be the perfect ‘silent’ assassin, stealthily creeping about, strangling your enemies with the fibre wire. My style of gameplay is somewhere in the middle: I start off stealthy, pouring poisons into food to kill off my enemies and dressing up in disguises, but more often than not I get ‘discovered’ and it’s at this point I whip out 47’s shiny silverballers and fill the guards with lead. I’ve only ever achieved ‘Silent Assassin’ rating once in my entire Hitman career and it was in IO Interactive’s latest installment, Hitman: Absolution.
Having adored Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Hitman: Contracts and Hitman: Bloody Money (unfortunately not played the first title Codename 47), I had high hopes for Hitman: Absolution. Blood Money had already improved the gameplay from the previous two titles by allowing you to hide bodies in containers and the ability to throw items to distract enemies. The combat system had improved too, with advanced hand-to-hand combat available, the ability to use people as human shields and my favourite yet: to climb above the lift shaft and secretly strangle enemies in the lift from above using the fibre wire. Jean Reno’s Leon, eat your heart out! Blood Money also upped the stakes in the storyline department, with a plot regarding the fall of the contract Agency, and how one hitman and his Agency handler, Diana Burnwood, rescued it. The plot took Agent 47 to a variety of incredible locations and had mind-blowing twists which almost had me blubbering over my joypad. The hauntingly beautiful arrangement of Ave Maria by composer Jesper Kyd didn’t help my emotions either. After a jaw dropping finale, I couldn’t wait for the next installment.
During the production of Absolution, there was talk of IO Interactive severing ties with two key character voice-over actors: David Bateson (Agent 47) and Vivienne McKee (Diana Burnwood). Both actors have portrayed their characters throughout the franchise and with such an emotional bond between them, the characters and the gamers, I couldn’t blame the Hitman fan community going bezerk. Their cries, it seems, must have been heard as Bateson was rightly reinstated as the voice of 47, and Marsha Thomason stepped in as a replacement for Vivienne as the voice of 47’s handler.
Other than the slight voice change, for which Thomason does a fantastic job, Hitman: Absolution has been changed yet again from the Blood Money engine, some ways not for the better. Having been a pretty much open, free-roaming game for the series, Absolution decides to take it towards the linear style of gaming. Some levels are pretty free-roaming, but others are strictly fixed in how Agent 47 can get from A-B, with most edging towards the linear-type path rather than the free-roaming one we’re used to, due to its fixed sections within levels. One of the other big changes comes in the form of Instinct. For those who’ve played Batman: Arkham City, it’ll feel rather similar to the scan function and actually uses the same button in the Xbox controller; LB. Instinct allows you to go into a ‘scan’ type mode, where everything goes dark and the interactive objects and important hotspots light up in orange or with a circle. The addition of this aspect only makes the game easier. You can also use the Instinct mode to Focus shoot, which allocates you an amount of time to focus and ‘mark’ your opponents as time is slowed down to a snail’s pace, before then shooting the marked opponents. Almost like bullet-time and a technique which can be seen in other games such as Red Dead Revolver, this technique is good for taking out a few opponents at once, though you’re unable to do this often as you’re limited by the amount of power you have in your ‘Instinct’ bar, which recharges with kills and actions. The combat system is again improved from Blood Money with the ability to counter attack and ‘fake surrender’ before taking the armed enemy as a human shield. It’s also much easier to execute manoevres than Blood Money, with prompts helping along the way. I do feel as though Absolution has been dumbed down somewhat, and for those aching for the old style of gameplay will struggle to not use the Instinct mode, especially when there’s sections that rely heavily on the use of Instinct or Focus Shooting mode.
Other than the enhanced combat system, the ability to use cover, peeking around and rolling between cover instead of strafing is a much welcomed addition to the gameplay, with the player able to regain health and use the environment in a much stealthier way than the previous game. All these changes to the game seem to make it a lot more accessible to Hitman newbies and many have mentioned the likeness to Splinter Cell, though I cannot comment on that having never played it. What I do know is that I don’t seem to be the only person who longs for the days of the old Hitman with its bare-bones approach.
The storyline in Hitman: Absolution opens with a corker but quickly disippates with its predictable plot and less than difficult ‘boss’-type levels. Some levels can hardly be called levels at all, with one requiring the player to walk into a tailor’s shop and into the changing room to buy a new suit. The final level was almost laughable in its simplicity and I was pretty shocked to realise it was the end having taken not much time or skill to complete. Overall, the game took me around 18 hours to complete and having done so, I can’t say I’m inspired to play another, which disappoints me. The characters I grew to love over the series now seem like empty shells and my response to the ending of Blood Money is a stark contrast to my disappointment to the ending of Absolution.
I hate to say this, but unless the series regains its charm, sandbox style and stellar storytelling, this Hitman gamer might just hang up her Silverballers.